Honor as Theme: Honor remains an important throughout the play, both before and after Caesar’s assassination. The theme is explored through the action and speech of various characters, primarily Brutus, Cassius, and Antony. The words “honor” and “honorable” appear frequently in the text, underscoring the importance of the theme throughout the play.
- For discussion: Establish that Brutus defines himself first and foremost as a man of honor. Point out his declaration to Cassius in act 1, scene 2: “If it be aught toward the general good, / Set honor in one eye and death i’ the other / And I will look on both indifferently. / For let the gods so speed me as I love / The name of honor more than I fear death.” Based on this, what does honor mean to Brutus?
- For discussion: Why does Brutus struggle with his decision to join the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar? How does his internal conflict relate to his sense of honor? Why does he decide that he is honor-bound to join the conspiracy and murder Caesar? Do you agree with his decision? Explain your reasoning.
- For discussion: When Brutus speaks at Caesar’s funeral in act 3, scene 2, how does he discuss honor in relation to Caesar and his assassination? How does the crowd of Romans respond?
- For discussion: When Antony addresses the crowd after Brutus in act 3, scene 2, how does he turn the concept of honor against Brutus and the conspirators? How do the Romans respond to Antony’s oration? Is his statement that Brutus is an “honorable man” entirely ironic?
- For discussion: In act 4, scene 3, why is Brutus so angry with Cassius? How has Cassius dishonored their assassination of Caesar? How does Cassius’s behavior sully Brutus’s idealization of Caesar’s murder?
- For discussion: In act 5, scene 5, why does Antony conclude that Brutus had been “the noblest Roman” among the conspirators? How do he and Octavius honor Brutus?
Ambition as Theme: A primary theme in the play is ambition, which can be seen in various characters’ desire for power. Through Caesar, Cassius, and Antony, Shakespeare examines personal ambition and its consequences.
- For discussion: After defeating Pompey in a civil war, how powerful has Caesar become in Rome? What are some details in the text that indicate his desire to rule Rome as an emperor or king? How does his ambition bring about his assassination?
- For discussion: How does Cassius’s motivation in assassinating Caesar differ from Brutus’s? How does Cassius feel about Caesar? What does he hope to achieve by murdering Caesar? What are the consequences of Cassius’s ambition?
- For discussion: During Caesar’s funeral in act 3, scene 2, Antony discusses the theme of ambition before the Roman public. He cites Brutus’s claims that Caesar was ambitious before pointing to the benefits of Caesar’s supposed ambition. How is ambition appraised by Roman culture? In the context of Caesar’s life, is ambition a virtue or a vice?
- For discussion: How does Antony initially respond to Caesar’s murder? What seems to motivate his desire to destroy the conspirators? In act 4, scene 1, how does Antony’s discussion with Octavius and Lepidus suggest that Antony has become ambitious and now pursues power for himself? How does ambition change Antony?
Regicide as Theme: Although Julius Caesar was not a king, he effectively ruled Rome as a monarch prior to his assassination—a point not lost on Shakespeare and his audiences, all subjects of Queen Elizabeth I (1533–1603). Historically, regicide was considered the most heinous of crimes in English society, an act that upended the natural order, engendered political chaos and civil war, and offended God. The great consequences of murdering a head of state, crowned or not, are made evident in the play.
- For discussion: How is Caesar’s murder described in act 3, scene 1? In what ways is it especially violent and bloody? When Antony is left alone with Caesar’s body, how does he describe the civil war...
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