Do your sympathies lie with Caesar or his assassins when he is stabbed? Why?

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One of the ways in which an author directs our sympathies is through his handling of point of view. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar we are kept in the points of view of the conspirators, and most notably of Brutus and Cassius, most of the time up until the assassination of Caesar in Act 3. Therefore most viewers would sympathize with the assassins when they stabbed him to death. Then Shakespeare had the problem of turning the sympathies of his audience around so that they would be rooting for the side that ultimately won--i.e., Antony and Octavius.

The actual assassination of Caesar is anticlimactic after the long buildup to the event. It is Antony's great funeral speech that is emotion-rousing and not only turns the mob's sympathies around but turns those of the audience around as well. The members of the audience are also motivated to switch sides partly because they are intimidated by the mob. Before Antony is finished speaking, the following occurs:

FOURTH PLEBIAN        We will be revenged.


Revenge! About! Seek! Fire! Kill! Slay!

Let not a traitor live.

The word "About!" seems to be a cue for all the mob members to turn and face the audience and even to advance toward the edge of the stage in a threatening manner. Like Cinna the poet, the spectators in the audience might want to protest that they are not co-conspirators but are entirely in sympathy with Antony. Antony calls out, "Stay, countrymen"in order to stop the mob from continuing to advance on the audience and possibly creating pandemonium, but Shakespeare's trick has helped to manipulate the sympathies of the viewers.

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is an unusual play. It has often been pointed out that the play seems to be more about Brutus, since Caesar dies halfway through.

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What an intriguing question! My sympathies now lie with the victim, but when I first read the play in high school, they lay with the conspirators. My use of "conspirators" might be a giveaway: because of the REAL, not literary, conspiracies daily reported in our media -- conspiracies to gut governments, to defraud the innocent, to become profit from misery by selling drugs, to destroy nations and/or religions, to bilk the unwary -- I now view conspiracies in an exceedingly negative light. In my youth, I considered the plotters to be brave rebels, seeking only a better life for the people of Rome, men willing to risk their own lives for the good of the people. History proved me wrong, had I bothered to read it at the time; the triumvirates were just as corrupt as was Julius Caesar, and there was no perceptible improvement in the life of the common Roman, although Rome did get to smack down Egypt -- a project which Julius Caesar had begun.

These days, I find myself sympathizing with Caesar: if he WAS corrupt, he was the product of a corrupt society. If he WAS a tyrant, he was CHOSEN to be one. Corrupt or not, tyrant or not, he was a man who trusted his friends. He trusted those who had helped him to achieve his position in the first place. Since his writings indicate that he was a man of intelligence and erudition, with a grasp of politics and history, I deem him much more deserving of sympathy now than I did when I simply accepted the conspirators' assertions that he was unfit to rule.


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