Points to Ponder
Why is this play titled "Julius Caesar" when the main character seems to be Brutus? The historical figure of Julius Caesar was a brilliant general and a gripping orator, but the character of Julius Caesar in this play seems less formidable or noteworthy. In him, one can hardly see the man who had subdued much of northwest Europe and made his opponents fear his lofty ambitions. Does Shakespeare weaken Julius Caesar on purpose - why? Also, recall that Cassius recruits Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar largely in part due to his "name value" - the name of Brutus immediately brings credibility to their enterprise. Could Shakespeare have titled his play largely because of Julius Caesar's name value? Would this play have been as successful if titled "Marcus Brutus"?
Shakespeare considered himself a poet. What is the role of the poet in this play, and how does it reflect on Shakespeare's view of his own profession? In Scene 3.3, an angry mob is about to beat a man to death because his name matches one of the conspirators; when the mob finds out that the man is Cinna the poet and not Cinna the conspirator, they decide to kill him for his "bad verses." Is this a comic or a tragic scene? In Scene 4.2, a poet interrupts Brutus and Cassius in a private conversation because he fears that they might hurt each other. Brutus and Cassius insult the poet and his profession until he leaves. Is Shakespeare mocking himself or other bad poets?
Women were given very few rights in Elizabethan England and even fewer in Ancient Rome. How does Shakespeare treat them in the world of Julius Caesar? It appears that Caesar's wife Calpurnia rules him in their home, but Caesar asserts his dominance in the public arena: Caesar commands his wife to receive a tap with a goatskin thong in order to increase her fertility and later laughs at the idea that people perceive him taking orders from his wife. Why is there such a difference between the public and private spheres? Brutus is similarly ruled by his wife at home but abandons her immediately when the conspirators call. Why do the men seem so reluctant to profess their love of their wives in public yet feel pride at expressing their love to their fellow men? In one of many instances, Cassius says to Brutus' servant, "Fill, Lucius, till the wine o'erswell the cup. / I cannot drink too much of Brutus' love" (IV.ii.213-4).
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4
Scenes 3.2 and 3.3
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.4 and 5.5