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Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University explains the symbols in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar | Symbols


Shakespeare and other Elizabethans believed in "the great chain of being," a symbiotic relationship between their divinely appointed ruler, the people, and all of nature. Any actions against the ruler, whether contemplated or carried out, could be foreshadowed or followed by disturbances in nature, such as the storm in Act 5, Scene 1.


When the battle begins, Cassius says, "blow wind, swell billow ... the storm is up, and all is on the hazard [and everything is at risk]." Bad weather is a metaphor for devastation, a time when humans must take initiative and act. The conspirators also discuss the weather in Act 1, Scene 3, when they meet to discuss Caesar's presumed coronation planned for the following day. Speaking of the recent storm, Casca states that the gods must be angry: "When the most mighty gods by tokens send/Such dreadful heralds to astonish us."

Animals and Insects

A lion is used several times in the play to signify various omens: In Act 1, Scene 3, Cassius describes Caesar as a destructive storm and as a roaring "lion in the Capitol." Both symbols represent a dangerous ruler.

Caesar likens himself to a lion in Act 2, Scene 2: "Caesar is more dangerous than he./We were two lions littered in one day,/And I the elder and more terrible."

In Act 5, Scene 1, the honeybee Cassius and Brutus compare to Antony stands for duplicity—sweetness without and sting within.

The serpent Brutus speaks of in Act 2, Scene 1 symbolizes Caesar and his possible evolution into a tyrant. Here the serpent represents not only Caesar, but also evil and power. Readers learn that Brutus believes such potential evil should be destroyed: "Think him as a serpent's egg/Which, hatched ... would grow mischievous/And kill him in the shell."

The eagles Cassius speaks of in Act 5, Scene 1 represent strength and victory. The fact that the birds desert the soldiers at Philippi is seen as a bad omen.

Cassius also speaks of ravens and crows in Act 5, Scene 1. These are scavengers that feed on dead animals—and fallen soldiers. Several crows and ravens arrive at Philippi and circle above Cassius's and Octavius's troops. Cassius views these birds as omens of defeat and death.

Supernatural Elements

The ghost of Caesar materializes once (Act 4, Scene 3) and is mentioned by Brutus once again (Act 5, Scene 5). Its brief appearance, when Brutus is exhausted and everyone else is asleep, almost seems like a figment of Brutus's imagination. A symbol of Brutus's guilt and of revenge for Caesar's murder, the ghost also foreshadows the military blunders that will lead to Brutus's downfall the following day.

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