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Themes in Acts 2 and 3 of Julius Caesar

Summary:

Themes in Acts 2 and 3 of Julius Caesar include betrayal, power, and fate. Betrayal is evident in Brutus and the conspirators' plot against Caesar. The theme of power is explored through the political maneuvering and the struggle for control after Caesar's assassination. Fate is highlighted by the soothsayer's warnings and Caesar's disregard for omens, leading to his downfall.

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What are the main themes in Act 2 of Julius Caesar?

One of the themes that is important not just in Act II but in the whole play is that of the corrupting influence of power. In Act II scene 1, Brutus discusses the potential for corruption that he fears in Julius Caesar, thinking that if he were not opposed at this stage, he would come to "scorn the base degrees" and forget his empathy and compassion for the people that helped raise him to his position of power and strength. Brutus therefore debates that it might be the best thing to kill him now, and resolves to see him in a particular way, comparing him to a serpent who is not yet hatched:

And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

The reference to the theme of the corruption power in this quote is clear, and yet also problematic. It is very difficult to state with any certainty that a given person will become corrupted by their power, even though experience would suggest that is the case. The analogy of Brutus in this instance might therefore be seen to be trying to justify a crime that his conscience is troubled by. Brutus tries to make himself believe that Caesar is a figure who will definitely become corrupted and turn evil, but through developing this analogy he opens himself up to similar arguments, as he has to debate whether his desire to topple Caesar is more to do with his own temptation to seize power than it is merely to altruistically serve Rome. The corruption of power works both ways, whether or not Brutus is explicitly aware of it.

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What are the themes in Act 3 of Julius Caesar?

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare centers on the assassination of  the great Roman leader in the first three acts.  In Act 4, the conspirators and the leaders of the new government quarrel among themselves.  The final act is the battle scene which ends in the deaths of both Cassius and Brutus.

The pivotal Act III brings several of the ideas that Shakespeare implemented in many of his plays.  Among the motifs that are brought to fruition are power, logic versus emotions, and friends versus enemies.

POWER

Power can mesmerize a man.  Caesar is to be offered the crown in the senate on this day.  Cassius is jealous of Caesar’s power.  He believes that he is just as worthy of being the leader of Rome as is Caesar.  Brutus fears that Caesar may gain  too much power.  Of course, Octavius will gain authority by the death of Caesar.  Although seemingly high minded in this act, Antony desires to have control over the government as much as anyone else.

“Power corrupts.” This is proven by Cassius leading the conspirators to kill Caesar for the wrong reasons.  Cassius is jealous of Caesar.  He protests too much.  Cassius wants to rule Rome probably alongside Brutus.  Brutus does not want to control the government because he is satisfied with the parliamentary style of governing that seems to be successful. 

LOGOS VERSUS PATHOS

Logos is Greek for logic and reasoning.  Aristotle believed that if a man has a logical argument along with proof that he could prove anything.  In Brutus’s speech, he follows the thinking of Aristotle. He asks the crowd to control their emotions until he was finished with his oratory. He asks them to believe that he is an honorable man who only wanted the best for Rome. He sets before them his reasons for the murder and tells the crowd that there is documentation to support his claim. The crowd is convinced that Brutus has done the right thing even mentioning that he might be made the king.

Pathos is Greek for emotions.  Marc Antony uses both logical reasoning and emotions. He uses several types of rhetorical devices to prove his points. 

  • Proves that Caesar was not ambitious
  • Begins the running commentary about Brutus and the other assassins are honorable men
  • Uses the will of Caesar
  • Antony’s humility
  • Antony’s grief
  • The body of Caesar and the stab wounds
  • Tells the crowd what to do about killing the murderers

Antony manipulates the crowd into an unruly mob calling for the blood of the Brutus and the rest.

THE LOYALTY OF FRIENDS

Brutus was a friend of Caesar.  However, he was willing to be a part of  the assassination based on the possibility that Caesar might misuse his power.

Antony was also a friend of Caesar.  He promises the corpse of Caesar that he will gain revenge for him. 

And Caesar’s spirit ranging for revenge,

With Ate by his side come hot from hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war…

Antony’s soliloquy foreshadows the revenge that he will seek for Caesar. Realizing the Caesar was betrayed by his false friends, Antony’s rage is enlarged. 

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