The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a historic tragic play by William Shakespeare first performed in 1599. It is one of several plays written by Shakespeare based on true events from the Roman history.
Julius Caesar, was a Roman general and statesman who played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Set in Rome in 44 BC, the play depicts the moral dilemma of Brutus as he joins the conspiracy led by Cassius to murder Julius Caesar to prevent him from becoming the dictator of Rome. Following Caesar’s death, Rome is thrust into a period of civil war, and the republic, which the conspirators sought to preserve is lost forever.
Let me first describe the main characters of the play to you:
Gaius Julius Caesar: Known simply as Julius Caesar, was a Roman general and statesman who played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire. He was also a historian and author of Latin prose.
Marcus Junius Brutus: Often referred to as Brutus, was a Roman senator and the most famous of the assassins of Julius Caesar. After being adopted by an uncle of his, he used the name Quintus Servilius Caepio Brutus, but subsequently returned to his birth name. Brutus was close to General Julius Caesar, the leader of the Populares faction, a political group.
Gaius Cassius Longinus: Often referred to as Cassius, was a Roman senator and a general best known as a leading instigator of the plot to assassinate Julius Caesar. He was the brother-in-law of Brutus, another leader of the conspiracy. He commanded troops with Brutus during the Battle of Philippi against the combined forces of Mark Antony and Octavian, all Caesar’s former supporters, and committed suicide after being defeated by Mark Antony.
Marcus Antonius: Commonly known in English as Mark Antony or Anthony, was a Roman politician and general who played a critical role in the transformation of the Roman Republic from an oligarchy a power structure in which the power rests in a small set of people into the autocratic Roman Empire. Antony was a supporter of Julius Caesar, and served as one of his generals during the conquest of Gaul (war against Gallic tribes) and the Civil War. Antony was appointed administrator of Italy while Caesar eliminated political opponents in Greece, North Africa, and Spain.
Calpurnia: Either the third or the fourth wife of Julius Caesar, and the one to whom he was married at the time of his assassination.
Octavian: Caesar’s great-nephew and adopted son.
Pompey: A leading general.
Metellus Cimber: A Roman senator and also an assassin of Julius Caesar.
Lepidus: A Roman general.
Titinius: A noble man of Rome.
Casca: A public figure and an assassin of Julius Caesar.
The play opens with two tribunes (title of various elected officials in Rome) discovering the commoners of Rome celebrating Julius Caesar’s triumphant return from defeating the sons of his military rival, Pompey (a leading general). These tribunes, then insult the crowd for their change in loyalty from Pompey to Caesar. The officials then attempt to end the celebrations and break up with the commoners, who also return the insults. Later during the feast of Lupercal, (a pre-Roman pastoral annual festival) Caesar holds a victory parade when a soothsayer warns him to “Beware of the ides of March”, (the 74th day in the Roman calendar that corresponds to 15 March which means be careful as your life is in danger around that time) which Caesar ignores. Meanwhile, Cassius attempts to convince Brutus to join his conspiracy to kill Caesar. Brutus is friendly with Caesar, therefore hesitant to kill him. But he agrees that Caesar might be abusing his power so he needs to be killed. They then hear from Cacsa that Mark Antony has offered Caesar the crown of Rome three times and that each time Caesar refused it with increasing reluctance, in a hope that the crowd watching would beg him to accept the crown, yet the crowd applauded Caesar for denying the crown, upsetting Caesar, who actually wanted to accept the crown. On the eve of the ides of March, the conspirators meet and reveal that they have forged letters of support from the Roman people to tempt Brutus into joining. Brutus reads the letters and, after a lot of moral debate, decides to join the conspiracy, thinking that Caesar should be killed to prevent him from doing anything against the people of Rome if he were, ever to be crowned.
Caesar ignores the soothsayer, as well as his wife Calpurnia’s own premonitions. Calpurnia was either the third or the fourth wife of Julius Caesar, and the one to whom he was married at the time of his assassination. According to contemporary sources, she was a good and faithful wife, in spite of her husband’s infidelity. She had forewarned Caesar of the attempt on his life, but her endeavour remained in vain and did not prevent his murder.
Caesar goes to the Senate. The conspirators approach him with a fake petition pleading on behalf of Metellus Cimber’s banished brother. (Metellus Cimber is a Roman senator and also an assassin of Julius Caesar). As Caesar predictably rejects the petition, Casca and the others suddenly stab him. Brutus is last to do so. At this point, Caesar utters the famous line, “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?” … “You too, Brutus?”). The scene concludes with the quote, “Then fall, Caesar!” which means that Caesar will fall both as a man and also as the ruler of Rome.
The conspirators make it clear, that they committed the murder for the good of Rome, not for their own purposes, and do not attempt to flee the scene. Brutus delivers an oration defending his own actions, and for that moment, the crowd is on his side. However, Mark Antony makes a subtle and eloquent speech over Caesar’s corpse, beginning with the much-quoted, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!” With this, he deftly turns the public opinion against the assassins by manipulating the emotions of the common people, in contrast to the rational tone of Brutus’ speech. He reminds them of the good that Caesar had done for Rome, his sympathy for the poor, and his refusal of the crown at the Lupercal festival, thus questioning Brutus’ claim of Caesar’s ambition. He shows Caesar’s bloodied, lifeless body to the crowd to have them shed tears and thus gain sympathy for their fallen hero. He reads Caesar’s will, in which every Roman citizen would receive 75 drachmas (the Greek currency). Antony, finally manages to rouse the mob to drive the conspirators away from Rome.
Brutus next … attacks Cassius for supposedly soiling the noble act of regicide (the deliberate killing of a monarch) by having accepted bribes. The two later reconcile, especially, after Brutus reveals that his beloved wife has committed suicide under the stress of his absence from Rome. They prepare for a civil war against Mark Antony and Caesar’s adopted son Octavius, who have formed a triumvirate (a group) in Rome with Lepidus a Roman general. That night, Caesar’s ghost appears in front of Brutus with a warning of defeat. (He informs Brutus, “Thou shalt see me at Philippi.” a Greek city).
At the battle of Philippi, Cassius and Brutus, knowing well, that they will probably, both die, smile their last smiles, at each other and hold hands. During the battle, Cassius has his servant, kill him, after hearing of, the capture of his best friend, Titinius—a noble man of Rome, and a friend of Cassius and a conspirator in Caesar’s death. After Titinius, who was not really captured, sees Cassius’ corpse, he commits suicide. However, Brutus wins, that stage of the battle, but his victory is not conclusive. With a heavy heart, Brutus battles again the next day. He loses and commits suicide by running on his own sword, held for him by a loyal soldier.
The play ends with a tribute to Brutus by Antony, who proclaims that Brutus has remained “the noblest Roman of them all” because he was the only conspirator who acted, in his mind, for the good of Rome and was never jealous of Caesar
Though Brutus acted in the interest of Rome as per Antony, but in the process, he did kill his friend Caesar, after which his name Brutus became the best metaphor for stabbing at the back.
By Kamlesh Tripathi
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