Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is a play that deals not only power struggles but with a more central question regarding the meaning of power.

From the start, we are confronted with the fact that Caesar's power is considered illegitimate by the conspirators. Caesar is thought by Cassius and the others to have usurped the authority of the senate. Among the conspirators themselves, however, there is already a struggle regarding what should be done about this, primarily between Cassius, for whom the end justifies the means (in other words, he believes that eliminating Caesar is the proper thing to do), and Brutus, who obviously doesn't want to kill Caesar but ends up participating. Within Brutus's mind a power struggle has occurred between his personal belief in what is right and his desire to suspend that belief if it will be for the good of Rome. Cassius wins his struggle with the reluctant Brutus, and Caesar is assassinated by the group.

The assumption of the conspirators had been that Marc Antony would be immobilized, shocked by the killing into being unable to act and to avenge Caesar's death. This proves to be wrong. Brutus at first seems to get the people to take the side of the conspirators and to acknowledge that getting rid of Caesar was in Rome's interest and in theirs, that of the plebeians. But then Antony riles up the crowd, working on their emotions and the loyalty and gratitude they feel toward Caesar. The struggle for power is now between the conspirators (and their supporters) on one side, and Antony and his faction (which includes Octavian, Caesar's grandnephew who will later become emperor) on the other. It becomes a full-blown civil war, and Cassius, the reluctant Brutus, and their faction are defeated. Yet in some sense the power of Brutus's integrity has triumphed, as Antony eulogizes him, saying, "This was a man."

But power in the sense of military or political might, which Antony ends up having more of than the conspirators, is only one aspect of the overall concept. It can be said that Caesar, even in death, had a greater kind of power than anyone else given that his legacy and the memory of his achievements control the action of the crowd and the citizenry of Rome. He has represented the power of an ideal which will now become central to Rome: that of the authority of one man. This becomes the basis for the outcome not only of the struggle between Antony and the conspirators, but of the whole period of civil conflict which is to conclude with the defeat of Antony by his former ally Octavian, who will be renamed Augustus and will establish the principate, superseding the old republic and creating the new Roman empire in one of the great turning points of history.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial