The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

“The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” is play written in 1599 by the famous playwright William Shakespeare. The play is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies and is based on true events from Roman history.

The story of the play is the story of the death of the Roman statesman and general Julius Caesar in 44 BC. The plot to assassinate Caesar, his death and the fierce battle that was waged over his death are all detailed within the play and many of Shakespeare’s most famous invented phrases are included.

Summary

The play opens with a group of Roman citizens in the street celebrating General Caesar’s victory over the city of Pompey at the battle of Munda. Two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus enter the street and mockingly tell the citizens to get back to work. One of the men celebrating is a cobbler and Murellus begins talking to him, misinterpreting the cobblers sarcastic replies as serious. Murellus grows angry with the cobbler but Flavius interrupts to ask the cobbler why he is not working. The cobbler informs him that he is taking a holiday so that he can celebrate, watching the parade and Caesar’s procession through the city. Admonishing the cobbler for his folly, Murellus asks him what real significance Caesar’s victory actually has, insinuating that, since it did not involve conquering a foreign foe it did not add to the great glory of Rome.

Murellus reminds the citizens that they used to glory in the triumphs of Pompey and now they celebrate it’s defeat. Murellus scolds the citizens for their disloyalty and orders them to leave.Once alone, Flavius tells Murellus to go to the Capitol and remove any crowns that had been placed by the citizens on the statues of Caesar. He insists that if they can control the popular opinion of Caesar they can control him, himself.

In the next scene, Caesar enters a public square with a group of his generals, and his wife, Calpurnia and a Soothsayer. The Soothsayer cautions him to “beware the Ides of March”. Caesar dismisses the man, saying “He is a dreamer; let us leave him- pass”. The group passes the man except for Brutus and Cassius, two of Caesar’s generals. Cassius observes that Brutus has not seemed his normal self lately and Brutus tells him that he “Has turned the trouble of my countenance merely upon myself”, intimating that he has been suffering from some troubling thoughts lately. Cassius tells Brutus that he is well respected and admired in the city and volunteers to serve as Brutus’ glass so that he may see himself reflected in different ways. Brutus says that he fears that the citizens want Caesar as their king. He says that though he loves Caesar, he does not consider him his superior. Cassius agrees and recalls a time when he had to save Caesar from drowning and another time when Caesar suffered from a seizure. He confides in Brutus that he doubts someone with such a weak constitution could become a king.

As the men are talking, Caesar and his procession return. Caesar sees Cassius and comments to another of his generals, Antony that he Cassius looks like a man who “Thinks too much”. Antony tells Caesar to fear him not but Caesar that he doesn’t fear Cassius but that he prefers to avoid him.

Brutus and Cassius take the general Casca aside to ask him what happened during the time they were absent at Caesar’s procession. He tells them that Antony offered Caesar a coronet three times but Caesars refused it. He also says that when the crowd was cheering for Caesar he fell to the ground in a fit. Brutus wonders if Caesar is sick. Casca tells him that Caesar was very merry before he fell and that the crowd still declared their love for him afterward. The fall did not diminish his authority. Casca adds that the crowd still would have cheered “If Caesar had stabbed their mothers”.

Cassius asks if the great figure Cicero spoke and Casca says that he did but he, himself couldn’t understand him noting, ‘It was Greek to me’.
Before Casca leaves he notes that Flavius and Murellus were ‘put to silence’ (that is, fired from their positions) for removing scarfs and tokens off of Caesar’s statues.

Brutus leaves shortly after Casca leaving Cassius alone. Speaking to himself, Cassius says that he hopes to ‘seduce’ Brutus away from being noble. Cassius decides to forge writings from Roman citizens announcing their support for Brutus and their fear of Caesar’s ascent to power, then throw them into Brutus’ house.

Later, Casca and Cicero speak outside on a Roman street. Casca tells of many odd occurrences that he has seen lately that he feels are a portent of danger ahead, such as bad weather, a lion wandering around the Capitol and most strangely, a man with his hands on fire who did not appear to be in any pain. Cicero tells him that men will interpret things how they want and not to worry. He asks if Caesar is coming to the Capitol tomorrow. Casca confirms that he will. Cicero leaves while telling Casca that “This disturbed sky is not to walk in”.

Soon, Cassius appears. Casca asks him why he has been out walking in a storm. Cassius compares the storm to Caesar and says that he believes the God’s are using the storm to make a point about Caesar’s rise to power and how unworthy he is. Casca tells Cassius that the senators plan to make Caesar the king the next day. Angered, Cassius draws his blade and swears to the Gods that if they can make a weak man like Caesar king then they can give him the power to defeat him. He calls Rome rubbish for empowering “So vile a thing as Caesar”. Casca agrees and Cassius sees this as an opportunity to tell him that he has already moved a certain number of high-powered Roman’s to join a movement to overthrow Caesar.

Confirming this assertion, one of his conspirators, a man named Cinna enters. Cassius introduces the two men and then tells them about his conversation with Brutus earlier that day. Cassius gives Cinna the letters that he forged so that the latter can place them in Brutus’ chair in the Senate, as well as on his statue and in his house. Cinna exits and Cassius tells Casca that ‘Three parts’ of Brutus already belong to their cause. Casca hopes that Brutus participation in the scheme will help sway more Roman citizens as he is a very popular, well-loved figure in the city.

Act two begins with Brutus pacing in his orchard. He has an argument with himself about Caesar, knowing that the king will have to die. He acknowledges that though he has never seen Caesar mad with power in the past, there is no way that one could hold as much power as a king without abusing it. Lucius, Brutu’s manservant, enters with a letter that he found near a window in the house. The letter attacks Brutus for sleeping while Rome is in danger. Brutus takes the letter as an attack against Caesar and believes that it is a confirmation of all of Rome’s desire to see Caesar dethroned. Lucius returns to tell Brutus that he has visitors—Cassius and his conspirators. Cassius introduces the men to Brutus and speaks briefly to him about joining the group. The conspirators then being to discuss, in earnest the plot to kill Caesar. Brutus says that he wishes he could just kill the spirit of Caesar without actually killing the man himself. He says that they should kill him “boldly but not wrathfully” so that they may be “sacrificers but not butchers”.

Cassius wonders if they should kill Antony as well but Brutus refuses to shed so much blood. One of the men, Decius assures the others that he will be able to ignore the soothsayers and augers and come to the Capitol. The men disperse while Brutus suggests that they try to appear as Roman actors do in order to fool everyone into mistaking their intentions.

After the men depart, Brutus’ wife Portia enters and asks Brutus why he has been acting so strange. He tells her that he has felt unwell. She wonders why he refuses to tell her what’s really wrong saying that by virtue of her place as his wife he should tell her. He only says that he wishes he deserved such a noble wife. There is a knock at the door and Brutus sends Portia away. Two men enter, Ligarius and Lucius. Ligarius looks sick but tells Brutus that he would not be sick if Brutus had in hand any exploit in the name of honor. Brutus says that he does and ushers Ligarius offstage to tell him more.

In the next scene, Caesar is awake at night, wandering through his house in a nightgown, having been kept awake by his wife’s nightmares. She has called out three times about his murder. He sends one of his servants to bid the priests to present a sacrifice and tell him the results.

His wife, Calpurnia enters and tells Caesar that she insists he stay home and away from the Capital since they have had so many bad signs about his future. Caesar refuses saying that it’s pointless to try to change the plans of the mighty Gods. He and Calpurnia argue further until the servant enters again and tells him that the priests recommend that he stay home. But Caesar refuses still, saying that he will not give in to fear. Calpurnia finally begs Caesar to send Antony in his place to the senate and Caesar relents to humor her.

Decius enters to take Caesar to the senate. He informs him that he is not going and to tell the senate that it is simply his will to stay at home. Caesar tells Decius that his wife had a dream in which she saw his statue spouting blood and many smiling Romans bathing in it. Decius tells him that her dream has been misinterpreted and that it really signifies that Roman’s will gain strength from Caesar’s lifeblood. He also says that the senate has decided to give Caesar a crown that day but that if he stays home they might not. Caesar changes his mind again, agreeing to go. A man named Artemidorous enters first in the next scene, reading a paper that he has written to Caesar warning him to watch out for the conspirators. He stands along the route that Caesar will soon take to the senate and plans to hand the letter to him.

Nearby, Portia sends Brutus’ servant to the senate to report back on Caesar. A soothsayer enters and Portia asks him if Caesar has made it to the Capitol yet. He confirms that he has not but that he wishes to have a word with him so he intends to wait along Caesar’s route to the Capitol, hoping to catch him before he arrives.

In act three, both Artemidorous and the soothsayer approach Caesar as he passes in the street. Artemidorous hands Caesar his letter but Caesar dismisses him. Caesar and his generals enter the senate and one of the conspirators draws Antony away from the room. Metellus approaches Caesar to request that his brother, who has been banished from Rome, be given permission to return. Caesar denies him, saying that there is not just cause to revoke the banishment. Brutus and Cassius kneel at Caesar’s feet and repeat Metellus’ plea, but Caesar insists that his mind will not be changed. He tells them that might as well try to “lift up Olympus” as try to sway his convictions. All of the conspirators come forth to kneel at Caesar’s feet. Casca stabs Caesar first, followed by the other men. Brutus is the last to do so. Betrayed, Caesar speaks his last words, “Et tu, Brute? –Then fall, Caesar”, before dying.

In the confusion that follows, the conspirators proclaim the triumph of liberty and announce that tyranny is dead. Many other people run from the room including Antony. Brutus encourages the conspirators to bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood and then go to the marketplace to proclaim peace, freedom and liberty. Cassius is the first to agree, saying that the scene will be acted over and over again throughout history in commemoration.

Antony’s servant enters bearing a message. He says that though Antony loved Caesar, he is willing to swear allegiance to Brutus if the latter promises not to punish him the way he did Caesar. Brutus agrees and soon Antony himself comes to speak to the men. He tells the conspirators that if they wish to kill him they should do it at once, saying that there is no better place to die than by Caesar’s side. Brutus assures him that they have pity for him and for the Roman citizens. Antony is relieved, saying that he doesn’t doubt their wisdom and shaking their bloody hands. Cassius questions Antony’s loyalty to their cause but Antony affirms that he wishes to be their ally and that he is sure they will give him just reasons for their actions. Antony asks if he can take Caesar’s body to the Forum to recite a short funeral speech. Initially Cassius disagrees but Brutus approves of the idea, insisting that it will endear him to the citizens by making him look charitable.

The conspirators depart, leaving Antony alone with Caesar’s body. He asks that Caesar pardon him for being meek and gentle with his murderers. He says that Caesar was the noblest man that ever lived and prophesies that a curse shall fall over all of Italy for the destruction of Caesar. Antony swears that Caesar’s ghost will cross the countryside looking for revenge using the famous phrase, “Cry ‘Havok!’ and let slip the dogs of war”. A servant enters and Antony tells him to return to his master, Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius and keep him out of the city. He tells him that it is too dangerous for the boy now that Caesar is dead. But he urges the servant to come hear his funeral speech so that they can gauge the public reaction to the murder and decide how to proceed.

In the next scene, Brutus is addressing a crowd in the Forum. He tells them that he did not kill Caesar out of a lack of love for the man, but because his love for Rome meant more to him than his love for Caesar. He tells the citizens that they would’ve lived as slaves under Caesar’s reign. He asks the crowd if he has offended them and they confirm that he hasn’t. Antony enters with Caesar’s body. Brutus tells the crowd that, though Antony had no part in the conspiracy he will now be part of the commonwealth. The crowd cheers his generosity. Antony ascends to the stage and begins his speech by saying that he is not there to praise Caesar but to bury him. He acknowledges that Brutus is right about Caesar being overly ambitious but then reminds the crowd of the day when Caesar was offered the coronet three times and refused it. He says that Caesar sympathized with the poor and that they should all mourn for him now.

Antony begins to weep and the crowd is moved by his speech. He brings out Caesar’s will and they beg him to read it. Antony replies that he can’t because then they would be too touched by Caesar’s love for them. Antony says that he has been speaking too long and he fears he wronged the honorable men who stabbed Caesar. The crowd beings to get restless, insisting that he read the will and shouting that the conspirators were traitors and murderers. Antony relents, first showing them Caesar’s body and the vicious stab wounds that cover it. He insists that he is not trying to stir the crowd up to a sudden flood of mutiny.

The citizens in the crowd declare that they will mutiny and burn the house of Brutus. Antony tells them to hold off and reminds them that he has not yet read the will. In Caesar’s will, he left a sum of seventy-five drachmas to every Roman citizen. He also wrote that his private gardens and orchards be left available to all Roman’s and their heirs to tour at their pleasure. The crowd is so moved by this that they swear to avenge Caesar’s death. They form a mob and rush off to wreak havoc on the city. Once alone, Antony wonders what mischief he has just set loose on Rome. Octavius’ servant returns to tell Antony that Octavius has already come to Rome. Antony says that he will go and see him. The servant notes that Brutus and Cassius have been driven from Rome. Nearby, a poet named Cinna is walking along the street. The mob asks him his name and he tells them. They confuse him with Cinna the conspirator and swarm him, beating him to death.

In act four, Antony meets Octavius and Lepidus as his house. They talk about who shall die, going over a list of names of men that betrayed Caesar. Lepidus consents to the death of his brother, Publius and Antony does the same for his own nephew. Lepidus leaves and Antony asks Octavius if he thinks that Lepidus is worthy to be a part of their senate. Octavius agrees that he is but Antony still has doubts. Antony mentions that Brutus and Cassius are levying powers to build an army.

In the next scene, in Brutus’ camp, Brutus receives a message that Cassius is becoming displeased with him. Cassius arrives shortly and charges Brutus with having wronged him. Brutus insists that he hasn’t and asks Cassius if they can speak together in his tent. Inside the tent, Cassius accuses Brutus of having condemned one of their men for taking bribes even though Cassius sent letters asking him not to. Brutus says that Cassius himself took bribes at times and reminds him of the death of Caesar and asks him if they should be allowing themselves to stoop to the kind of corruption that they were trying to eliminate by killing Caesar. Cassius gets angry and tells Brutus to mind his health and not bait him any farther. The two men continue to fight until Cassius draws his dagger and tells Brutus to stab him as he did Caesar. Finally relenting, Brutus tells Cassius to put the dagger away and the two men embrace and forgive each other. A bowl of wine is called for an they drink together. Brutus confides that he has been under a lot of emotional strain lately as his wife has recently committed suicide.

Messengers enter with news from Rome. The new government of Octavius, Antony and Lepidus have put hundreds of senators to death. Brutus suggests that they march to Philippi to meet the opposing army. Cassius says that he would rather let the enemy seek them and waste their means and supplies. Brutus insists that they march and Cassius agrees. The others exit leaving Brutus alone in his tent to sleep. As he lays awake the ghost of Caesar enters and tells Brutus that they will see each other again in Philippi.

In the final act, Octavius and Antony stand on a battlefield in Philippi ready to meet their enemies. The twin armies of Cassius and Brutus enter, and the leaders meet to exchange insults. Octavius swears revenge for his father’s death and the two armies prepare for battle. After Octavius and Antony depart, Cassius tells one of his soldiers to tell him that he has seen some bad omens recently. He tells Brutus that their future looks uncertain and they may lose. The men agree that they will die on the battlefield rather than be captured and led through Rome to be executed.

The battle begins and Octavius’ army manages a quick defeat. Entering Cassius’ camp and setting fire to his tents. Cassius sees an approaching army and sends his second in command, Titinius to see who they belong to. Cassius seeing that he will surely lose the battle, gives a soldier his sword and covers his eyes, asking that the soldier kill him so that he won’t be captured. His last words are about Caesar being revenged by the very sword that killed him.

Titinius then returns. Initially confused by Cassius’ corpse, he realizes that Cassius must have seen him embrace the leader of the other army—Brutus and gotten the wrong impression, thinking that he’d been captured. Titinius mourns over Cassius’ body and kills himself out of anguish. Brutus hears of the news of his friends death and goes to see his body, ordering that it be taken away and cursing Caesar’s grave.

Back in the field, Brutus, dispirited and close to losing, asks his few remaining men to hold his sword so that he may run into it and kill himself.
He tells them that Caesar’s ghost has appeared to him and assured him that it is time to die. His men urge him to flee but he tells them to retreat and that he will join them later. He asks one of his men to stay behind and hold his sword so that he may impale himself and die honorably. While dying, Brutus declares, “Caesar, now be still. I killed not thee with half so good a will”.

Octavius and Antony enter with their army and find Brutus’ body. Octavius decides to take Brutus’ men into his own army and declares that since Brutus only killed Caesar because he thought he was helping the common good, he was the noblest Roman of all. Octavius adds that they will bury him in an honorable way and the other men depart to celebrate their victory.

Genre: tragedy

Place: Rome

Time: year 44 BC

Character Analysis

Julius Caesar – though the play is named after him, Caesar is probably the least portrayed character. He is only in a handful of scenes and dies halfway through in the third act. However, his death is the impetus that drives the entire story along. Caesar is an ambitious, stubborn, headstrong man who desires power even at the cost of his own life. He goes against his superstitious nature in going to the senate to be crowned and dies as a result. However, his permanence and legacy is established in the end of the play with his son taking the thrown.

Antony – he is a good orator and a better perhaps even a better conspirator than any of the men that killed Caesar. His improvisatory nature helps him to convince the citizens of Rome to avenge Caesar’s death and helps him to win the battle in the end. He is never shown to necessarily be after power and seems to genuinely love his friend, Caesar even after death.

Brutus – it’s hard to define Brutus character in the play. Mid way through, he appears to be the villain but by the end he comes off as almost heroic in his death refusal to be captured. His friendship with Cassius is genuine and the two men almost seem to be closer than anyone else in the play. Brutus kills Caesar out of a desire to serve what he thinks is the common good of Rome. He honestly thinks that Caesar is not right to be king and will cripple the city and thus decides that killing him is the best course of action, but he does not intend to take the throne for himself after Caesar’s death, a fact that hints at his ultimate nature.

Octavius – though he is adopted, Octavius is very much like his father in his stubborn, headstrong nature and his refusal to back down. We’re not introduced to his character till almost the end of the play but he leaves a big impression as someone who intends to get vengeance for his father’s death and take the throne only afterward.

William Shakespeare Biography