Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What does Decius reveal about flattery when he says of Julius Caesar, "When I tell him he hates flatterers, he says he does, being then most flattered"?

Words can change minds just as actions can. Flattery is depicted in Julius Caesar as a benevolent form of lying. Since liars have more success when they stick closely to the truth, the expert flatterers—Cassius, Antony, Decius—include truths as well as embellishments. They also play to what the other person wants to believe. No one on whom flattery works thinks they're being flattered. Caesar actually thinks he's as strong and powerful as Decius says he is. As one of the main characters not to express doubt, Caesar is Shakespeare's proof that if an individual hates flatterers, that person is probably more susceptible to them than anyone else.

What is revealed about Rome's plebeians when Flavius and Marullus cross paths with them in Act 1, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar?

The plebeians before Caesar's death are a pretty contented bunch. They look forward to the return of Caesar and seem happy with him as a ruler. The people worried about Caesar are higher up in the ranks—senators and government officials, such as tribunes. Though the senators are looking out for the people's welfare, the plebeians don't even know the danger. Shakespeare uses the plebeians' contentment to illustrate their ambivalence and apathy. He also makes the audience question whether Caesar has as much potential for evil as the conspirators fear, or if the conspirators are being dramatic, worrying about events that haven't happened yet.

In Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2, why does Casca despise Julius Caesar's demeanor and refusal of the crown at the Feast of Lupercal?

Casca's cynicism means he's not a fan of politicians whose actions are deceitful. He interprets Caesar's refusal of the crown as pandering to the crowd. He believes Caesar faked a seizure to gain their sympathy and offered them his throat to cut in a show of willingness to go the extra mile for his people. (Brutus, in his funeral speech, also offers the people the chance to kill him if he's not a good ruler. In Roman culture this is how leaders put their money where their mouth is.) This interpretation indicates that Caesar is a friend to the public, but not as likable to senators who know him better. Casca is concerned enough that he consents to be the first to strike Caesar, a risky position.

What hints does the audience receive in Act 1 of Julius Caesar that the senators and governors of Rome are facing strife, secrets, and division?

The gossip about Flavius and Marullus being "put to silence" indicates that they were the only tribunes to stand up to Caesar. Cassius, Brutus, and Casca pull one another aside to talk, seeking privacy. Cicero is speaking to friends in private as well, using Greek: "those that understood him smiled at one another and shook their heads." Cicero was likely talking about Caesar. Cassius even suspects Casca of being a "willing bondman" of Caesar, when he meets Casca during the storm. This may be said to coerce Casca, but Cassius is feeling out who his allies are. The storm and its omens provide their own hint to the audience that all is not well.

When Cassius first persuades Brutus and Casca to become conspirators, why does he shy away from directly stating that they should kill Julius Caesar?

Cassius, like Antony during his funeral speech, knows that the best way to persuade people to accept an idea is to take them only halfway there. In order for the idea to stick, the individuals being persuaded should think that they came up with it on their own. By using metaphors like "the lion in the Capitol," Cassius can also sense who agrees with him and how far they're willing to go. He doesn't want to say too much to the wrong person. He also doesn't want to let anyone know that he's driven by personal jealousy.

In Act 4 of Julius Caesar, when Brutus and Cassius argue, how do they both exhibit aspects of Julius Caesar's character?

Cassius shares Caesar's flair for the dramatic. He knows Brutus will not kill him after one fight; they have been friends for a long time. Like Caesar, he offers himself to be killed as a display of devotion. Brutus shows Caesar's dogmatic stubbornness. He refuses to repeal Lucius Pella's punishment for taking bribes, just as Caesar refused to grant clemency in the exile of Publius Cimber. Now that Cassius and Brutus are left alone to lead under stress, they are becoming more like the leader they once feared. Caesar the man is dead, but Caesar the idea will live on.

In Antony and Cleopatra, Octavius betrays Antony and rules Rome alone. How do Octavius's words and behavior in Julius Caesar foreshadow this betrayal?

Octavius listens to and learns from Antony in Act 4, Scene 1. By Act 5, on the battlefield, Octavius is getting more aggressive. When Antony tells him to lead his troops onto the left side of the battlefield, he refuses, and says that Antony must go to the left. Antony protests, saying Octavius should not cross him in this matter. Octavius replies, "I do not cross you, but I will do so." Without the foundation of friendship that Brutus and Cassius have, Antony and Octavius have less invested in one another's success. This lack of a personal relationship eases the way for one person—the one related to Julius Caesar—to become sole ruler. They also both talk about Lepidus behind his back, indicating a lack of loyalty.

Who is the highest-ranking character at the end of Julius Caesar, and how does the final scene show his ascendance?

Octavius is the highest-ranking character at the end of Julius Caesar. Shakespeare wants to convey ancient Rome's devotion to hierarchy and ritual. Shakespeare has also just killed off the one true hero of the play, Brutus. Thus he honors Octavius by letting him speak the closing lines of Julius Caesar. Antony, the antihero and antagonist to Brutus's protagonist, does not receive this honor. Instead Octavius finishes the play and transitions the audience into the next phase of the story. That next phase will take place in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, in which Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus—the three triumvirs—each have roles.

Which character is a foil for Brutus in Julius Caesar, and why?

A literary foil is a character who contrasts with a more primary character to highlight the primary character's qualities. Cassius is a foil for Brutus throughout the play. The two friends appear in the largest number of scenes together and exchange the most dialogue. They face similar dilemmas and react differently. Through their fight in Act 4, Scene 3, and their debate in Act 1, Scene 2, Shakespeare contrasts Brutus's stoicism with Cassius's emotion, Brutus's nobility with Cassius's compromise, and Brutus's honesty with Cassius's duplicity. Julius Caesar—to a degree—also acts as a foil for Brutus. Cassius compares the leadership qualities of the two men. Julius Caesar and Brutus express similar views about death, although each man arrives at his views for different reasons.

Who is the antihero in Julius Caesar and why?

A literary antihero is a main character who lacks traditional heroic qualities. Antony is Julius Caesar's antihero. His character arc is triumphant. He is perhaps the only character to achieve his goals. Antony is lacking in some traits: nobility, honesty, and compassion. However, he possesses cleverness, intellect, and strength. He uses these qualities to win the hearts of the people and to achieve victory on the battlefield. By letting the "bad guy" win, Shakespeare proves the tropes of hero and antihero to be complex. Though Antony is not onstage much in Acts 1 and 2, he becomes as significant as Brutus in Act 3, and he is the main antagonist in Acts 4 and 5.

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