I wonder what will happen next.
One of William Shakespeare
's tragedies, the play is his take on the assassination of Julius Caesar in Ancient Rome
and its bloody aftermath.
The protagonist is Marcus Brutus, a scrupulously honest, loyal and patriotic statesman, who is nonetheless drawn by his friend Caius Cassius into a plot to assassinate the increasingly powerful Caesar. Brutus is torn between his love for Julius Caesar and what he believes to be his duty to Rome. He is eventually moved to the act only by his love of the republic; other characters in the conspiracy have less spotless motivations.Alternately
, the protagonist is Marcus Brutus, a self-centered patrician whom Cassius flatters into betraying his former patron Caesar. Take your pick.
In either case, Brutus is intended to be the most sympathetic character in a cast of villains. The title character? An Ambitious Decoy Protagonist
. His other closest friend, Mark Antony? Uses his oratory skills to help woo the crowds to handing Caesar power, and when it comes to Avenging the Villain
he really gets nasty, all while acting the part of the Faux Affably Evil Villain with Good Publicity
. Octavian/Octavius/Augustus Caesar? Just as ambitious as his dear old uncle, but even smarter, smart enough in fact to maintain his good publicity
throughout the events of the play so that it takes a knowledge of what actually happened afterwards historically (or in Antony and Cleopatra
) to realize his villainy.
Our actual protagonist's other best friend, Cassius? The Resenter
to Caesar's power who gets Brutus involved in the conspiracy in the first place by being a Manipulative Bastard
, with plans to set himself up as The Man Behind the Man
where Brutus is The Man
whether he wants the job or not; in fact, the less Brutus actually wants the job the easier he thinks it will be. The rest of the conspirators all have their own selfish motivations as well. Oh and the rest of Rome? Anyone who isn't just a victim of one of the villains ends up in the mob formed by Mark Antony's speech due to their fickle nature
Following the assassination, Rome is plunged into civil war, and a number of characters from the first several acts of the play die during the conflict, mostly through suicide.
The play was adapted to film several times. The most famous is the 1953 version, which starred Marlon Brando
as Mark Antony and received an Academy Award
nomination for Best Picture.
The play factors heavily into the movie Me and Orson Welles
For the man himself, see Gaius Julius Caesar
- Adaptation Distillation: The plot was taken wholesale from Plutarch's biography of Caesar. Shakespeare wrote some extremely good dialogue for it.
- Ambition Is Evil: Brutus kills Caesar because he fears Caesar will accept being made Emperor of Rome.
Brutus: As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.
- Anachronism Stew: The characters refer to many things that didn't exist in Ancient Rome, but did exist in Elizabethan England.
- Anti-Villain: Brutus — consider how honorable and idealistic Brutus is in the play; then remember, the widespread idea used in Dante's Inferno which considered him the worst traitor in history along with Cassius and Judas.
- Antagonist in Mourning: After Brutus dies, Antony calls him "the noblest Roman of them all" and says that the others conspired against Caesar out of jealousy, but Brutus did it because he thought it was the right thing. He and Octavian agree to give him a respectful burial.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Caesar accepts superstition regarding the Lupercalia festival as fact, and then refuses to believe a soothsayer warning him to beware the Ides of March.
- Arc Words: "Beware the Ides of March..."
- Astro Turf: Cassius pulls this on Brutus:
I will this night,
In several hands, in at his windows throw,
As if they came from several citizens,
Writings all tending to the great opinion
That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely
Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at
- Based on a True Story: Mostly. Shakespeare got all his historical information from Plutarch, and Julius Caesar is much more accurate than his other history plays.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Hence the suicides.
- A Birthday, Not a Break: Cassius before the battle of Phillipi.
- Blood on the Debate Floor: The most famous example, as Caesar is turned into a pincushion during a session of the Senate.
- Cassandra Truth: The soothsayer's warning.
- Chewing the Scenery: Several good scenes for it.
- Caesar, whenever he talks about himself. "Speak! CAESAR is turned to hear."
- Mark Antony: "Cry HAVOC! And let slip the dogs of war!"
- Could Say It But: Brutus is an honorable man, so Antony won't.
- Decoy Protagonist: Caesar himself.
- Democracy Is Bad: The citizens are continually shown as highly fickle.
- Disproportionate Retribution: When the angry mob surrounds Cinna the poet, this exchange occurs:
Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna.
First citizen: Tear him to pieces, he's a conspirator!
Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!
First citizen: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!
- Downer Ending: It's William Shakespeare. It's a tragedy. Duh.
- Dramatic Irony: It's very ironic to see Antony as a Magnificent Bastard in the play as well as the seeds of his disagreement with Octavian, as both in history and in Shakespeare's own Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian proved to be the greater Magnificent Bastard of the two.
- Driven to Suicide: Several characters after everything gets worse following the assassination.
- Due to the Dead: Brutus's burial.
- Dumb Is Good: Brutus is portrayed as far-and-away the best-intentioned of the conspirators, but every time he overrules Cassius it's for something mind-bogglingly stupid.
- Empathic Environment: Crazy things happen in Rome during this time of turmoil.
- Et Tu, Brute?: As the assassins attack, Caesar defends himself... but when he sees Brutus, his best friend, among the assassins, he gives up and lets himself be murdered - he didn't care about a bunch of strangers armed with pointy things, but having his buddy stab him is another story entirely. The full quote is: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar." Marc Antony during Caesar's funeral would say of Brutus's betrayal that his was "the most unkindest cut of all."
- Exact Words: Brutus requires Antony to credit the assassins for giving him permission to speak at Caesar's funeral and to not lay blame on them. He keeps to the letter of those stipulations... and still agitates he audience into an angry mob howling for the assassins' blood.
- Famous Last Words: See Et Tu, Brute?, above.
- Forged Letter: Cassius sends multiple letters "from the citizens of Rome" to Brutus in order to win him over to their conspiracy.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Though the trope name comes from elsewhere in Shakespeare, it's in full force in this play. Every conspirator except (maybe) Brutus is motivated by this.
- Guilt by Coincidence: Cinna the Poet gets killed by the Mob because he unfortunately shared a name with one of Caesar's murderers. An added irony which Shakespeare likely didn't know was that the murdered Cinna was a good friend of Caesar.
- Have a Gay Old Time: Everywhere. Words like "lovers" are used quite innocuously—resulting in snickers in high school English classes everywhere.
- The Hero Dies: The eponymous character himself midway through the play. Brutus, the true protagonist, dies at the end.
- Honor Before Reason: Brutus' downfall comes from this, especially in regards to Antony
- Hurricane of Puns: Oh god the cobbler scene. Shakespeare was a big fan of puns.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Brutus' philosophy will not let him directly kill himself, so he gets someone to help. Cassius likewise.
- I'll Never Tell You What I'm Telling You
Antony: 'Tis good you know not that you are his heirs.
For, if you should—Oh, what would come of it!
- Inertial Impalement: How Brutus' servant kills Brutus.
- Large Ham: Even from just reading the play, it seems like Caesar is intended to be played as one:
Danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he:
We are two lions littered in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible.
- Leaning on the Fourth Wall
Cassius: How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown!
- Manipulative Bastard: Depending on portrayal, Cassius can easily be this. It is left ambiguous whether Cassius is merely jealous of Caesar's new found power even though both Brutus and himself are just as honourable, and has contracted the world's most traitorous form of tall poppy syndrome:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name.
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well.
Weigh them, it is as heavy.
- Or whether he genuinely fears that Caesar will be crowned king and therefore be a threat to the very anti-monarchy Roman ideology:
Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
Oh, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th' eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero / Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Brutus decides to let Mark Antony speak on condition he doesn't say anything bad about the conspirators. Antony goes on to prove what a Manipulative Bastard he truly is and gets the people of Rome to riot against them. Good going.
- Not Afraid to Die: Caesar, who tells his wife:
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard.
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
- Indeed, he shows no fear when he's killed not much later.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Casca pretends to be less intelligent around people he mistrusts.
- Offered the Crown: Antony tries to put one on Caesar's head.
- One-Cinna Limit: Averted, unfortunately for Cinna the poet, who is mistaken for Cinna the conspirator and killed by an angry mob.
- Also averted with Decius Brutus.
- Also averted with Mark Antony, Marcus Lepidus, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Marcus Junius Brutus.
- Out, Damned Spot!: Inverted, interestingly, when Brutus suggests:
...Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And waving our red weapons o'er our heads,
Let's all cry Peace, Freedom, and Liberty.
- Poor Communication Kills: Lots of people.
- Portent of Doom: Calpurnia urges Caesar not to go to the Senate because of the various omens she's either witnessed or heard about from reliable sources. Caesar pooh-poohs it and goes anyway.
- Powder Keg Crowd: They start out angry at the assassination. Within 5 minutes they're cheering Brutus. 15 minutes of Antony later, they're rioting.
- Pride: Caesar is so assured of his invincibility that he ignores numerous unambiguous warnings of death and destruction and walks straight into the conspirators' trap.
- Prophecies Are Always Right: Beware the Ides of March!
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Caesar's wife has a prophetic dream on the night before the Ides of March. He winds up ignoring it.
- The Purge: The Triumvirs' meeting at the beginning of Act 4 is the beginning of the proscriptions.
- Rabble Rouser: Mark Antony riles up the crowds at Caesar's funeral and sics them on the conspirators.
- Reverse Psychology: Antony's speech to the crowd.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Antony manipulates a city full of clueless schmucks into carrying one out for him.
- Rousing Speech: Mark Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral is one of the greatest examples in literature.
- All while sticking to Brutus' rule of not saying anything bad about the conspirators (even when from the text he clearly gets increasingly sarcastic throughout the speech).
- The Snark Knight: Cassius.
- Sock Puppet: Cassius gets Brutus to join him by forging a bunch of petitions in various writing styles, all criticizing Caesar and praising Brutus.
- Spanner in the Works: Mark Antony.
- Stealth Insult: Marc Antony's funeral speech is full of these.
- Tag Team Suicide: Cassius, then Brutus.
- Tears of Blood: From a statue of Caesar in his wife's dream.
- Third-Person Person: Caesar often refers to himself in third person.
- Token Good Teammate: Brutus can be viewed as this among the other conspirators.
- Tragic Hero: Brutus.
- Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...: "I am no orator, as Brutus is..."
- Cassius does this more subtly to Brutus in Act I, Scene II, when he expresses pleasure that his "weak words have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus".
- Vigilante Execution: Cinna the poet is lynched by a mob.
- With Friends Like These...: Brutus and Cassius are supposedly best friends, but in a lot of scenes, it's hard to see this.
- Almost, but not quite, Vitriolic Best Buds. Cassius sure does get snippy once in awhile. And he used less than honest means of winning Brutus to the conspiracy (see Astro Turf, above).