The protagonist is Marcus Junius 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, James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius, Greer Garson as Calpurnia, and Deborah Kerr as Portia.
The play factors heavily into the movie Me and Orson Welles.
For the man himself, see Julius Caesar.
- 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.
- 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.
- Anti-Villain: Brutus — consider how honourable and idealistic Brutus is in the play; then remember, the widespread idea used in Dante's Inferno which considered him one of the worst traitors in history along with Cassius and Judas.
- 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..."
- Artistic License History: Although as noted below this play is much more historically accurate than other Shakespeare plays, he did take some liberties. There were actually two battles of Philippi over two weeks apart, with Cassius committing suicide after the first one, incorrectly thinking the Liberators had been defeated, and Brutus committing suicide after the second one in which the Liberators really were defeated.
- AstroTurf: 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 opinionThat Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurelyCaesar's ambition shall be glanced at
- Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Platonic example with Brutus and Cassius. Despite their difficulties with each other, their final scene together at Philippi has them affectionately saying goodbye to one another while re-affirming their friendship.
- Based on a True Story: Mostly. Shakespeare got all his historical information from Plutarch, and Julius Caesar is much more historically accurate than many of his other plays.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Hence the suicides. Truth in Television; this was fairly common among patrician Romans.
- A Birthday, Not a Break: Cassius realizes it's his birthday right before the battle of Phillipi, where he's killed.
- 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. Lampshaded by Caesar as he meets the soothsayer on the Ides of March. The soothsayer reminds him the day isn't over yet.
- 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...: Antony in his funeral speech, when talking about why he won't read Caesar's will to the crowd.You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
'Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!
- Defiant to the End: Caesar is strongly resolved to attend the Senate meeting, in spite of Calpurnia's ominous nightmare of the bloody fountain and the dangers awaiting him:Caesar: Caesar should be a beast without a heart if he should stay at home today for fear.
No, Caesar shall not; 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: And Caesar shall go forth.
- Democracy Is Bad: The citizens are continually shown as highly fickle.
- Despair Event Horizon: Learning that his trusted friend Brutus is among the assassins ranged against him causes Caesar to lose heart and cease struggling.
- Did Not Think This Through: In spite of Cassius' objections, Brutus permits Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral, urging him to speak as much as good as he can of Caesar, which backfires miserably with Antony's eloquent speech surpassing Brutus' simple prose, as Antony alludes to Caesar's will, which incites the mob to take revenge on the murderers.
- Disabled in the Adaptation: Caesar is depicted as being deaf in one ear, even though there's no evidence that he had any kind of hearing impairment in Real Life.
- Disease By Any Other Name: Brutus mentions that Caesar has "falling sickness," aka epilepsy. (Many historians say he did.)
- 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!note
- Downer Ending: Instead of preserving the Roman Republic, the assassins end up setting the stage for its slow and destructive collapse, and almost all of them are dead after the events at Philippi. That's not even talking about the slew of innocents, such as Cinna the poet, getting killed throughout the story. Making matters worse, the relationship between Antony and Octavian starts to show strains, hinting at even more instability to follow.
- 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, most notably Portia, Brutus' wife.
- Dying Curse: An alternative interpretation of Caesar's final words; Caesar is cursing Brutus to suffer the same fate as Caesar himself. Brutus does in fact suffer the same fate, and at the hand of the same man.
- 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.
- Face Death with Dignity: Julius Caesar, in spite of Calpurnia's attempts to keep him home:Caesar: Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
And 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.
- Famous Last Words:
- "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar." - Julius Caesar
- "Caesar, thou art revenged, even with the sword that killed thee."- Cassius
- "Farewell, good Strato. Caesar, now be still. I killed not thee with half so good a will."- Brutus
- Forged Letter: Cassius sends multiple letters "from the citizens of Rome" to Brutus in order to win him over to their conspiracy.
- Get Out!: When the poet barges into Brutus' and Cassius' tent, they promptly send him on his way:Brutus: Get you hence, sirrah! Saucy fellow, hence!
Cassius: Bear with him, Brutus. 'Tis his fashion.
Brutus: I'll know his humor when he knows his time.
What should the wars do with these jigging fools? Companion, hence!
Cassius: Away, away, begone!
- Good Is Dumb: 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. Brutus nixes a suggestion to kill Antony along with Caesar, resulting in Antony becoming one of their greatest threats. Brutus overrules Cassius and insists they allow Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral, and Antony incites the crowd to riot with his speech. Brutus again overrules Cassius and says they must advance and give battle at Phillipi, rather than bide their time as Cassius suggests, resulting in the battle being lost.
- Green-Eyed Monster: 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 is 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.
- Heel Realization: One interpretation of "Then fall, Caesar." That is, Caesar realizes that if his closest friend thinks his death is necessary, then maybe he's not the hero he thought he was.
- The Hero Dies: The eponymous character himself midway through the play. Brutus, the true protagonist, dies at the end.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: Shakespeare's play has done much to make Marcus Junius Brutus into a Republican hero Internal Reformist torn by Conflicting Loyalty. This characterization is entirely Shakespeare's invention and it's very compelling nonetheless as an aesthetic achievement but the real Brutus as per Cicero's letters was a corrupt optimate and Loan Shark who extorted interest from the poor by sending goon squads to make them pay up and there's much debate among historians, such as Mary Beard, if Brutus was really going to restore the Republic or merely angling to be another warlord dictator out for his own powernote .
- Honour Before Reason: Brutus' downfall comes from this, especially in regards to Antony.
- Hope Spot: After the conspirators have killed Caesar, Publius Cimber, who was facing banishment, believes this to be a day of freedom:Brutus: Publius, good cheer. There is no harm intended to your person, nor to no Roman else. So tell them, Publius.
- Unfortunately, after the conspirators flee Rome when Antony has swayed the crowd to sympathize with Caesar, Antony, Octavius and Lepidus are marking Publius Cimber among those to be executed.
- Hurricane of Puns: Oh god the cobbler scene. Shakespeare was a big fan of puns.
- I Am Spartacus: Subverted when Lucilius pretends to be Brutus after he is captured by Antony:Antony: Where is he?Lucilius: Safe, Antony, Brutus is safe enough.I dare assure thee that no enemy shall ever take alive the noble Brutus.The gods defend him from so great a shame!When you do find him, or alive or dead,He will be found like Brutus, like himself.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Brutus' philosophy will not let him directly kill himself, so he gets someone to help. Cassius likewise. Although, Brutus's suicide is more honorable (in their society's norms) than Cassius's because Brutus has his servant hold his sword while he runs himself on it, while Cassius makes his servant kill him while he looks away.
- Idiot Ball: Brutus permits Marc Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral, provided he speaks all the good he can of Caesar and not to blame the conspirators. This backfires when Antony extols Caesar's generosity and humilty while calling Brutus and the conspirators "honorable men", and once he tells the crowds of Caesar's will, they start to ransack the conspirators' houses.
- I'm Going to Hell for This: After Casca tells Cassius and Brutus the events of the Lupercal, including when Caesar offered Casca a chance to slit his throat:Casca: Marry, before he fell down, when he perceived the common herd was glad he refused the crown,
He plucked me ope his doublet and offered them his throat to cut.
An I had been a man of any occupation, if I would not have taken him at a word,
I would I might go to hell among the rogues.
- Inertial Impalement: How Brutus' servant kills Brutus.
- Karmic Death: Cassius is killed by the same sword he used to kill Caesar.
- Large Ham: Even from just reading the play, it seems like Caesar is intended to be played as one:Danger knows full wellThat 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 WallCassius: 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 worldLike a Colossus, and we petty menWalk under his huge legs and peep aboutTo find ourselves dishonorable graves.Men at some time are masters of their fates.The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our starsBut in ourselves, that we are underlings.Brutus and Caesarwhat 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.
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 brookedTh' eternal devil to keep his state in RomeAs easily as a king.
- Or whether he genuinely fears that Caesar will be crowned king and therefore be a threat to the very anti-monarchy Roman ideology:
- 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.
- Brutus assassinated Caesar because he was afraid that Caesar would crown himself monarch of Rome and do away with Roman democracy. Brutus's actions in killing Julius Caesar paved the way for Julius's heir Gaius Octavius to become Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome. Good going.
- Not Afraid to Die: Caesar shows no fear when he's killed. Earlier in the play he tells his wife Calpurnia:Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once.
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.
- Obfuscating Stupidity:
- Antony is the master at this; his appearing stupid is what ultimately convinces Brutus not to kill him. Because of this, he has the chance to rile up the crowd and convince them to kill the conspirators.
- Casca pretends to be less intelligent around people he mistrusts.
- Offered the Crown: Antony tries to put one on Caesar's head.
- One Steve Limit: Averted, since the Romans had a very small pool of personal names. Marcus Junius Brutus shares the stage with Decius Brutus, and also with Marcus Lepidus, Marcus Tullius Cicero, and Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius). Then there is Cinna the conspirator and Cinna the poet, which turns out badly for the latter when an angry mob mistakes him for the former.
- The Only Believer: The main interpretation of the play, as well as the opinion of Anthony in universe, is that Brutus is this. The conspiracy to kill Caesar, despite the fact that it's supposedly about stopping Caesar from overthrowing the Republic and turning into a dictator, mostly consists of power hungry nobles opposing Caesar because they want that power for themselves. Brutus, on the other hand is genuinely distressed at the thought of Caesar being crowned. Mark Anthony's line eulogizing Brutus is the page quote.This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the rest of the conspirators acted out of jealousy of great Caesar. Only he acted from honesty and for the general good.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- Sarcasm Mode: Antony's speech is a dramatic example: He begins with a seemingly-sincerely claim that Brutus and the conspirators are honourable men who acted for good reasons. The longer the speech goes, this insistence becomes uterly venomous.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: After Brutus and Cassius have reconciled, the poet breaks into their tent:Cassius: How now! What's the matter?
Poet: For shame, you generals! what do you mean?
Love and be friends, as two such men should be,
For I have seen more years, I'm sure, than ye.
Cassius: Ha, ha! How vilely doth this cynic rhyme!
Brutus: Get you hence, sirrah! Saucy fellow, hence!
- Slashed Throat: Invoked by Caesar, and averted by Casca:Casca: He plucked me ope his doublet and offered them his throat to cut.
An I had been a man of any occupation, if I would not have taken him at a word,
I would I might go to hell among the rogues.
- Sock Puppet: Cassius gets Brutus to join him by forging a bunch of petitions in various writing styles, all criticizing Caesar and praising Brutus.
- Stealth Pun: "Beware the Ides of March" would have been one to audiences at the time, as March 15, not April 15, was tax day in England.
- Stupid Sacrifice: When Cassius sees Titinius captured, he asks Pindarus to take his sword and kill him. A few moments later, Messala reports that Octavius's forces have been defeated by Brutus's army, and Titinius commits suicide soon afterwards.
- Take Our Word for It: The odd events in Rome are entirely off screen. Justified as these events would be difficult to do at the time.
- Tears of Blood: From a statue of Caesar in his wife's dream.
- Third-Person Person: Caesar often refers to himself in third person, which serves to demonstrate his gigantic ego. Truth in Television; Caesar did this in his writing as was literary convention well into the Middle Ages.
- Token Good Teammate: Brutus can be viewed as this among the other conspirators.
- Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking...:
- Vigilante Execution: Cinna the poet is lynched by a mob.
- Weird Weather: Caesar's wife Calpurnia makes note of several portents which indicate bad things happening, including:Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol
- 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.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: After Caesar's assassination, the rest of the conspirators basically vanish. However, it can be inferred that they were most likely hunted down and killed after Antony and Octavius seize power and initiate a series of purges all across Roman society.
Tropes found in adaptations:
- Age Lift: In the "Shakespeare: the Animated Tales" episode Cassius is a grey haired individual and looks more like he could be of Caesar's generation than of Brutus', which he historically was.
- Anachronism Stew: The 1953 film make reference to "the Empire of the Romans" in screen of text. What is now called the Roman Empire did not begin until seventeen years after Caesar's assassination.
- Gender Flip: The 2018 National Theater production did this with a couple characters, most notably Cassius. (No, not crosscasting — they changed the pronouns and everything.)
- The 2018 Bell Shakespeare Company production did the same thing, this time making Mark Antony, Octavius, Casca, Trebonius and a bunch of minor characters (played by the same actresses) into women.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: It's not uncommon for productions to frame the various characters as stand-ins for contemporary politicians. Notably, the 2018 National Theater production had all the characters played this way — most obviously, Caesar is Donald Trump, Calpurnia is Melania Trump, a Gender Flipped Cassius is Hillary Rodham Clinton, Casca is Maxine Waters, and Decius is Kellyanne Conway. Back in the 1930s Orson Welles staged a production that was a thinly veiled commentary on Benito Mussolini and Fascist Italy.
- Putting on the Reich: Orson Welles' version was inspired by Fascist Italy with Caesar being modelled on Mussolini.
- Scare Chord: In Orson Welles' famous version, the play was considered pedestrian until they changed the murder of the poet Cinna◊ by a mob. The change was that Cinna was grabbed by a mob accompanied by all of the keys of a pipe organ being blasted, as he's dragged into the darkness to his doom. Every performance was a sellout afterward.