‘Julius Caesar’ the Roman tragedy was written by the famous English playwright William Shakespeare in the year of 1599. The play is based on factual events, such as the assassination of Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator.
Although ‘Julius Caesar’ is set in Rome over 2000 years ago it explores themes such as ambition, greed, superstition, revenge, assassination and the universal theme of politics most of which are relevant to the present day and Shakespeare’s own time, the Elizabethan era. Julius Caesar was assassinated; the link to the Elizabethan era for this would be that several plots to kill Queen Elizabeth I were carried out.
The link to our own time in this instance is the assassination of JFK president of the United States of America. In all three scenarios the conspiracies were set against extremely powerful people who were in leading roles during their lives. It is because of these links that the play ‘Julius Caesar’ appealed to the people in Shakespeare’s time.
Shakespeare’s Globe theatre kept the audience engaged and produced plays that were relevant to them. The people of the Elizabethan era were superstitious people, subsequently Shakespeare wrote his plays’ with elements of superstition in them e.g. ghosts & spirits. In his play ‘Tempest’ he has numerous spirits. In ‘Macbeth’ Macbeth kills the king and then later dies a horrible death himself. We know that the people of the Elizabethan era believed in the divine order which means that they believed kings or queens were appointed by god and therefore only god could remove them from the seat of power.
Consequently if anyone tries to remove them they will die horrible deaths.
Shakespeare wrote for three audiences: the plebeians in the play, the Elizabethan audience and the contemporary audience. However the Elizabethan audience was the main audience partly because there were a lot more of them than the other audiences and partly because Shakespeare’s globe theatre relied mostly on their reactions to make the plays seem more realistic and exciting. The Elizabethan audience would throw orange peels and the like at the actors if the actors were acting a part of the play that they did not like, mostly the Elizabethan audience would react in this way when the part of the play would go against their belief for instance the killing of Julius Caesar.
Even though the play is named after him, Julius Caesar is by no means the main character because most of the play is based on events after his death. The monarch was replaced by the republic four hundred years prior to the events of the play, when the king of Rome had been removed. From then onwards the senate had led Rome.
At the beginning of ‘Julius Caesar’ Caesar has become so powerful that he himself controls the senate. It seems the senate will declare him king before long. The republicans are appalled because the senate which they are particularly proud of is being destroyed. The senate is a system of government with a very precise and sensible balance of power, not unlike the parliament we have today. With anticipation of Caesar becoming king a band of conspirators including Caesars’ close friend Marcus Brutus decide to kill him.
Antony another great friend of Caesars’ is enraged at Caesars death and is determined to get revenge no matter what the cost. “Domestic fury and fierce civil Strife shall cumber all the parts of Italy.” He wants civil war to spread throughout the whole of Italy, and shows Antony’s desire for revenge has no limits because he will effectively destroy a country in order to get vengeance. Furthermore Antony mentions Ate “With Ate by his side, come hot from hell.” Ate is the goddess of vengeance, disorder and mischief. Therefore, in mentioning her one can speculate how far Antony will go in order to get revenge.
Antony plans to manipulate the plebeians into rising in mutiny to enable him to get revenge. “Blood and destruction shall be so in use.” Antony says that blood and destruction will be ordinary events. Blood and destruction are barbaric events and if they are to become normal events then there is no doubt in the fact Antony must mean to bring about mass carnage and war.
The time following the death of Caesar is full of carnage and disorder as the republicans -including the conspirators- and Caesars supporters struggle for power. One can ask many questions: is there a form of government that the ordinary people are better off? There are really two forms of government dictatorship and the republic. Dictatorship may lead to the dictator becoming a ruthless tyrant due to the fact of having lots of power at their disposal. The republic however has a major disadvantage as well because it is understood that in a republic people are elected to represent the public, but the people who are elected to represent the public [senators] may not put forwards what the public may want them to but rather do something else to suit their own needs and desires.
Other questions such as who would be queen Elizabeth I successor as she had no children of her own. The link to the play in this is that Caesar never had any children but he chose somebody else as his successor. The contemporary relevance of this is that in some countries that are lead in dictatorship e.g. in Saudi Arabia the king chooses a successor to take over after they cease to exist. This can also be relevant to countries that have a parliament but also have a monarchy e.g. England, someone else has to take the place of the monarch after the king or queen die.
At Caesars funeral Brutus allows Antony to give a speech after delivering one himself despite Cassius’ warning. Brutus starts his speech with, “Romans, countrymen and lovers.” This shows that he is on the same side as the plebeians. Furthermore he speaks in prose on the basis that if he speaks on the level of speech the plebeians speak on they will accept him as one of their own. “Not that I loved Caesar less, but I loved Rome more.”
Brutus is stating that he loves Rome more than he loved Caesar and is highlighting the fact that he is patriotic. In addition he uses balanced sentences throughout his speech for example, “as he was valiant I honour him.” Brutus appeals to reason and uses balanced sentences as a tool to justify his actions and consequently makes them seem much nobler and more sacrifice like. At the conclusion of his speech Brutus is certain he has won over the crowd. When a plebeian says, “Let him be Caesar.” This highlights how Brutus has managed to get the plebeians on to his side.
Dr Stanley wells says regarding Brutus letting Antony speak second that Brutus makes his mistake by telling Antony to speak second and what he should have really done was let Antony speak first so he knew what he was up against. I disagree with Dr Stanley wells on his opinion that Brutus should let Antony speak first so as to know what he was dealing with because firstly I think that Brutus should not have let Antony speak at all because he never had any concrete proof that Antony was on his side. I further disagree with Dr Stanley wells on the same point when he says as to know what he was up against because Brutus being honourable never suspected that Antony would act against him therefore he would not feel the need to let Antony speak second to find out what he was up against.
Antony speaks directly after Brutus and has a difficult task him as he speaks to a hostile crowd outside the Roman parliament where Caesar was stabbed to death. The crowd is hostile because Brutus has spoken to them justifying the killing of Caesar and being fickle they were thoroughly on his side. Before Antony even speaks one of the plebeians says “T’were best he speak no harm of Brutus here.” This shows that the plebeians are hostile but prepared to listen. However Antony has the crowd’s attention because Brutus tells them to listen to him [Antony]. Secondly Antony enters carrying Caesars body which is used as a dramatic device which enables Antony to capture everyone’s attention.
Antony begins his speech by saying, “Friends, Romans, countrymen.” He uses flattery to soothe the hostile crowd and to get them on his side. Antony also uses Caesars corpse as a plea for sympathy, which makes the plebeians feel sympathetic towards him.
Antony uses the word ‘honourable’ which is Brutus’s best attribute, “he was faithful and just to me, but Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honourable man.” Antony uses the word honourable describing Brutus after giving reason that Caesar was not ambitious. “When the poor have cried Caesar hath wept; ambition should be made out of sterner stuff. Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man.” Antony uses repetition of the word honourable and taints Brutus’s greatest attribute.
In addition Antony involves the plebeians when he says that when the poor have cried Caesar has wept, Antony says this to make Caesar appear not to be ambitious but also to make the plebeians feel pity for Caesar and dislike his killers. After each stage of using the word honourable Antony manipulates the crowd. Antony uses rhetorical questions which state Caesar was not ambitious after giving reason to believe Caesar was not ambitious. “Was this ambition?” Antony successfully manipulates the plebeians in to thinking Caesar has been wronged. “If thou consider rightly of the matter, Caesar has had great wrong.” Antony uses sarcasm when he says ‘honourable’ because really he is saying they are dishonourable, because the word honourable does not fit in with murderers.
Antony gives four reasons as evidence when showing the plebeians Caesar was not ambitious. Firstly he says that Caesar was his friend faithful and just to him. Secondly he mentions that Caesar has bought many captives home to Rome. Thirdly Antony says that when the poor have cried Caesar too has cried. Lastly he says that he presented Caesar with a kingly crown three times which Caesar turned down and refused. Antony uses these four reasons as evidence that Caesar was not ambitious because the things Caesar does in them do not match with the deeds an ambitious person would do but rather a kind, merciful and loving person.
Antony deals with Caesars worst point his desire to become king by simply saying, “I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse.” Antony is saying if Caesar wanted to become king he would surely have accepted the crown I offered him, and I did not only offer him the crown once, I offered it to him three times which Caesar refused. After Antony says he offered the crown and Caesar turned it down he uses a rhetorical question. “Was this ambition?” The rhetorical question gives the plebeians a moment to absorb what Antony has said, it gives them an opportunity to decide whether or not it was ambition. Furthermore Antony makes his point before asking the rhetorical question so what he said will be fresh in the plebeian’s head when they are given a chance in their minds to decide whether or not it was ambition.
Antony mentions examples of Caesars noble and generous behaviour for example the fact that he freed many captives. “He hath bought many captives home to Rome, whose ransom did the general coffers fill.” Antony uses this example of Caesars’ generous behaviour to force the plebeians to revise their opinion of Caesar. Antony mentions Caesars noble behaviour “When the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.” Antony makes out that Caesar loved the people of Rome in order to make the plebeians view Caesar in good light.
Antony then uses a dramatic pause to extend his hold over the crowd with the power of emotion, “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me.” Furthermore, Antony uses the dramatic pause as a way to see by how much he has one the crowd but more importantly let the crowd absorb and reflect upon what he has said. Antony is rewarded for using the dramatic pause by a plebeian saying, “Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.” For Antony this is an indicator on how far he has manipulated the crowd.
Antony uses Caesars will as a prop, “But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar; I found it in his closet t’is his will.” Antony uses the will as a delaying tactic to hold the crowds curiosity, the will is the climax of Antony’s speech because it is when Antony mentions the will the plebeians become most interested. “The will, the will! We will hear Caesars will!” furthermore divine order is mentioned, “And dip their napkins into his sacred blood.” Antony is clever to play on the plebeian’s superstition because the Romans believed in divine order. Antony mentions the word ‘sacred’ as a reference to divine order and reminds the plebeians of their belief in the fact that if they do not do something about the removal of a person appointed by god they will die horrible deaths.
Antony tells the plebeians that he does not intend to read out the contents of the will. “Which pardon me I do not mean to read.” However he tells the enough about the will to make them determined to hear the whole of its contents. “T’is a good thing you know not that you are his heirs.” Furthermore Antony informs them of how they should react when they hear the will. “It will inflame you, it will make you mad.” When the plebeians demand that Antony read out the will it gives him a chance to further his hold over them. “And let me show you him that made the will.” Antony then goes on to ask “Shall I descend?, will you give me leave?” Antony makes the plebeians think they are controlling him and the situation by asking their permission to descend. When the plebeians give him permission to descend Antony brings himself physically to their level unlike Brutus who used a different tactic namely speaking in prose.
Once Antony has descended to the level of the plebeians he proceeds to say, “If you have tears prepare to shed them now.” Again here Antony gives the commoners ideas of what they should do and what he expects from them. Antony lies when he pretends to know who made which cut on Caesars’ cloak he does this to make the scene more dramatic, the murder more gruesome and the conspirators more treacherous. “Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through: see what a rent the envious Casca made.” Antony mentions how close Brutus was to Caesar, “For Brutus as you know was Caesars’ angel.”
“This was the unkindest cut of all, for when the noble Caesar saw him stab, in gratitude more strong than traitors arms.” Antony describes the closeness between Brutus and Caesar to highlight how dire the level of treachery was. Antony uses positive adjectives to describe Caesar saying he was a good man. “Quite vanquish’d him: then burst open his mighty heart.” Antony counteracts what Brutus says [in balanced sentences] about the killing of Caesar being more an elegant sacrifice than cold blooded murder. “Here, is himself, marr’d, as you see with traitors.” Antony says that the conspirators mutilated and disfigured Caesar and consequently rejoiced in the act of killing him.
Antony finally destroys Brutus’s most valued attribute [honour], “I fear I wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar, I do fear it.” After Antony says this the plebeians realise that Brutus and his fellow conspirators are not honourable men. “They were traitors, honourable men!” In saying this Antony effectively stripped Brutus of his greatest attribute.
Antony uses flattery while bringing about the subject of mutiny “Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up to a sudden flood of mutiny.” Antony then goes on to say “They are wise and honourable.” Antony is being sarcastic because he already knows that the plebeians think badly of the conspirators, “Let not a traitor live.”
Antony makes out that he is not an orator and is not good at giving speeches. “For I neither have wit, nor words, nor worth, Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech.” I am no orator as Brutus is, but you all know me as a plain blunt man.” Antony is trying to make himself seem plain and simple while at the same time by saying Brutus is the orator and therefore he is the manipulative one.
Antony makes out that he is simple in order to give his words more standing. Furthermore if he was to make out he was clever and good at delivering speeches then the plebeians might not trust him because they might suspect him of trying to manipulate them. Antony points out that Brutus is the orator and he himself is a simple man.
Antony says Brutus will try and manipulate you in to doing his will but he himself is again feeding ideas of mutiny to the plebeians. “But were I Brutus, and Brutus Antony there were an Antony would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue in every wound of Caesar that should move the stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.
After using Caesars’ will as a delaying tactic Antony finally reveals the contents in a final effort to make the plebeians riot with maximum possible intensity. “To every several man, seventy-five drachmas.” In that time seventy-five drachmas would be quite a lot of money to a commoner as a result the plebeians would be overwhelmed with gratitude and would want to avenge Caesars death straight away with renewed intensity. However Antony increases the intensity and the sense of gratitude by further adding, “He hath left you all his walks” Antony mentions a few things like private arbours and newly planted orchards then he says “He hath left them to you and your heirs forever.”
Antony uses the body of Caesar to move the citizens “Come, away, away! We’ll burn his body in the holy place.” The citizens move to cremate Caesar but in going they are up and running ready to mutiny “And with the brands of fire burn the traitors’ houses.” This highlights Antony’s success in manipulating the crowd. While standing over Caesars’ corpse Antony said, “Cry havoc and let’s slip the dogs of war.” This is just what Antony has achieved. One can say the plebeians are like sheep when one moves they all move.
Antony was successful in manipulating the crowd because he appealed to emotion which is very powerful and can if applied correctly make people believe and follow you rather quickly. In addition, Antony uses a dramatic pause, dramatic device [Caesars corpse], delaying tactic when mentioning Caesars will to keep the plebeian’s attention and he makes out that he is not an orator consequently giving his words credibility and makes them seem like they have come straight from his heart. Antony was successful because he uses a variety of language techniques ranging from repetition to the use of rhetorical questions. It helped Antony that Brutus appealed to the reason of the crowd which in contrast to emotion is weak. Furthermore it further helps Antony that Brutus decides to speak first so then Antony knew what he is up against and how best to counteract what Brutus had said.
‘Julius Caesar’ is relevant today for many reasons one of them is that like Antony many of the politicians these days manipulate people. Take Tony Blair and George Bush for example they used repetition when talking about weapons of mass destruction and saying they were going to “help the civilians of Iraq’, while all the while just like Antony appealing to emotion to get their way. Antony is your typical politician, although the circumstances were different then and Antony had a different goal which was to make the plebeians riot the overall goal is exactly the same manipulating people in order to get their own way.