Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


In Julius Caesar what does Caesar's frequent use of the third person (when referring to himself) say about both Caesar's public persona and his private self?

Several characters refer to themselves in the third person from time to time. Caesar, more than anyone, uses this technique to create a second self—a Colossus, as Cassius says, who is invincible, fearless, beloved, and godlike. This style of reference instills a certain formality in Caesar and other characters. Yet as they indulge in it, they reveal a degree of narcissism, as well. Caesar wants to show this super-self to others, including his wife. He tells her that when opponents "see the face of Caesar, they are vanished." He also refers to his own honor code in front of Decius: "Shall Caesar send a lie?" But deep down he knows he's just another man.

In Julius Caesar how does the mirror imagery Cassius uses reflect the qualities he and other Romans see in Brutus?

As Cassius describes the mirror image of Brutus, Brutus sees himself portrayed as a logical replacement for Caesar; among the senators he is the only one with the wisdom, compassion, and vision to lead Rome. Cassius shows Brutus his public self, the man motivated by duty to the commonwealth. Brutus's private self, however, is guided by a strong moral compass that points toward rejecting leadership. In Act 1 Cassius still has some persuading to do to convince Brutus that Caesar's ambition is a danger to Rome and that his friend must die. Yet he has started Brutus along his path to conspiracy in the assassination.

In Julius Caesar how do the dying words of Cassius and Brutus reveal the character of each man?

Cassius dies because of a misunderstanding. It's a vengeful death, less honorable than that of Brutus. His last words reference the deed that started it all: "Caesar, thou art revenged, even with the sword that killed thee." These words suggest that he still identifies most strongly as an assassin, with mixed pride and regret. Brutus also refers to avenging Caesar. "Caesar, now be still," he says to quiet the ghost, implying that now that Brutus is dead, Caesar's discontented spirit can cease wandering the earth and rest. "I killed not thee with half so good a will," he continues. He embraces death, knowing it's time. He believes he's a man with good intentions who committed a tragic crime. Cassius's words to Brutus in Act 2 may have been right—Romans think much more highly of Brutus than Brutus does of himself.

In Julius Caesar how does Julius Caesar's death scene exemplify the ritual and order of a sacrifice?

Brutus says the death of Julius Caesar should be a sacrifice, not a murder. He doesn't want the men acting out of anger or passion—otherwise they're just murderers. Blood sacrifice was normal in ancient Rome, so by using this ritual, Brutus helps justify the assassination morally. The deed has been planned. The setting is on the Senate floor, a place of ritual and ceremony, similar to a courthouse. The assassins all kneel before Caesar, as supplicants. After the death, the men bathe their hands and swords in Caesar's blood. They plan to show the blood to the townspeople, because Caesar has been sacrificed for the people's benefit.

How does Cassius's belief that the conspirators will be known forever as "the men that gave their country liberty" create situational and dramatic irony in Julius Caesar?

Situational irony—when the actual outcome of a situation differs from the expected outcome—shows in the anger and confusion of the plebeians at an event designed to give them liberty. In Act 3, Scene 1, Antony and the servant who see Caesar's dead body are both upset—they certainly don't cheer and praise the conspirators. Dramatic irony—when the audience knows information that the characters do not—shows later in the play when the war begins. The irony also relies on the audience's knowledge of how Roman history actually panned out. Instead of enjoying liberty, Rome fell into the hands of despotic emperors for hundreds of years. This empire came into full force after the death of Julius Caesar.

How does the exclamation "Let him be Caesar!" after Brutus's funeral speech for Julius Caesar prove that the plebeians misunderstand Brutus's motivations in Julius Caesar?

Brutus tells Cassius in Act 1, Scene 2, that he doesn't really want to be a replacement for Caesar. He'd rather not lead in perilous times. And he wants to be a different kind of ruler, democratic and sensible. Brutus believes that the last thing Rome needs is another ambitious and despotic Caesar. The crowd's vision of leadership, however, is exactly that—a confident, godlike Caesar. They don't understand that the conspirators wanted to deliver them from this kind of rule. The crowd's response, though favorable, is the first indication that Brutus's speech did not succeed in its goal—which was to explain the conspirators' motivations so well that even Caesar's hypothetical son would understand. They do think that Brutus would be a good leader, a thought Antony is able to use to his advantage by suggesting Brutus may have been angling toward leadership all along.

How does Antony's speech in Act 3, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar exemplify the techniques of dictatorship?

Dictators need to win the hearts of their people, so that when they issue commands, the worshipful people won't challenge their leadership. Antony's timing is perfect. He knows Rome needs a ruler. The people are emotional after Caesar's death, so Antony makes his speech emotional, too. The people are poor, so he makes enemies of Brutus and Cassius, both wealthy aristocrats. Antony incites rage and attempts to hold the crowd back from expressing that rage. This technique perpetuates an image of Antony as a rational leader. By reciting the good things Caesar has done, Antony appeals to Roman unity, making the crowd feel joined by a common cause.

In Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, what is the significance and effect of tears in Antony's funeral speech for Julius Caesar?

Antony's weeping may reveal some genuine emotion. It certainly is part of his manipulation of the crowd. When he pauses—presumably overcome with grief—this gives the crowd time to consider what he's said. Of course, his tears also make them feel sorry for him and more receptive to his point of view. Before he unveils Caesar's body, he says, "If you have tears, prepare to shed them now." Here he maneuvers the crowd's reaction each step of the way—reminding them how Caesar overcame the Nervii for Rome and commending the "gracious drops" of their tears. This praise furthers their grief and transforms it into anger, which is the reaction Antony wants from them. He has managed to turn them into a mob eager for vengeance.

In Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2, as the mob prepares to leave for the conspirators' houses, why does Antony call them back to hear the will they have forgotten?

Though the crowd is angry, their rage will eventually cool down. Antony wants to sustain their anger without making his motives transparent. Therefore he reminds them of another compelling reason to avenge Caesar. By withholding the will's contents, he has stirred up curiosity. Antony has already positioned Caesar as the financial protector of Rome. In the first part of his speech, he mentioned the captives Caesar brought to Rome "whose ransoms did the general coffers fill." He wants the crowd, composed mostly of working-class people, to think they need a leader for financial security. He's bribing them with the money in the will (which, as the audience learns later, he doesn't intend to give them in full). But the bribe cannot work unless the townspeople hear the will read.

Based on Julius Caesar, would Shakespeare agree that morality leads to justice?

Morality is a central issue of the play. Julius Caesar shows that the arc of the moral universe doesn't bend toward justice, and it debates whether justice is a worthy goal. Brutus, the play's symbol of justice, fails in his rational attempts for a better Rome. He only fails, however, after he stoops to moral compromise and kills Caesar. If Brutus hadn't tried to achieve a good outcome for the people and had instead worried only about himself, would he be alive to rule Rome? Shakespeare leaves that question implicit and unanswered. The unjust take power by the end. Antony and Octavius use pragmatic but underhanded means to get what they want, and they're successful.

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