The play is generally about the death of Julius Caesar. The story revolves around the events that lead to demise of Caesar, as well as the occurrences that take place after his murder. The play starts with Caesars return from a victorious battle against Pompey (Latil & Cheng, n.d.). The people join the celebration, abandoning their work in the process; this gains the disapproval of the tribunes Flavius and Murellus. During his victory march, Caesar is approached by a soothsayer in Act I Scene ii, telling him to beware the Ides of March (as cited in Latil & Cheng, n.d.). Caesar ignores this warning and proceeds with the festivities. Meanwhile, Cassius and Brutus speak about Caesar.
Cassius brings to light the unhappiness of the Brutus about Caesars position, and the former successfully makes the latter consider Caesars death. On the other hand, Caesar speaks to Antony about his distrust of Cassius. Cassius is so determined to have Brutus involved in Caesars death that he sends forged letters that express alarm over Caesars popularity. Brutus thinks that those letters are really the sentiment of the people, and he takes them as a sign that Caesar should indeed be killed. Cassius, Brutus and the others proceed with planning the murder; they initially wanted Antony to be killed too, but Brutus objects.
When her dreams reveal that Caesar will be in danger, Caesars wife Calpurnia prevents him from going to the Senate on March 15th. Caesar proceeds anyway, and is killed. Antony promises to avenge his death. In turn, Brutus speaks to the public to explain that Caesar was killed because he was a threat to the Republic. Antony also addresses the public and persuades them that Caesars murder was unjustified.
Antonys speech infuriates the public, forcing Cassius and Brutus to leave the city. Antony then joins forces with Octavius to fight Cassius and Brutus. During the battle, Cassius sends Pindarus to assess the situation of their troops. Pindarus sees Cassius friend Titinius in the midst of troops and tells Cassius that Titinius is being held captive by the enemy. Pindarus delivers the wrong information, as Titinius was not actually captured as he originally thought. This false statement causes Cassius to take his own life. Brutus also takes his life after he hears of the news of Cassius death (Latil & Cheng, n.d.).
The play has several themes. One of the themes is the distinction of free will and fate (Latil & Cheng, n.d.). In Act I Scene ii, Cassius states: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings (as cited in Latil & Cheng, n.d.). According to Cassius, Caesars rise to power was determined by their will; it is the result of their shortcomings. It was their lack of action that caused Caesar to be famous and powerful. In contrast, fate was also a major force in the turn of events. In Act II Scene ii, Caesar says, It seems to be most strange that men should fear,/ Seeing that death, a necessary end,/ Will come when it will come (as cited in Latil & Cheng, n.d.).
In this quote, Caesar acknowledges death as that which cannot be controlled by men, and should therefore be accepted as an end. Hence, the play is governed by events that are both the result of free will and fate. Another theme is the private lives of public persons (Latil & Cheng, n.d.). The play illustrates how public figures are engrossed with their public reputations that it eventually leads to their demise. Caesar was too preoccupied with his public image that he ignored all the warnings given to him.
In addition, Brutus also allowed his public self to dominate his private self, as he agreed to Caesars murder not as a friend, but as a senator. His private self as Caesars friend was overshadowed by his public self as a senator, who would kill for the preservation of the Republic. Lastly, the play also discusses the influence of rhetoric and language (Latil & Cheng, n.d.).
The play is proof of the inherent power of words. In the The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Shakespeare showed how language can both express and conceal the truth. In Act III Scene ii, Antony repeatedly states: Brutus says he was ambitious,/ And Brutus is an honourable man (as cited in Latil & Cheng, n.d.). Though the words seem to work for Brutus favor in the beginning, its repetition renders the statement false. Antony successfully redeems Caesar in his speech, but he damages the reputation of Brutus in the process. Hence, the speech of Antony is an example of how powerful rhetoric and language are.
Strengths and Weakness of the Play
The play has multiple strengths, one of which is the numerous themes embedded in it. The issues addressed in the play transcend its historical narrative. However, ambiguity proves to be both the strength and weakness of the play. Shakespeare did not take a stand on Caesars murder, which makes the play open to interpretations. It is a positive thing because it gives room for readers to decide for themselves what the play is about.
At the same time, its ambiguity makes the readers wonder what Shakespeare really wants to say. The play seems to present the murder as both just and unjust. On one hand, it conveys the message that leaders should not be consumed by power, or else it will lead to their demise; on the other hand, it states that a powerful leader is necessary for any institution, and should not be overthrown.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is one of great plays from William Shakespeare. It is a historical play about the fall of Julius Caesar and the consequences of his murder. In addition, it gives its readers many lessons, on the likes of power, free will and fate. It is therefore no surprise that it is one of the most loved plays in world literature.
Latil, F., & Cheng, W. (n.d.). SparkNote on Julius Caesar. Retrieved February 22, 2008, from http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/juliuscaesar/