Friends, Romans, Countrymen: Julius Caesar, The Play

Gaius Julius Caesar is the man who changed the Greek and Roman world. Let’s talk about the namesake of July and his play.

Author's Corner Book Culture On This Day Poetry & Drama Recommendations

My first true introduction to the famed Roman leader was my freshman year of high school in my English class. We were doing a read-through of the Shakespeare play, Julius Caesar, and I was playing Portia (I think–it’s been a while since 2017). I also specifically remember the first time I got the assignment that I would have to memorize and recite Mark Antony’s funeral speech following Caesar’s murder. You can imagine my excitement.

Julius Caesar by Shakespeare

The play itself is roughly broken into three parts: the return of Caesar and lead-up to his assassination, the attempt to turn the republic of Rome against him, and the fall thereafter. The entire reasoning behind killing Caesar was to preserve the republic and not make Caesar a king, as he was already labeled a dictator. And it quickly becomes evident to allies and enemies alike that the only way to do both is to assassinate Caesar for the good of the empire.

Act 1 and 2: The Return of Caesar & The Plan

Caesar’s return means celebration. But whilst there is a celebration, there always have to be the people who want to ruin the fun for everyone else. In this case, it’s Marullus and Flavius who are the realists of Rome. They claim that the people of Rome are hypocrites for their support of Caesar, even as he just returned from destroying Pompey. As Caesar greets his people, a soothsayer warns him of March 15th (The Ides of March), and that terrible danger will happen that day. Caesar continues to ignore him, and behind his back, his “friends” plot against him, and they turn his closest ally, Brutus, to go against the Roman emperor.

And as he agrees, some believe it to be too quick as he is Caesar’s favorite, so they plot to plant letters to convince Brutus to join their side–and that he is favored by those who want him to join the revolution against the wannabe king.

IMAGE VIA GRUNGE

In Act 2, Brutus still remains hesitant, but upon receiving one of the unsigned letters from Cassius, he decides to act. And when he is visited by the other conspirators, everything changes–his mood, demeanor, and ideas are just some of the few. Even Portia is concerned and begs for answers. Brutus tells his wife the truth.

And when the fifteenth of March approaches, Calpurnia tries to convince Caesar to stay home in fear of what may happen. But just as he decides, Brutus and some other conspirators approach and convince him to come, claiming that if he does not come today, he will never have the same chance again. Caesar agrees, but there are still people who want to protect him on the way, such as Artemidorus, who waits, and the soothsayer, who still warriors for the emperor. Meanwhile, Portia waits impatiently for word on the assassination.

IMAGE VIA FOLGER SHAKESPEARE

Act 3: The Assassination

Caesar arrives at the capitol alongside a few of the conspirators, and having brushed Artemidorus, he remains unaware of what is about to happen. Under a guise, Casca makes the first move of stabbing Caesar and bathe their arms and hands in his blood.

At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus allows Marc to speak, and pretending to support Brutus, he turns the people of Rome against the conspirators (as if he wasn’t the one with the ideas…crazy). As Brutus tries to convince the people he was trying to protect the republic, Antony brings out Caesar’s body and displays his wounds, sending the people into a frenzy against the conspirators as well as forcing Brutus and Cassius to retreat as Octavius arrives.

Sullivan, William Holmes; ‘Julius Caesar,’ IMAGE VIA ART UK

Act 4 and 5: The Fall Thereafter

The fall is not so graceful. Brutus and Cassius escape and build an army to challenge Octavius and Antony. However, strife still hangs between them as they begin to throw accusations at one another before they reconcile to plan the attack. They meet with other commanding officers and plan to go to Phillippi, and in his tent, Brutus is haunted by Caesar’s ghost, who promises to see him in Phillippi.

The battle comes, and many are killed. When Cassius believes the battle to be over and Titinius to be lost, he ends his life–but Titinius returns and also ends his life while placing a laurel on Cassius. When it is only Brutus left, he does his best to win but loses in the second battle. In response, he asks for his followers to help him end his life–only one agrees, and Brutus dies. The only good thing to come from Antony was that he considered Brutus to be the most honorable conspirator.

IMAGE VIA SHAKESPEARE AND THE PLAYERS

In conclusion, the story of Julius Caesar is not one of joy. It is one of pain and disparity. Brutus only wanted to protect his republic, and his kind heart was used against him. And while Caesar was labeled a dictator, he was also a man who wanted what was best for Rome. He came from a family who did not care for politics or riches but made a name for himself and his legacy for millennia.

So, Happy Birthday, Caesar (whether it may be early by a day or on time).

Finally, to explore more poetry and drama content, please click here.

FEATURED IMAGE VIA SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE