Places Discussed

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*Rome. Capital of the ancient Roman Empire in which the bulk of the play is set. The various settings within the city used in the play are represented sparsely on stage; most of the Roman scenes are set in outdoor places, particularly public streets. The Elizabethan theater was a nonrealistic theater that operated within a context of narrow stage conventions. Only a small bit of scenery might be used to suggest place; for example, a single bush or shrub might suggest a forest, while a throne might suggest a palace. It was mainly spoken dialogue that identified, described, and specified settings for the audience.

That Shakespeare intended Rome, and by extension the Roman Empire, as an example for Elizabethan England there can be no doubt. Most of the literature of his age, including drama, modeled itself on Roman examples. Even the theaters, their stages, and theatrical presentations were modeled partly on the Roman stages and such ancient dramatic conventions as were known. The Roman Republic was an ideal to most of the educated elite; however, the concept and institutions of such a government seemed beyond them. Roman history and the Latin language were part of the formal English education of that time, and English rhetoricians were fond of likening Elizabethan England to Rome. A goodly portion of Shakespeare’s audiences would have known something about the history of Julius Caesar and would have admired him. Like Elizabeth I, Caesar was charismatic and popular with the people. Caesar’s assassination echoed several conspiracies that Queen Elizabeth fought against during her reign.


*Forum. Great public square in Rome at which Caesar is assassinated by the conspirators. Afterward, Marc Antony delivers a powerful eulogy to Caesar on the steps of the Forum that turns the public mob against the conspirators.


*Sardis. Ancient city in Asia Minor, near what is now Izmir, Turkey, where Brutus and Cassius maintain their military camp, in the civil war following Caesar’s assassination. There, Brutus and Cassius quarrel constantly over trivial matters. Sardis is thus the site at which visible chaos into which the conspiracy falls becomes clear as the conspirators deal with mutual lack of trust, poor planning, and defeat from all sides.


*Philippi. Greek town near the Aegean Sea near which Marc Antony and Octavian (Augustus) defeat Brutus and Cassius in the concluding scenes of the play. Afterward, the downward spiral of Rome halts only when Caesar’s rightful heir ascends to power. Ancient Rome becomes a model for Elizabethan England in which natural order prevails. The play is a lesson for Shakespeare’s audience where the setting of Rome equals their England.

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Historical and Social Context