The Political Dilemma in Julius Caesar
The political events dramatized by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar actually occurred, the play's narrative line following the accounts of Caesar's assassination as recorded by ancient Roman historians, most notably by Plutarch in his Lives. Indeed, the killing of the foremost political and military figure in Rome in 44 B.C. shook the world, influencing the development of the Roman state, its empire and civilization. The significance of Caesar's assassination as a political issue transcended the fall of Rome some five hundred years later. In Shakespeare's age, the Renaissance and the Reformation required a re-definition (or at least a re-statement) of what makes for legitimate power, of sovereignty and of kingship. The conservative camp with which Shakespeare is most often associated, saw the murder of Caesar as a heinous crime, as a regicide, and as the inevitable cause of civil war. Examples of regicide in more recent English history stood out in the minds of Shakespeare's audiences. At the same time, the experience of political tyranny was also fresh among the Elizabethans, and with it, the assertion that the killing of a "king" is justifiable for the sake of human liberty.
The primary issue of order versus freedom is framed in the play's first scene. As the Roman crowd awaits the celebration of Caesar's triumph over his arch-rival Pompey, it is plain that they are prepared to accept his absolute rulership over Rome. It is then that the tribunes Flavius and Marcellus challenge this exaltation of Caesar into an absolute Emperor by tearing down symbolic decorations of his victory and power. We note that Caesar does not threaten to seize power: in Act I, scene ii., the crowds cheer Caesar on to wear the crown of an emperor. He protests his election by popular acclaim, but he clearly awaits his elevation into a tyrant by the Roman Senate and is lured to his death by word that his confirmation by the aristocracy lies at hand. Less than half way...
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