"Julius Caesar" is one of Shakespeare's most widely performed plays and perhaps his greatest Roman-era history. While the play is mostly accurate in its depiction of the events surrounding Julius Caesar's murder, it is no dispassionate retelling.The play is a gripping, dramatic story of greed, power, betrayal and honor. Its greater message is ultimately one of the nature of loyalty, although Shakespeare leaves the reader or viewer with freedom to interpret.
Like most of Shakespeare's plays, "Julius Caesar" has a broad cast of characters, including Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, his nephew Octavius, the plotting Cassius, and the famous soothsayer. However, the key to the meaning of the play lies in the relationships between Caesar himself, Brutus and Mark Antony. The play begins with both Brutus and Mark Antony as close friends and political supporters of the newly elected dictator, Julius Caesar.
Brutus feels great love for his friend Caesar, but greater loyalty to the Roman Republic. He grows concerned over rumors that Caesar intends to crown himself King of Rome, concerns that are fueled by Caesar's imperious behavior. Brutus finds himself seduced by Cassius, who leads a group of conspirators planning to take Caesar's life. While the other conspirators are fueled by a combination of greed, jealousy and lust for power, Brutus's motivation is fundamentally loyalty to the idea of Republican Rome.
Assassination and Aftermath
After the assassination of Caesar in the halls of the Capitol by Brutus and the other conspirators, the play's narrative becomes one of civil war. Rather than hiding, Brutus defends the logic and morality of their actions to the Roman crowd, showing that they struck for the good of the state and not for personal gain. But the still-loyal Mark Antony gives his own oratory over the body of Caesar, rousing the crowd to furious vengeance. Antony recognizes his methods are less than noble. Uttering "Mischief, thou art afoot," he considers his actions necessary to achieve greater justice.
War and Defeat
Brutus and Cassius lead an army against Mark Antony and Octavius, Caesar's nephew and heir. Brutus comes to realize the unsavoriness of his co-conspirators and reflects on the justice of his actions. When defeat in battle finally comes, Brutus prepares to take his own life, telling the spirit of Caesar that he takes his own life with greater confidence than he took his mentor's. When Mark Antony finally finds Brutus's body, he conveys the play's key theme, telling the assembled the Brutus was the "noblest Roman of them all," illustrating that both Mark Antony and Brutus showed Caesar loyalty of two different kinds.
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