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Cesar-sa mort, Michele Cammarano, 1798
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Essay Topics
© 2010, ShakespeareHelp.com
The Text
Historical Setting
Historical Accuracy
The Battle at Philippi
The Roman Senate
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• The source used by Shakespeare was Sir
Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's
Life of Brutus and Life of Caesar.
• Plutarch was a Greek historian and
biographer born in 46 AD who eventually
became a Roman citizen.
• Best known for his Parallel Lives, a series
of biographies of famous Greeks and
Romans arranged in pairs to emphasize
their moral strengths and weaknesses
• Although many of the Lives have been lost
over the years, the biographies of
Caesar, Brutus and Marc Antony are
A page from the 1470 Ulrich Han
printing of Plutarch's Parallel Lives
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• The Battle at Philippi was the final
battle in the Wars of the Second
Triumvirate between the forces of
Mark Antony and Octavian against
the forces of Julius Caesar's assassins
Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius
Cassius Longinus in 42 BC, at Philippi
in Macedonia.
• The Second Triumvirate declared this
civil war to avenge Julius Caesar's
• For dramatic purposes, Shakespeare
combined the two historical battles of
Philippi, actually fought 20 days
apart, into one battle.
From Wikipedia.com (5/9/2011)
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Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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1. Why are the tribunes, Flavius and Marcellus, disgusted with
the commoners in Scene 1? 
2. In Scene 2, Cassius tells Brutus of a swimming race he once
had with Caesar. Describe the outcome of the race.
3. What strange thing happened to Caesar after he was offered
a crown three times by Antony?
4. Describe two of the unnatural occurrences that Casca
describes to Cicero at the beginning of Scene 3.
5. What is Cassius’s plan to convince Brutus to join the conspiracy,
and how does he enlist Cinna to help him at the end of Act I?
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1. Why are the tribunes, Flavius and Marcellus, disgusted
with the commoners in Scene 1?
Click anywhere for the answer.
The tribunes are disgusted with the commoners for switching
loyalties so easily.
The same commoners who are now celebrating Caesar’s
victory over Pompey once filled the streets to cheer for
Pompey’s victories in battle.
In reality, while the tribunes resent the defeat of their
former leader, the commoners are glad to have a day off
from work and don’t care whose victory they are
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Act I
Act II
Act IV
Act V
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1. Beware the Ides of March! 
2. And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature, and must bend his body
If Caesar carelessly but nod at him.
3. 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.
4. Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
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1. Beware the Ides of March!
Click anywhere for the answer.
The soothsayer greets Caesar with this warning as he
crosses the public square to enter the Capitol building.
Caesar dismisses him as “a dreamer.”
The Ides of March is the name for March 15 in the Roman
calendar, the day Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.
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Julius Caesar
The Conspirators
Mark Antony
The Roman Mob
Minor Characters
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• Marc Antony is a Roman politician and general, deeply loyal to
Julius Caesar.
• After Caesar’s assassination, Antony formed the Second Triumvirate
with Lepidus and Octavian Caesar.
• Antony is in some ways the opposite of Brutus.
• His decisions are cold and unemotional; he is not tortured by moral
• After the assassination, Antony is distraught over Caesar’s death,
but quickly recovers to plan his revenge and establish his own
• He is willing to bring down the republic for revenge against the
• He coldly condemns men to death, including his own nephew. (IV, 1)
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• Antony is a skillful politician and
Bust of Mark Antony from the
Vatican Museums
• In his funeral speech, he masterfully
manipulates the crowd, turning them
against the conspirators.
• After the funeral, he plots the
elimination of his political enemies with
Octavius and Lepidus.
• He reveals to Octavius that Lepidus
is not worthy of sharing their power
and plans to remove him after he
has served his purpose.
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• Antony ultimately triumphs over
• Are realists more likely than idealists to
survive in political societies?
• Are ruthless politicians more successful
than honest ones?
• NOTE: Although Antony is victorious at the
end of the play, he was ultimately
defeated by the forces of Octavius at the
Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where he
committed suicide. Octavius became the
Emperor Augustus (31 BC-14 AD).
Roman aureus bearing the portraits
of Mark Antony (left) and Octavian
(right). Struck in 41 BC, this coin was
issued to celebrate the Second
Triumvirate by Octavian, Antony and
Lepidus in 43 BC.
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Calpurnia from Promptuarii
Iconum Insigniorum
• Calpurnia Pisonis, the third and last wife
of Julius Caesar
• Calpurnia tries to prevent Caesar from
going to the Senate in II, 2.
• She has had a nightmare that Caesar’s
statue spouted blood and many Romans
“did bathe their hands in it.”
• Her vision literally foreshadows the scene
after the assassination.
• She describes strange omens reported by the night watchmen:
• A lion gave birth in the street.
• Graves yielded up dead bodies.
• A battle was waged in the sky that drizzled blood on the Capitol.
• Ghosts walked the streets, shrieking.
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• Act II, Scene 2, immediately following a domestic scene with Brutus
and Portia, shows a glimpse of Caesar’s private life.
• Caesar initially discounts his wife’s warnings, but she defends the
• When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. (II, 2)
• He finally gives in to his wife’s warnings when she begs him on her
knees to say he is sick.
• Decius convinces Caesar to reverse his decision to stay home by
appealing to his pride and ambition.
• He says the Senators may change their minds about offering him a
crown if he delays.
• He suggests that others will think “Lo, Caesar is afraid.”
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• Portia Catonis, wife of Brutus
• Devoted to Brutus and anxious
for his safety
• After the nighttime meeting
with the conspirators, she
pleads with Brutus to share his
plans with her.
Portia Wounding her Thigh, Elisabetta Sirani, 1664
• He agrees to confide in her when she reveals to him that she has
wounded herself in the thigh during their conversation to prove that she
can keep a secret.
• Brutus informs Cassius in Act IV that Portia has committed suicide after
learning of the military victories of Antony and Octavius.
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Abuse of Power
Fate vs. Free Will
Supernatural Events
The Power of Speech
Public Identity vs. Private Identity
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• The primary reason for the conspiracy is Caesar’s perceived abuse of
• Cassius believes Caesar wants to become a king, threatening the
republican form of government.
• Although Caesar is portrayed as arrogant and prideful, Shakespeare
does not side with the conspirators.
• Cassius is also shown as jealous of Caesar’s power and motivated by his
own desire for political power.
• The Triumvirate that replaces Caesar (Antony, Octavius and Lepidus) is
more ruthless and tyrannical than Caesar.
• Many historians mark the end of the Roman Republic in 44 B.C., when
the Second Triumvirate assumed power.
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• Is Shakespeare saying that the desire for
power is inherent in political societies? In
human nature?
• The plot to limit Caesar’s power results in the
establishment of a worse dictator (Octavius,
later the Emperor Augustus).
• Ironically, the conspiracy to save the republic
results in its destruction.
• Would Shakespeare have agreed with
Lord Acton that “Power corrupts, absolute
power corrupts absolutely”?
• Is this true of Caesar? Brutus? Cassius?
Antony? Octavius? All human beings?
Modern bronze statue of Julius
Caesar, Rimini, Italy
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• Private Caesar vs. Public Caesar
• Early in the play, Cassius points out the reality behind Caesar’s public
persona when he describes his physical weakness during the swimming
• Caesar cried "Help me, Cassius, or I sink!“
… And this man / Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature… (I, 2)
• Caesar fails to thwart the conspiracy because he puts his public image
before the more private, human concerns of his wife.
• Decius convinces him to go to the forum after suggesting that the senators
might change their minds about offering him the crown.
• If Caesar hide himself, shall they not whisper
“Lo, Caesar is afraid"?
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• Decius also offers a positive public “spin” on Calpurnia’s dream that
Caesar’s statue “like a fountain with an hundred spouts, / Did run pure
blood…” (II, 2)
• Decius’s interpretation of the “fair and fortunate” dream is that Rome
“shall suck reviving blood” from Caesar’s greatness.
• Caesar changes his mind about going to the Senate when he realizes the
harm it may do to his public image if he stays home.
• How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
Give me my robe, for I will go. (II, 2)
• Caesar again rejects personal concerns when Artemidorus offers him a
letter that will reveal the conspiracy and avert the assassination.
• What touches us ourself shall be last served. (III, 1)
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• Private Brutus vs. Public Brutus
• Brutus struggles with his decision to join the conspiracy because he has strong
personal loyalties to Caesar.
• Privately, Brutus is revealed as a sensitive and studious man who hates
violence and loves Caesar.
• His final decision is based on his assessment of the “general” or common
• It must be by his death: and for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general.
• After Portia demonstrates her loyalty to Brutus by concealing her self-inflicted
wound, Brutus expresses his love for her.
• O ye gods, / Render me worthy of this noble wife!
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• Shakespeare skillfully reveals the
“private lives” of Caesar and
Brutus by showing them “at home”
with their wives in consecutive
• II, 1 – Brutus and Portia
(follows the meeting with the
• II, 2 – Caesar and Calpurnia
(precedes the assassination)
Brutus (James Mason) and Portia (Deborah Kerr)
Julius Caesar, 1953
• While both scenes juxtapose the public vs. private identities of Caesar and
Brutus, they also invite the audience to compare Brutus’s relationship with
Portia to Caesar’s relationship with Calpurnia.
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