Julius Caesar By William Shakespeare: A Critical Analysis

William Shakespeare’s, Julius Caesar is one of the most controversial and mind bending plays in history. Many questions are formed around Caesar’s death that I feel the most striking to write about. I choose to focus on Caesar’s personality and character judgment. I ask could his death have been avoided if he listened to the soothsayer, his wife, and read the letter from Artemidorus or was his death unavoidable? Did Caesar’s character/personality contribute to his death? I will answer this question by referencing the Julius Caesar play and the film. Since what is said in the play and the film are synonymous that I will be citing, references to the play to what is said in the film will be seen throughout the paper.

In the beginning of the play, Caesar has just come from a big victory and citizens greet him. The soothsayer yelled, “Beware the Ides of March” (Act. I, Scene II) from the crowd and Caesar acknowledged him only by saying, “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass” (Act I, Scene II). At this point, Caesar sees himself as untouchable and no one would want to harm him. In Caesar’s mind, he does not have any enemies. He could not see why anyone would want to harm him. A key scene in the film when the soothsayer touched Brutus’ face gives the viewer insider’s knowledge that Brutus is one of the important people involved in the Ides of March judging by the soothsayer’s facial expression.

Caesar’s judgment of Brutus and Cassius is what puzzles me the most. He thinks Cassius is dangerous and the one he should avoid. “I don’t know the man I should avoid so soon as that spare Cassius” (Act I, Scene II). In a way, that is true since Cassius is the one who persuaded Brutus that Caesar should be dead before he is king because Rome would be in shambles if he gets crowned. However, Brutus had bad feelings towards Caesar that was only seen by Cassius and Cassius would have been the one to save Caesar’s life once again if he was not jealous of Caesar and Brutus’ friendship. Cassius had a grudge against Caesar because he saved his life and feels he did not get any credit for it. In the film, after speaking to Brutus about Caesar’s death, Cassius does a scene by himself saying, “For who so firm that cannot be seduced? Caesar doth bear me hard, but he loves Brutus.” I think Cassius knew that even when they kill Caesar that Brutus would not have been king because he was not the closest to Caesar in terms of power like Antony, but he needed Brutus to think that he would be capable of being a good king so Caesar would be killed. Caesar’s lack of judgment between Brutus and Cassius was the second expense towards his life. He further validates the saying, “love is blind.”

Julius Caesar (1953), the film depicted Caesar as a jolly ruler with a pompous attitude. A key scene in the film when the soothsayer touched Brutus’ face gives the viewer gets insider’s knowledge that Brutus is one of the important people involved in the Ides of March judging by the soothsayer’s facial expression. Later, when Cassius was convincing Brutus to kill Caesar, Cassius was positioned at a higher level than Brutus on the steps before they entered the capital. The positioning there signified that Cassius was the informer and Brutus was the learner. Cassius was setting himself up in a position of power. He was the brain behind the whole conspiracy. Soon Brutus was filmed looking at the guard who was staring outside of the capital with a numb stance. It looked as if Brutus and Cassius were jailed as they were talking about killing Caesar.

The weather the night before Caesar was to be killed was awful. Lightning and rain consumed most of the night and Calpurnia’s dream of Caesar’s death three times. Caesar spoke, “Nor heaven, nor earth has been at peace tonight: Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out, “Help, ho! They murder Caesar!”” (Act II, Scene II). Even the bad weather the night before he was to be crowned king did not bother him. When Calpurnia told Caesar not to go to the capital that day, he agreed for a split second until Decius came in to convince him otherwise which is another lack of judgment on Caesar’s behalf. Nothing can get the great, all knowing, and mighty Caesar down! The eerie part of this scene was when Caesar ate and sipped wine with the very people who were going to kill him. He did not find it odd that all of the senators came to walk with him to the capital. He thought that they want to eat and drink with him. A small celebration before he is crowned. The scene reminded me of the last supper Jesus had before he was crucified. Shakespeare probably thought about Jesus’ life during the writing of this play. It is very similar to Jesus’ story. Caesar was very welcoming of the conspirators and he knew there was at least one person that he should have been afraid of was Cassius.

Caesar’s relationship with Calpurnia was like any relationship men in that era had with their wives. In the beginning of the movie, Caesar spoke about Calpurnia being sterile, so she is unable to have children. It is more than likely he did not listen to her about her dream because she could not bear him children and she was a woman. He did not want to be seen by Decius as being submissive to his wife rather than knowing she was trying to save his life. A similar situation happened with Brutus and Portia. Portia knew something was going on, but he would not tell her in fear that she would talk him out of it. It also could have been that she was a woman and men did not tell women serious matters.

Before entering the capital, Caesar had a chance meeting with the soothsayer who was standing there before he got to the entrance and jokingly said, “The Ides of March are come.” The soothsayer replied, “ Ay, Caesar: but not gone” (Act II, Scene IV). Then, Caesar could have guessed that he was still in danger since the soothsayer told him that it has not left. Caesar might have looked at him as an old and blind man who didn’t know anything as seen from viewing the film and reading the play, but one thing Caesar did not know is that wisdom grows with age and besides, he is a soothsayer who is known for fortune telling whether it be intuitive or through visions. Because of who the soothsayer was in age and looks (not his specialty), Caesar felt he was not worthy of his attention.

The letter from Artemidrous was Caesar’s last chance to live. “Hail, Caesar! Read this schedule,” Artemidrous said. Casear walked to the capital along with Decius, the man who persuaded him earlier to walk into the room of his ultimate doom and gave him a letter to read he felt Caesar would find more important over Artemidrous’ letter. “Trebonius doth desire you to o’er read, at your best leisure, this his humble suit” (Act III, Scene I). Of course Caesar took Decius’ letter because he felt it was more important and congratulatory from Trebonius of him being crowned king.

Before Caesar was killed, the conspirators used flattery to distract him from what was really happening. Metellus says the most flattery; “Most high, most mighty, and most puissant Caesar, Metellus Cimber throws before the seat an humble heart” (Act III, Scene I). It was an act to let Caesar know that they were still loyal to him and that nothing fishy was going on. Playing loyal and flattering Caesar was a good way to get near and dear to his heart. After the other conspirators flattered Caesar, Casca stabs him, then a few others and at last Brutus. Brutus’ face before he stabbed Caesar was sweaty and he looked as if he thought twice before stabbing him, then his face turned emotionless. Soon after Brutus killed Caesar and conspirators looked puzzled.

The killing of Caesar has to be the scene that most viewers look forward to seeing following the “Et tu, Brute?” line (Act III, Scene I). I must say, the killing of Caesar in the film could have been better, but given the time during the making of the film, they could not do better. Casca stabs Caesar once, then another senator stabs him. The camera focuses on Brutus on the other side of the capital. The next film the viewer sees of Caesar is when he’s standing perfectly still, bloodied in front of the senators and stumbles to Brutus. The moment the camera focuses on Brutus the scene goes cold.

While watching the film, I thought did Antony know that they were going to kill Caesar? Well, Antony was the one who convinced Caesar that Cassius was not to be feared and that he was a good and noble man. The next day, while the conspirators were at Caesar’s palace, Antony arrived late and they blamed it on him being out late the night before. Antony did not appear at the capital when Caesar was going to be crowned king. He appeared only after Caesar was dead, but how did he know to appear then? And how did the servant know what went on and to tell the conspirators that Antony was not apart of the killing and he knew nothing of it? In a way, Antony knew that if he had appeared at the capital for Caesar’s crowning, the conspirators would have probably killed him, too because he was Caesar’s right hand.

Caesar practiced bad judgment towards Antony as well. Antony used Caesar’s death to make Brutus seem like a true killer to the citizens behind Brutus’ back and went to war with Cassius and Brutus. He eventually killed Brutus and now he is seen as a hero to the citizens that is political gain for him. I do not think Antony went to war to revenge Caesar’s death. I think he did it for himself because in reality, he wanted to have the power Caesar had. Antony is just as bad as the conspirators because he lied to Brutus while in the capital and told him that everything was okay.

Caesar’s personality did contribute to his death. He was seen as a great leader to many and feared by many as well. If Caesar treated Cassius well and was gracious to Cassius for saving his life, it would not have cost his own life. Loving everyone equally as Caesar should have done, it would not have gone to the killing. Cassius revealed that Caesar acted as if he were a girl when he was sick. He felt Caesar was too soft and weak to be king and that Brutus was better for the role. Caesar refusing the crown three times and Calpurnia calling out they were going to kill him three times had some significance within itself.

I do not think Caesar’s death was unavoidable. I think his death was written in stone. The soothsayer tried to warn him of his death, but Caesar’s personality did not let it register. I think the soothsayer was like God to Caesar. He was there as a guiding force to warn Caesar that something bad was going to happen to him. The soothsayer did not say anything about death. He said “Beware the Ides of March.” I believe that if he had told Caesar that he was going to die, Caesar would have been more open to what he had to say. Since the soothsayer did not have any proof and did not necessarily have a good choice of words Caesar considered him a dreamer. Caesar thought too much of himself to walk into a situation where he knew he was going to die and did not do anything about it.

The individuals that Caesar favored the least were the ones who tried to save him. There were not worth his attention because they did not flatter him. They were outside of his circle and they were able to look at things objectively and were able to show his weaknesses. They were his least favored because they spoke to him frankly regardless of who he was.

There was no way that Caesar could have changed the minds of his senators before they killed him. Once the majority turns against you, it takes a lot to change their minds. In the senator’s minds, killing Caesar was done for the citizens and the good of Rome. Cassius inflated the situation by telling Brutus that he was killing him for the good of the world (Act I, Scene II).

If anyone learns anything from Julius Caesar, it is beware of constant flatters because they always have something to hide! And not everyone has your best interest in mind. If you get warnings, but in different version from multiple individuals you might want to take it into consideration because you never know that they may be trying to save your life.


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