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Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


How does Antony advance the play by demonstrating throughout Julius Caesar that he knows what Brutus and Cassius are thinking?

In Act 5 when Antony and Octavius discuss the opposing forces, Antony tells Octavius, "I am in their bosoms" (I know their innermost thoughts). He knows they'll come to Philippi, even if it doesn't make sense to do so, because they want to show confidence they don't feel. When the two sides finish arguing, Antony says, "Old Cassius still!"—his old acquaintance is acting the same way he always has. In the Senate during Act 3, Antony tells Brutus to go ahead and kill him. How does he know Brutus won't call his bluff and actually slay him? Antony predicts, correctly, that Brutus doesn't want any more slaughter than necessary. If Antony appears penitent, Brutus will spare him, and if other conspirators disagree, they'll defer to Brutus. In Act 1 Caesar asks Antony for his honest opinion of Cassius, implying that Antony knows Cassius better than Caesar does.

In Julius Caesar how does the structure of Brutus's language in his funeral speech for Caesar demonstrate Brutus's logic?

Brutus's funeral speech uses parallel sentence structure, with repetitive clauses. Caesar received "tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honor for his valor; and death for his ambition." Brutus almost sounds like he's reciting a list. It's not the most poetic speech, because Brutus wants to keep it simple and to the point. His language shows a logical mind. His repetition of "If any, speak, for him I have offended" also presents a list of qualities in Romans who might prefer tyranny: rude, base, vile. His words are general rather than specific. He's distancing himself from the assassination, which he still feels guilt over, by providing abstractions that could refer to any despotic leader and patriotic people.

In Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1, Antony asks Octavius not to come to Rome after Caesar's assassination; yet when Octavius arrives, why is Antony is glad?

At the end of Act 3, Scene 1, Antony sends word to Octavius telling him that Caesar has been murdered and to avoid coming to Rome before the funeral. Antony knows he will get a chance to speak his mind at the funeral. He is planning to turn the people against Brutus. He wants Octavius as an ally, which means keeping him alive. After the people are stirred up to fight other enemies—the conspirators—they will leave Octavius alone to do whatever he wants. This forward-thinking strategy, which the conspirators don't apply as neatly in their planning, pays off for Antony.

Why do Antony and Octavius let Lepidus become the third member of the triumvirate in Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 1?

Octavius respects skill in battle, saying Lepidus is a "tried and valiant soldier." Antony, who respects mental prowess and shrewd strategy, replies "So is my horse." The horse can be useful, Antony explains. He'll take commands without asking questions. Lepidus also imitates other men, Antony says, having no personality of his own. He's easily controlled, unlikely to rebel. Antony realizes that Lepidus's dullness can be an asset. He can help them gain victories "as the ass bears gold," and the brighter Octavius and Antony can divide the victories between them. Octavius sees Antony's point, since he doesn't argue once Antony says, "Do not talk of him but as a property." Octavius is learning from Antony how to be a self-serving and successful politician.

What does Brutus mean when he tells Octavius in Act 5 of Julius Caesar, "Thou canst not die by traitors' hands unless thou bring'st them with thee"?

Brutus claims, through this statement, that the conspirators are not traitors. Since he has seen Caesar's ghost, Brutus's conviction that he has performed a good deed by killing Caesar is beginning to fade. Brutus realizes, however, that it is important to put on a courageous face in front of his soldiers and enemies. Octavius is the real traitor, Brutus believes—a traitor to the true democratic foundation of Rome. Brutus is not an ignorant individual; he knows the kind of rulers Antony and Octavius will be, and he knows they are not really fighting out of love for the departed Caesar.

At the beginning of Julius Caesar, Cassius doesn't believe in omens, yet he changes his mind in Act 5; how does his change of mind affect the play?

After the climax of the play, the characters see the consequences of their actions unfold. At this point they can't do much to change the course of events. Free will is disappearing, and fate is taking over. Cassius, like Calphurnia earlier, is interpreting signs and symbols to confirm the fear he already has in his heart. The ravens, crows, and kites he sees are scavenger birds that prey upon the dead. The mighty eagles fleeing the battlefield represent the departure of brave leaders, since the eagle is a symbol of strength. Brutus saw the end to come in Caesar's ghost; similarly, Cassius sees the end to come in animal omens. It can't be a coincidence that the omens arrive on Cassius's birthday—the gods must be aware of the symbolism of the day, he thinks, and they're sending him a sign. The omens influence Cassius; he sees failure and possibly death ahead. He speaks with Brutus and finds that Brutus also has a fatalistic attitude. Since these two are their troops' leaders, it does not look good for the battle ahead.

Why does Antony keep Lucilius alive and safe after capturing him in Act 5 of Julius Caesar?

Antony is a strategist. He knows friends are better to have than enemies. In the new government he's establishing with Octavius, the servant of a former senator could provide valuable information. Antony could sway Brutus's devoted servant to his side by treating him well. Lucilius is a prisoner of war; Antony does not have to treat him well, or even let him live, and Lucilius knows it. Antony also knows Brutus saved his life by discouraging the other conspirators from killing him. Keeping Lucilius alive is a way to repay that debt—a tribute to Brutus, whom Antony still respects.

In Julius Caesar why does Strato, when referring to Rome's new regime after Caesar, describe the dead Brutus to Messala as "free from the bondage you are in"?

Messala, as a servant, already has subordinate status. Strato believes being a servant to Cassius or Brutus is better than serving Octavius. He also admires Brutus for his manner of death, saying that "Brutus only overcame himself"—Brutus died on his own terms. The reference to Brutus's freedom is more telling. Better to die free, Strato thinks, than to live under the rule of Octavius and Antony. This indication of dissent shows that not every Roman will welcome their new rulers. It also solidifies the transfer of power that marks the end of the dramatic action, and a full-circle closure for the play, which began with one leader claiming battle victory and ends with the new leader doing the same.

In Act 2 of Julius Caesar, when the conspirators discuss Antony, how does Antony prove the assumptions of Brutus and Trebonius false and validate the assumptions of Cassius?

Brutus describes Antony as "given to sports, to wildness, and much company." Antony is a partier. Brutus doesn't take him seriously. Trebonius says Antony will "live and laugh at this hereafter," underestimating the impact Caesar's death will have on Antony. Only Cassius thinks Antony's loyalty might be a problem—because Cassius, like Antony, is a manipulator, and he knows the manipulator's tricks. Antony has cultivated an image of himself as a man who just loves a good time. He keeps his true ambition hidden until the time is right to reveal it, and the conspirators unknowingly give him the perfect opportunity. The speech he delivers at Caesar's funeral is a superb example of audience manipulation, through which he reverses the mourners' attitude from sympathetic to Brutus and the other conspirators to determined to get revenge for Caesar's murder.

The Italian Renaissance philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli said of rulers, "the end justifies the means." Which main characters in Julius Caesar would agree or disagree with this statement, and why?

Antony would certainly agree—he toys with the emotions of a grieving crowd and selects scores of senators to die just so he can rule Rome. Caesar would likely also agree. To further the end of establishing himself as an uncompromising ruler, he rejects Metellus Cimber's petition despite multiple pleas, and he ignores clear warnings of his death. Cassius would agree; to achieve the end of killing Caesar, he's willing to risk his life and the lives of his friends. Only Brutus might have trouble using the ends to justify the means. Though he talks himself into killing Caesar eventually, he's never fully at peace with this dramatic means to an end. And there are some things he's not willing to do, like kill Antony.

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