Julius Caesar Summary

William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar Summary

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Julius Caesar is a Shakespearean tragedy with themes of betrayal and regret. In the play, Brutus must decide which is more important to him, his country or his relationship with Caesar. There is a critical debate over who is the real protagonist of the play, as Brutus is featured more, along with his internal struggle. Yet, the play is about Caesar and his death.  Julius Caesar is one of three plays Shakespeare wrote about Roman history, along with Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus. Although the play is about Roman history, it is historically significant when it comes to England in 1599, when the play was written. Queen Elizabeth I was becoming old, and she had not yet proclaimed an heir. There was an anxiety in England over what would become of the nation once she died. Just as the Romans feared what would happen if Caesar became king, the English subjects feared what would happen when Elizabeth passed away. Caesar features several famous Shakespearean moments, including Caesar’s assassination scene and Antony’s eulogy.

The play starts with Caesar marching into Rome after defeating Pompey’s sons in battle. As he walks through the city, he is stopped by a soothsayer—a person who tells the future—who tells him to “beware the Ides of March,” meaning the 15th of March. Caesar dismisses this warning, and moves on. The play then goes through the ruminations of the senators planning Caesar’s demise. The Roman senators are nervous over what Caesar would do with more power; they believe he does not deserve more power. Caesar himself is wholly uninterested in becoming king, and denies the crown when it is presented to him. The senator Cassius is the instigator behind the assassination plot. He manipulates the other senators, who are unsure, like Brutus and Casca, to join the conspiracy.

Brutus is ambivalent about getting rid of Caesar—he believes Caesar is good, but wonders if power will go to his head. He ultimately decides that killing Caesar is the only way to save Rome from possible tyranny. As the conspirators decide how they will kill Caesar, Caesar himself feels a sense of foreboding. He almost decides to stay at home that day, the 15th of March, but ultimately decides it would be weak of him to stay at home due to bad signs alone. Others try to warn him on his way to the senate.

Caesar ignores all warnings given to him and arrives at the senate. The conspirators have Cimber beg for his brother to be able to return to Rome as he has been banished. Caesar tells him he will not allow his brother back without reason. Brutus and Cassius and others begin to prostrate themselves before Caesar, which confuses him. He tells them he believes in reason and not in begging. It is all a distraction, as Casca strikes the first blow and stabs Caesar, with Brutus striking last. Caesar utters the famous line “Et tu Bruté?” and then dies. Chaos erupts and the conspirators prepare to explain themselves.

Antony is devastated by the death of Caesar and is careful how he acts around the conspirators, lest they decide to do away with him as well. He also is burning for revenge, but keeps those feelings a secret. They agree to let Antony publicly eulogize Caesar, but insist Brutus explain their actions first. Brutus explains to the public that Caesar’s death was for the good of Rome—his ambition was dangerous. Brutus proclaims that Caesar was good and honorable, but that Brutus would do anything for Rome, even murder his best friend. The public then begins to praise him, and claims he should be the next Caesar. Brutus brushes this off and turns the crowd to Antony.

Antony then gives his famous eulogy. He is careful in the way he addresses the crowd, as he wants them to revolt, but cannot reveal those desires. He appeals to their emotions, in contrast to Brutus’s appeal to their logic. He reminds the crowd of Caesar’s goodness, and although Brutus claims Caesar was ambitious, Caesar behaved in a way that was not markedly ambitious. He reminds them not to blame Brutus, as he is honorable as well. The public begins to wonder if the conspirators betrayed Caesar. Antony takes advantage of their reaction and shows them the wounds on Caesar’s body. The crowd begins to feel mutinous against the conspirators. Antony holds them off to tell them that Caesar’s will dictates that upon his death every Roman citizen shall receive seventy-five drachmas. The crowd then descends into chaos.

The play moves to Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, the future leaders of Rome. There is some tension between Octavius and Antony—a foreshadowing for the events in Antony and Cleopatra. Meanwhile, Brutus and Cassius meet again, somewhat at odds. Brutus accuses Cassius of taking bribes, soiling Brutus’s belief that their murder of Caesar was noble. They argue, but ultimately reconcile, as Brutus declares he has no emotional strength left, since Portia, his wife, has committed suicide. They speak of the inevitable war coming with the conspirators against Antony and Octavius. When Brutus goes to sleep that night, he is met by the ghost of Caesar, who tells Brutus he will see him at Philippi, where the battle will take place.

The battle then begins. Cassius and Brutus agree they will not be led through Rome in chains, and depart from each other. Cassius becomes distraught after hearing his best friend Titinius has been captured, so Cassius forces his servant to kill him, remarking how Caesar is avenged. Titinius returns, as he had not been captured, and kills himself at the sight of his best friend’s body. Brutus survives the battle, but is unsure of the outcome. Brutus ultimately kills himself, with his own sword, held by a servant. Antony discovers Brutus has died and calls him a noble man who had noble reasons for murdering Caesar. Brutus was free of envy.