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Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Quotes


Beware the Ides of March.

The Soothsayer, Act 1, Scene 2

The Ides of March is a date on the Roman calendar. Certain days of the month were given special names based on the lunar cycle (the original Roman calendar followed the lunar year). The Ides denoted the full moon phase of the cycle and fell on the 13th or the 15th day of each month. By the time Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, March 15 had become infamous as the date of the historical Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 BCE. In the play Caesar ignores the soothsayer's warning. But Shakespeare's audience would have known the significance of the date. This is an instance of dramatic irony, where the audience knows something the character does not.


The eye sees not itself But by reflection, by some other things.

Brutus, Act 1, Scene 2

Brutus refers indirectly to a dilemma he shares with Julius Caesar: neither man can see himself as he truly is. Each relies on others to provide, by reflection, his identity. Caesar views himself as an invincible leader who always makes the right decision, because the Roman plebeians see him that way. Brutus is also susceptible to the praise of others, particularly his friend Cassius.


Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we petty men Walk under his huge legs and peep about To find ourselves dishonorable graves. Men at some time are masters of their fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Cassius, Act 1, Scene 2

Cassius makes a case for free will triumphing over fate. At first, he alludes to the ancient Greek Colossus of Rhodes—a statue that stood more than 100 feet (30 meters) tall. Comparing Caesar's power to a physically gigantic Colossus creates an indelible image in the audience's mind. Then Cassius argues that fate (our stars) has not forced the Romans to serve Caesar. Instead the Romans are servants only because they choose to be—they haven't risen up against Caesar yet. Casca echoes this sentiment when he says "every bondman ... bears the power to cancel his captivity."


It was Greek to me.

Casca, Act 1, Scene 2

This phrase has become famous as an expression for not understanding something written or spoken. In this scene the scholar Cicero was actually speaking Greek. But since Casca doesn't understand the Greek language, he relates that he did not understand what Cicero said. In essence he says, "It was all gibberish to me."


But 'tis a common proof That lowliness is young ambition's ladder, Whereto the climber-upward turns his face; But when he once attains the upmost round, He then unto the ladder turns his back, Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees By which he did ascend.

Brutus, Act 2, Scene 1

As Brutus tries to justify joining the conspiracy, he contemplates Caesar's ambition. Humility (lowliness) may be an admirable trait that makes a leader compassionate. But the more authority the leader earns, the less humble he may be. Once the leader reaches his goal, he doesn't need the leadership skills that got him there in the first place—he's proven himself and now has power. Brutus fears that authority has gone to Caesar's head and that Caesar doesn't want to put the effort into being a wise ruler any longer.


Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.

Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2

Explaining to his concerned, skeptical wife why he doesn't fear death, Caesar doesn't shirk the inevitable. He refuses to think about or imagine his death before it happens—to "die many times." This determined stance causes Caesar to ignore warnings that could have saved his life, but it helps him face his death without anxiety.


I could be well moved, if I were as you: If I could pray to move, prayers would move me. But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true fixed and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament. The skies are painted with unnumbered sparks; They are all fire, and every one doth shine. But there's but one in all doth hold his place.

Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

Before the advance of navigation tools, travelers determined direction by the stars. Caesar compares himself to the one fixed star in the sky—the north star that guides wanderers home. The metaphor shows both Caesar's lofty self-image ("There is no fellow in the firmament": There's no one else like me) and the inherent danger in his style of leadership. He takes pride in his inflexibility, even when others suffer. Using the stars as a metaphor also recalls discussions about fate in the play, since many people in Roman times thought the position of celestial bodies determined the course of events. Caesar's reference to the unchanging star may be an indication that he's accepting his fate.


Et tu, Brutè?—Then fall, Caesar.

Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 1

"You too, Brutus?" Caesar asks. The man he most trusted has turned against him, and this blow finally kills him. Shakespeare writes the phrase in Latin for added emphasis. The phrase Et tu, Brutè has become shorthand for betrayal by a formerly loyal friend.


And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate by his side come hot from hell, Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war, That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men groaning for burial.

Antony, Act 3, Scene 1

Antony predicts that Caesar will rule even after his death. "The dogs of war" is a famous phrase that evokes wild animals to describe the chaos of warfare. The imagery in this passage activates multiple senses—hot from hell and the smell of flesh—to depict the horror to come. Ate is the Greek goddess of ruin, mischief, and havoc.


Not that I loved Caesar less; but that I loved Rome more.

Brutus, Act 3, Scene 2

Brutus justifies his killing of Caesar in a succinct, eloquent phrase. His patriotism is strong enough that he will put to death a friend he loves dearly if that death is best for the country. The other conspirators may have claimed they acted out of concern for Rome, but as Antony points out later, Brutus is the only conspirator with pure motivations.


Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.

Antony, Act 3, Scene 2

The opening line of Antony's funeral speech ("Friends, Romans, countrymen") is designed as a personal entreaty. The phrase is well-known, being widely used as a speech introduction today. Antony's statement about the legacies of dead men—only the evil deeds they've done are remembered—is a wry commentary on the way the audience remembers historical figures, such as Caesar himself. It's also in line with Antony's cynicism, implying that evil actions have a greater impact than good ones.


This was the most unkindest cut of all. For when the noble Caesar saw him stab, Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms, Quite vanquished him.

Antony, Act 3, Scene 2

Although Caesar was stabbed multiple times by men he trusted, Antony says the wound that really killed him was psychological. When Brutus stabbed him, the loss of Brutus's loyalty ended Caesar's life. When the plebeians hear this, they become enraged at Brutus on Caesar's behalf.


There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves Or lose our ventures.

Brutus, Act 4, Scene 3

Brutus, like Cassius, desires to be a master of his fate. He isn't interested in waiting for omens to predict the future. As he prepares for war against the triumvirate, he tells his allies that there are times when men need to take action. If they don't, Brutus says, they'll regret it for the rest of their lives. The action he's preparing to take—confronting the opposing forces at Philippi—will have far-reaching consequences. The extended metaphor refers to a sailor's journey—taking the tide "at the flood" and floating on "a full sea."


This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he Did that they did in envy of great Caesar. He only, in a general honest thought And common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle and the elements So mixed in him that nature might stand up And say to all the world, 'This was a man.'

Antony, Act 5, Scene 5

Antony's elegy for Brutus comes at the end of the play, and may surprise the audience. After all, Antony turned the Romans against Brutus and fought against his armies at Philippi. Yet once Brutus is dead, Antony can praise him sincerely and provide final thoughts on which the audience can reflect. In a play where no one is purely good or purely evil, where characters are manipulative and their motivations are complex, Shakespeare provides a clear, if tragic, hero in Brutus. "The elements so mixed in him" refers to the four humors that Elizabethans believed made up personalities. Brutus's humors or elements were balanced, making him an ideal man.

The elegy acknowledges Brutus's journey from morally upstanding senator to reluctant murderer to expelled pariah to battle martyr. Shakespeare, through Antony, quietly acknowledges the fallen hero.

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