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Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Discussion Questions 1 - 10


In Julius Caesar how do Brutus's relationship with Portia and Caesar's relationship with Calphurnia reveal each man's character?

Julius Caesar is stubborn where Brutus is compassionate. Brutus respects his wife's devotion, as he implores, "O ye gods, render me worthy of this noble wife!" He also appears to have honored her requests for information, since she asks after Caesar's welfare in Act 2, Scene 4. In Act 2, Scene 2, Caesar initially honors his wife's request that he stay home. Like Brutus he respects his wife's pleading and her appeal to his authority. However, he complies to humor her, rather than to give her status as a partner in the marriage. That he treats her concerns lightly is demonstrated later in the scene when Decius manipulates Caesar through flattery. Rather than heed Calphurnia's concerns about her ominous dream, Caesar chooses to believe Decius's interpretation, which portrays Caesar as Rome's savior. Despite Calphurnia's misgivings, Caesar goes with Decius to the Senate.

In Julius Caesar how does the sickness metaphor—"A piece of work that will make sick men whole"—reflect the motivations of conspirators such as Ligarius and Brutus?

Brutus is motivated by the collective good. He focuses on the people who are suffering under Caesar, the sick men, rather than on Caesar himself. Ligarius—who has a grudge against Caesar for a past insult—appears mildly ill with an unnamed sickness until Brutus offers to tell him about the plot. This so invigorates Ligarius that he declares himself healed—literally a sick man made whole (healthy). Such a dramatic turnaround indicates that Ligarius's illness was as much psychological as physical; he now is excited to participate in the action that may heal Rome. When he asks "Are not some whole that we must make sick?" it is with the inference that the whole person, Caesar, will soon be dead.

In Julius Caesar how does the lack of heart in the animal Caesar's priests sacrificed also apply to Julius Caesar's character?

Like the sacrificial beast without a heart, Julius Caesar claims he will be "a beast without a heart"—a man without courage or convictions—if he stays home, as the priests advise him to do. Caesar believes his stubbornness and willingness to face death are honorable traits. These traits have allowed him to be victorious in battle time and time again. Many of the conspirators believe otherwise. They think Caesar shows a lack of heart in how he treats the Senate and the common people, putting on a show for the plebeians but refusing to acknowledge their messages, denying Publius's request to reenter the country, and mocking the petitioners for kneeling in front of him.

What is the function of Antony's repetition of "Brutus is an honorable man" during his funeral speech in Julius Caesar?

The phrase is an antistrophe—a rhetorical device that uses the repetition of words at the end of consecutive phrases or sentences. This repetition draws attention to the repeated words and develops a rhythm to the speech—which appeals to the audience's emotions. Here the phrase is also employed as verbal irony. The first time Antony says "Brutus is an honorable man," he appears to mean it sincerely. The second time and each time after that, Antony precedes the phrase with an example of how Brutus was less than honest, even immoral. The antistrophe then becomes a rallying cry against Brutus. Antony knows how much the Romans respect Brutus, so he can't denounce him. He can only offer this seemingly complimentary phrase that, juxtaposed with unflattering statements, eventually cues the audience in to his true meaning.

In Julius Caesar Antony says of Caesar, "The evil that men do lives after them." How does this quotation apply to Brutus and Cassius after their deaths?

Once they leave town to escape their enemies, Brutus and Cassius know they can't escape what they've done. The generals who drive them to defeat—Antony and Octavius—see them only as the men who killed Julius Caesar. Brutus realizes in Act 4, when Caesar's ghost appears, that the action he tried to justify was a crime. His suicide is motivated more by avenging Caesar's death than by escaping slavery. Cassius, too, cites Caesar's assassination in his final words. By killing himself Cassius causes his army's defeat, ensuring that suicide based on misinformation will be his legacy. Antony's elegy for Brutus, while generous, cites the assassination that has come to define Brutus even in death.

Brutus mentions that evil often hides in "smiles and affability." Which Julius Caesar characters exemplify this strategy for hiding evil, and how?

Every man who betrays Julius Caesar walks to the Senate as his friend. They petition Caesar with kindness up until Casca makes the first strike. Octavius is aware of this technique when he comes to Rome, saying to Antony, "some that smile have in their hearts, I fear, millions of mischiefs." The conspirators believe Caesar is employing this technique with the plebeians, appearing humble to them by refusing the crown while secretly planning to deprive them of their freedoms. Antony also projects friendliness, relying on his reputation as a lover of plays and parties to keep people from knowing his ambitious nature. In the final scene, Octavius and Antony show respect toward Brutus and his soldiers. The audience is left to wonder whether this respect is genuine, or a strategy to keep as many Romans as possible on the side of the new triumvirate.

How and why does Brutus show stoicism and conceal his emotions throughout Julius Caesar?

Brutus conceals his anguish in Act 2, when he sits alone and agonizes in his orchard. He lies to Portia by telling her he isn't feeling well, and prioritizes making others around him comfortable. After Portia's death Brutus expresses a desire to move on, only mentioning her to Cassius as an explanation for his unusually quarrelsome mood. He tells Messala, "with meditating that she must die once, I have the patience to endure it now." In Act 5 Brutus approaches his death as inevitable, declaring that he's "arming myself with patience to stay the providence of some high powers that govern us below." He wants to be ready for whatever those high powers will bring him, even if he doesn't like it. This is a more modest version of Caesar's thoughts about death in Act 3.

Why does the triumvirate kill Cicero in Julius Caesar?

Cicero is a senator well-known for his independent streak. Brutus says, "He will never follow anything that other men begin." As Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus consolidate power, they want as many Romans on their side as possible. Their recruitment of followers starts with Antony's crowd-inciting funeral speech. The mourners are first led to believe that the conspirators are noble men, and then are convinced that revenge must be exacted for Caesar's death. A senator with a tendency to think for himself would be unlikely to support the new regime. Julius Caesar's death shows the new leaders the danger of allowing dissent. Thus Cicero becomes a threat to be eliminated.

In Julius Caesar why does the ghost of Julius Caesar appear to Brutus but to no other character?

The ghost is both a manifestation of Brutus's lingering guilt and a symbol of revenge. When Caesar's ghost refers to itself as "thy evil spirit" it implies that Brutus, as a participant in an evil deed, can't escape the consequences of that act. The ghost's appearance foreshadows Brutus's downfall at Philippi. Additionally the ghost indicates that Caesar will live on in other leaders. Brutus, the only assassin to act for the good of Rome and to eradicate tyranny in general, learns that tyranny will always be around. The other assassins were only concerned about getting rid of one tyrant, and don't have or use these capabilities of reflection. The audience experiences much of the play from Brutus's point of view, and he frequently comments on developing events to the audience. He's also the only character to undergo real crisis and change. Thus the impact of Caesar's ghost is meant to further only Brutus's character arc.

In Julius Caesar what is the significance of Julius Caesar's and Calphurnia's inability to bear a child?

The infertility indicates that Caesar has no natural-born heirs. Once he leaves power, the leadership seat is completely open. This situation drives tension in the play until Act 4, when Caesar's great-nephew and adopted son Octavius fills the slot. The couple's infertility also brings Caesar's superstition to the audience's attention. During the Feast of Lupercal, races are run by men carrying thongs (whips) made from the hide of sacrificial animals. The Romans believe that being struck by these animal-skin whips can help women become pregnant. Thus Caesar instructs Antony to strike Calphurnia as he runs past. Caesar's hopeful superstition represents a possible crack in the armor of his forceful demeanor.

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