Townsend Harris High School Nabil Ahmed Khatri, Melissa Kitson, Sarah Rader
AP English - Canzoneri May 2nd, 2012
Title: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
Author: William Shakespeare
Genre: Historical Drama, Political Tragedy
Historical information about the period of publications:
Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar was published in 1623 after his death. The play itself
however is thought to have been written in 1599. The period of time that the book was written is known
as the Elizabethan era. This period of time is referred to as the golden age in English history under
Queen Elizabeth I. The year the play was written, 1599, Queen Elizabeth was nearly 65 years old and had
sat on the throne for more than 40 years. Even at such an old age she had refused to name a successor.
During her reign she had expanded her power at the expense of the aristocracy and House of Commons.
Like Julius Caesar she had no successor or heirs. Anxiety was high as people feared that England would
fall to chaos upon her death. Shakespeare’s play about Julius Caesar may have actually been a comment
on the political issue that was ongoing during this time.
Biographical information about the author:
William Shakespeare was born to John Shakespeare and Mary Arden sometime in April of late
1564 in Statford-upon-Avon. All that is known about his childhood is that he most likely attended
Stratford Grammar School where he would’ve learned Latin rhetoric, logic and literature. He was
married to Anne Hathaway in 1582. They would go on to have 3 daughters.
For the next 25 years of his life, he was a recognized actor, poet, and playwright in England. A
few years after his marriage and the birth of his daughters he joined one of the most successful acting
companies in London: The Lord Chamberlain's Men. In 1599 the company lost the lease of the theatre
where they performed. But they were wealthy enough to build their own theatre across the Thames,
south of London, which they called "The Globe." The new theatre opened in July of 1599, with parts
from the previous theater embedded within it. Upon James I succession to the throne (1603) the
company was designated by the new king as the King's Men. The Letters Patent of the company
specifically charged Shakespeare and eight others "freely to use and exercise the art and faculty of
playing Comedies, Tragedies, Histories, Inerludes, Morals, Pastorals, stage plays ... as well for recreation
of our loving subjects as for our solace and pleasure."
Shakespeare entertained the king and the people for another ten years until June 19, 1613,
when a canon fired from the roof of the theatre for a gala performance of Henry VIII set fire to the
thatch roof and burned the theatre to the ground. Although Shakespeare invested in the rebuilding, he
retired from the stage to the Great House of New Place in Statford that he had purchased in 1597, and
some considerable land holdings, where he continued to write until his death in 1616 on the day of his
Characteristics of Genre:
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar can be associated with a number of genres including historical drama and
political tragedy. Historical dramas focus on some sort of element from history. They tend to be about
historical events or people. Historical dramas often select key events or people from history in order to
bring them into context of the present. This genre although depicts facts or ‘true’ events may not always
be accurate. Although they are based on information that is true or factual, the author ultimately
decides what to keep, toss or innovate in their work. Most of the narration in Julius Caesar, although
based on actual events, is the work of the Shakespeare. As a political tragedy, the play focuses on a
tragedy, the murder of Julius Caesar, which is political in nature.
The play opens as Julius Caesar is returning to Rome after defeating the sons of Pompey, seen as
enemies of Rome, in battle. Caesar parades through the streets of Rome with pride. Other Roman
leaders and senators become concerned about his growing power and popularity.
During the festival of Lupercal, a soothsayer warns Caesar to “beware of the Ides of March”
(March 15). Caesar arrogantly ignores this warning. While Caesar celebrates during the festival, Cassius,
a senator with a personal vendetta against Caesar, is already conspiring against Caesar. He suggests that
Brutus should be the one leading Rome, while at the same time trying to get him to join his conspiracy.
Brutus admits he’s been “at war” with himself over the issue of Caesar’s rise to power and needs some
time to think about it.
Later, Brutus and Cassius run into Casca, a conspirator, who reports that Antony just offered
Caesar the crown three times. Each time Caesar pretended he didn't want the crown, which made the
people love him even more.
As the "Ides of March” gets closer and close, Casca and Cicero begin noting bizarre going-ons in
Rome: a lion was roaming around and men in flames were spotted walking around the streets. Cassius,
who interprets these omens to mean that Caesar must be taken down, continues to plot against Caesar.
He sends someone to plant fake letters from Roman commoners urging Brutus to eliminate Caesar, and
attends a meeting that night to plot Caesar's death.
Meanwhile, Brutus has decided to go ahead and kill Caesar because he fears that he may
become a complete tyrant if he gains more power. Brutus reasons that, even though he and Caesar are
close friends, killing Caesar is the only way to save the Roman Republic. Brutus finally meets with all the
conspirators, and they hatch a plan.
The next day, Calphurnia, Caesar’s wife, wants Caesar to stay at home because she's had a bad
dream and fears something awful is about to happen to him. But Caesar ultimately decides to go to the
Capitol, because Decius, one of the conspirators, convinces him that he’ll be seen as weak if he doesn’t
go. Caesar goes off to the Senate. On the way to the Capitol, a man tries to give Caesar a letter warning
him about the assassination plot, but Caesar ignores him.
At the Capitol, Caesar prides himself in talking about himself. As he's talking about himself,
Cassius, Brutus, and the other plotters surround him and stab him to death – over 30 times. Before
falling, Caesar looks up and says "Et tu, Brute?" Translation: "Even you, Brutus?
The conspirators wash their hands in Caesar's blood so they can walk the streets and calmly tell
everyone that Rome is free of tyranny. The idea is that they'll seem more convincing about their plans
for a new dawn of peace if they're dripping with Caesar's fresh blood. Instead of hailing Brutus and
Cassius as saviors, the people of Rome run around in panic.
Mark Antony shows up to weep over Caesar's body. He promises not to blame the conspirators
as long as he's allowed to speak at the funeral in praise of Caesar's virtues. When he gets to the funeral
pulpit he urges the people of Rome to riot against Julius Caesar's murderers.
Meanwhile, Brutus and Cassius have fled and chaos has ensued. Antony has met up with Lepidus
and Caesar's adopted son, Octavius. Together they'll form the new trio to lead Rome and battle against
Cassius and Brutus.
Cassius and Brutus get into a big argument at their first meeting after the funeral. Cassius has
been accepting bribes on the side, which compromises their credibility. They agree to march and meet
the enemy (Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus) at Philippi, despite a visit from Caesar's ghost to Brutus to
say he'll be at Philippi too. Cassius and Brutus agree to kill themselves in case anything goes wrong in the
During the battle Brutus claims he's not a traitor. Fighting ensues, and Cassius and Brutus set up
on different parts of the field. Brutus is having some success in overtaking Octavius's army, but Cassius
cannot push back Mark Antony.
Then Cassius kills himself over a misunderstanding: he thought his friend Titinius had been
overtaken by enemy hordes, when it was really only Brutus's friends trying to hand a crown to Titinius so
he could give it to Cassius. Titinius finds Cassius's body and kills himself too, so when Brutus arrives they
are already dead. Brutus then decides to kill himself. As he dies, he says he didn't kill Caesar with half so
strong a will as he kills himself now.
Antony and Octavius know they've won the battle even before they arrive to find Brutus's body.
Antony gives a speech over the body, saying Brutus was the noblest Roman ever and the only one of the
conspirators who killed Caesar for Rome's good and not out of envy. Finally, Octavius agrees that
Brutus's body can stay in his tent for the night, befitting a dead soldier. Octavius and the others
celebrate the death and victory. The end.
Describe the author’s style Example
Shakespeare uses different types of As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
rhetoric such as pathos. The rhetoric is as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he
especially prominent in Brutus and Marc was valiant, I honor him: but, as he was
Antony try to win over Rome. Through their ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his
speeches, Shakespeare makes Brutus seem love; joy for his fortune; honor for his valor;
genuine and honorable, and Antony sharp and death for his
and convincing. ambition.
Memorable Quotes Significance
Beware the ides of March (I:ii 13) Caesar disregards this warning from the
He was my friend, faithful and just to me, Antony uses this sarcastic rhetoric to undermine
Brutus’s credibility and make the crowd hate the
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, conspirators.
And Brutus is an honorable man. (III:ii
Cassius from Bondage will deliver Cassius Cassius is emphasizing how he will commit himself
(I:iii 90) to rebel against Caesar. It can also signify how he is
willing to die in the end to free himself from
Name Role in the story Significance Adjectives
Brutus Brutus is a senator who cares Even though Brutus loves Caesar, Noble,
about the republic of Rome. He his naivety allows Cassius to idealistic,
helps plot the murder of manipulate him into thinking the foolish, gullible
Caesar. republic is at stake and that
Caesar must die.
Julius Caesar Caesar is a successful general Caesars pride causes him to Ambitious
and senator who assumes ignore the warnings of his death. Arrogant
dictatorship of Rome.
Cassius Cassius dislikes Caesar and Cassius believes that by getting Manipulative
wants to kill him for personal the honorable Brutus on his side, Jealous
reasons. he will be able to murder Caesar
without becoming hated by
Marc Marc Antony is Caesar’s most Marc Antony convinces Rome Loyal
Antony trusted friend. that Caesar was good and to turn Vengeful
on the conspirators. Persuasive
Portia Brutus’s wife and supporting Portia becomes upset when she Perceptive
confidante. sees that Brutus is troubled and Caring
he won’t tell her what’s wrong.
Calpurnia Caesar’s wife Calpurnia warns Caesar of bad Superstitious
omens and nightmares she had, Worried
but he ultimately ignores her.
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is a play based on true events. Taking place in the year 44 B.C., the
play depicts the transition from Roman Republic into Roman Empire and the conspiracy against the
increasingly powerful Julius Caesar.
Significance of Opening Scene
The first scene in the first act of this play involves two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, and their
commentary on events that are taking place. In their city on that day a celebratory parade is taking
place for Caesar’s triumph against Pompey. These two characters encounter a commoner who is not at
his work place; Murellus, feeling superior, inquires this commoner as to his reason for neglecting his
work and is angered when he replies that he’s going to see the parade. Frustrated, Murellus demeans
Caesar’s victory for he doesn’t believe that his conquering of a non-threat to Rome isn’t something to be
praised. The commoner, being very witty with his words, is misunderstood by the two tribunes causing
them to feel a greater sense of superiority when in fact they are in inferior. They see his loyalty to
Caesar as him being too naïve to understand that the conquering of Pompey is not something to be
The opening scene establishes the views of the public and the views of those with power.
Obviously Caesar has a great deal of power and admiration from the people; they praise his ability to
constantly conquer new lands. However, as shown by the two tribunes, the upper class sees his rise to
power as undeserved and his conquering mediocre. Readers can clearly see the power struggle that is
going to take place, and by whom it will be. The misunderstanding of the commoner’s wit also plays a
role in causing readers to perceive the tribunes as naïve and small-minded themselves, having
undeserved pride in themselves. Their hypocrisy is also greatly illustrated by their anger with this
commoner’s “betrayal” of Pompey when they themselves are against their own Caesar.
Significance of the Closing Scene
The final scenes involve Brutus’s suicide and his praise by Marc Antony. After Caesar’s ghost
appears to Brutus on the battle field, he accepts the fact that he must die and realizes his mistake.
Brutus tells the rest of his men to go on and that he will catch up, but actually orders a slave to hold his
sword so that he may run into it and die honorably. His last few words say that Caesar is avenged, and
that he is killing himself with more will than he killed Caesar. Almost immediately after his death, Marc
Antony discovers Brutus’s dead body and praises him as being the most honorable Roman of them all.
It may be surprising that Brutus’s enemy would think so highly of him, but Brutus did prove to
have the most honorable intentions. Unlike the fellow conspirators, his drive was not jealousy or greed,
but a genuine concern for the Roman government. In the end Brutus realized that killing Caesar would
not prevent dictatorship, because Octavian immediately filled his place in rising to power; but that a
change in government needed compromise and especially not the betrayal of a friend.
The two women in the play both symbolize the purposeful ignorance by both Caesar and Brutus
of their inward emotions and better judgment.
The prediction made by the soothsayer and Caesar’s ignoring it displays another lack of better
judgment and “pride before a fall.” Had Caesar not dismissed this warning, he may have not
been murdered by the conspirators.
The two tribunes in the beginning symbolize the jealousy and foolishness of the conspirators.
Having them outwitted by a commoner, Shakespeare is certainly undermining their
respectability in opposing Caesar and is emphasizing their blind jealousy.
Caesar’s murder symbolizes rebellion and betrayal.
Brutus’s suicide symbolizes honor. Though he did betray a friend he displayed regret and
avenged Caesar in killing himself. He learned that rebellion was not the way to protect the
government especially if it involved murder.
A major theme in this play is self-good verses public good. Almost all of the problems stem from
the character’s self-interest or their interest in the good of the people.
Misunderstanding and misinterpretation also play a role in the character’s inability to solve
problems and understand one another.
Fate verses free-will is another major theme in the play. Cassius doesn’t believe in fate and
thinks Caesar’s power is a result from everyone else’s passiveness.
Loyalty verses betrayal is obviously a theme that deals much with Brutus’s murder of his friend
Caesar and the guilt he feels afterward.
Honor verses cowardice is a final theme demonstrated by Brutus’s and Cassius’s suicides.
Cassius is killed by a lowly slave and dies having pride in Caesar’s murder, whereas Brutus kills
himself to avenge his friend.