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Further Reading: Julius Caesar

Blits, Jan H. “Manliness and Friendship in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.” Interpretation 9 (1980–81): 155–67.

Blits abstracts from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar a binary construction of gender by examining Portia, on the one hand, and the principal male characters, on the other. “The manly is associated with the firm, the brilliant, the cold, the independent, the high and the noble; the womanish, with the soft, the dull, the warm, the dependent, the low and the lowly.” To achieve manliness, Caesar, Brutus, and Cassius all seek to acquire love from other men because “being loved closely resembles being honored. Both are tributes of esteem.” The man who is the object of another man’s love has succeeded in unmanning his friend by reducing him to the shamefully womanish: “Rome’s civil strife seems to be Roman friendship writ large.” Antony, for Blits, is a striking exception to this rule about Roman friendship insofar as Antony loves Caesar without either fearing domination by him, as do Cassius and Brutus, or desiring anything from him. Instead, Antony is willing to give up everything and destroy everything to demonstrate his love by avenging Caesar’s death. Brutus and Cassius, though, conform, for Blits, to his rule about Roman friendship. Cassius is reduced to a womanish state by Brutus in the course of their reconciliation as friends following their quarrel (4.3). As Brutus is about to commit suicide, he finds “joy” in his “heart” that he has “found no man but . . . was true to” him (5.5.38–39), thereby having always prevailed in the Roman contest of friendship, although at the cost of being able ever to reciprocate offered love—not even the love of Portia, exhibited in her unsatisfied conjugal plea for intimacy.

Burckhardt, Sigurd. “How Not to Murder Caesar.” In Shakespearean Meanings, pp. 3–21. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1968.

Making reference to Cassius’s characterization of the assassination of Caesar as a “lofty scene [i.e., play or drama]” that shall “be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown” (3.1.125–26), Burckhardt invites his readers to imagine Brutus and Cassius as the “authors” or “plotters” of the assassination as a drama and to pay attention to the style of the play they desire to create. Brutus takes charge of the style and intends to stage “not a bare assassination, but a tragedy of classical, almost Aristotelian, purity. There is to be no wholesale slaughter. . . . Only the tragic hero is to be killed, and the killing itself is to be a ritual, a sacrifice, formal and even beautiful.” The “disastrous consequences” of the assassination then result from Brutus’s mistaken assumptions about the audience for whom the tragedy is intended. Brutus supposes his audience to be “noble, sturdy republicans, capable of the moral discrimination and public spirit which classical tragedy demands.” Instead the audience, as the play’s first scene has already established, are “eager to be led, easily tricked, crude in their responses.”

Bushnell, Rebecca W. “Julius Caesar.” In Companion to Shakespeare’s Works, edited by Richard Dutton and Jean E. Howard, 1:339–56. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2003.

Bushnell resists the pressure to read Julius Caesar as a “seamless action and single political statement,” advocating instead an approach that underscores its discontinuities of “political rhetoric, vocabulary, and ideologies.” The fragmentation, anachronisms, and inconsistencies that earlier critics regarded as flaws reflect the play’s political incoherence and “contribute to [its] uncanny power to undermine any ideological certainty.” The drama’s political resonance emanates from the sociocultural flux of the Tudor world in the middle of the sixteenth century, when “institutions, traditions, and languages of court, city, and regions coexisted and often conflicted, and political and social identities changed rapidly.” Terms such as “tyranny,” “liberty,” “commons,” and “commonwealth” became “watchwords” of a new political temper. Attending to the play’s fractured nature “as an urban drama and a drama of state, a play of republican values and Tudor morality, and a play of two places—Rome and London,” Bushnell concludes that Julius Caesar is a “dynamic political text” rather than “a classical monument or a tired classic.”

Cicero, Marcus Tullius. “The Second Philippic of Marcus Tullius Cicero against Marcus Antonius.” In Cicero, Philippics, trans. W. C. A. Ker, pp. 61–183. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1926.

Cicero’s second philippic, or oration, against Marcus Antonius (Shakespeare’s Mark Antony) was composed in October of 44 B.C.E. both as a reply to Antonius’s charges against Cicero and as an attack on Antonius. As the latter it is comprehensive, itemizing the immorality and criminality of Antonius both as a private citizen (beginning with his boyhood) and as a public and military official. At the same time the oration’s language indicates how, only a few months after Caesar’s assassination in the preceding March, his assassins were already being represented in the most extreme terms: “they, if they are not the liberators of the Roman people and the saviors of the State, are worse than assassins, worse than murderers, worse even than parricides—if indeed it be more atrocious to slay the father of the country than one’s own.” Cicero is forthright in his own approval of the assassination: “Is there then any man, except those that were glad of his [i.e., Caesar’s] reign, who repudiated that deed, or disapproved of it when it was done? All therefore are to be blamed, for all good men, so far as their own power went, slew Caesar; some lacked a plan, others courage, others opportunity: will no man lacked.” Although never delivered as a speech to the Roman Senate, the second philippic was published in November, 44 B.C.E. On 7 December 43 B.C.E. Cicero was murdered at Antonius’s directive.

Greene, Gayle. “ ‘The Power of Speech to Stir Men’s Blood’: The Language of Tragedy in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.Renaissance Drama 11 (1980): 67–93.

Positing that Julius Caesar as a whole is structured around a series of persuasion scenes, Greene suggests that a character’s ability to wield words determines his or her fate. From this position Greene moves to uncover an “implied . . . criticism of rhetoric and language itself” within Shakespeare’s depiction of Rome as a “society of skilled speakers.” She discusses three such persuasion scenes: “the scene in which Cassius ‘seduces’ Brutus to come into the conspiracy [1.2.30–187]; the soliloquy in which Brutus ‘fashions’ an argument for himself to join the conspiracy [2.1.10–36]; and the forum scene, where first Brutus [3.2.14–42], then Antony [82–266], ‘move’ the crowd.” In none of these, despite the success of the persuasion, does she find substantial grounds for their persuasiveness—no evidence for the charge of ambition laid against Caesar by the conspirators, no justification for his assassination, no reason for the Roman populace to avenge themselves on the conspirators. Addressing Brutus in 1.2, Cassius seems to evoke honor and the general good, but succeeds by appealing to Brutus’s vanity. In soliloquy, Brutus does not reason with himself, but lets “words do his thinking for him.” In Brutus’s oration to the Romans following the assassination, he provides “no argument that could appeal to logic.” And, finally, Antony succeeds in turning the Romans into a vengeful mob “by twisting a few crucial words.”

Hadfield, Andrew. “The End of the Republic: Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar.” Chapter 5 in Shakespeare and Republicanism, pp. 154–83, esp. pp. 167–83. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Beginning with the premise that “republicanism” is “one of the key problems that defined [Shakespeare’s] working career,” Hadfield reads Julius Caesar as a work “designed to intervene in the political debates” of a culture “saturated with republican images and arguments.” In the final decades of the Elizabethan era, “republicanism” was more a “cluster of ideas” relating to citizenship, friendship, natural rights, public virtue, and a rhetoric against tyranny than a “monolithic concept indicating the participation of all citizens in the political process.” Hadfield rejects the “critical cliché” that the real hero of the Roman plays is Rome and argues instead that, like Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar “depicts a dying and perverted republican Rome that has lost the ability to inspire its citizens to behave virtuously,” without which ability the republic “cannot function as a political force.” Central to Hadfield’s reading are Cicero’s De Officiis (Of Duties) and De Amicitia (Of Friendship), “key plank[s] in the intellectual culture of sixteenth-century Europe.” Cicero was the main republican figure from the last days of the republic; although only a minor character in the play, his refusal to join the conspirators “shows how their actions, however they are presented, are at odds with the proper goals of the republic.” Through their secrecy, manipulation of friendship, contempt for the citizenry, and favoring of violence over the art of persuasion as the new form of political argument, Brutus and Cassius taint healthy republican institutions and values. Even Antony’s “Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot; / Take thou what course thou wilt” (3.2.275–76) demonstrates his willingness to use his friendship with Caesar and gift for public oratory (“the central feature of the republic at its height”) to “help destroy the republic, continuing the civil wars that signalled its decline into dictatorship.”

Hapgood, Robert. “Speak Hands for Me: Gesture as Language in Julius Caesar.Drama Survey 5 (1966): 162–70. Reprinted in Essays in Shakespearean Criticism, edited by James L. Calderwood and Harold E. Toliver, pp. 415–22. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Hapgood examines Shakespeare’s use of nonverbal elements (props, gestures, stage pictures) in Julius Caesar. Such use, according to Hapgood, involves a pattern of reversal in which a gesture, for example, is initially falsified or otherwise “perverted” by characters who thereby render themselves vulnerable to its returning on them with “a ‘boomerang’ effect.” Hapgood notes that “the gesture of stabbing is . . . twisted from its normal significance” by “Brutus’ attempt to construe an act of betrayal and assassination into a sacrifice.” Then stabbing comes “to rights again” on “the battlefield, with its straightforward swordplay,” and again in the suicides of Cassius and Brutus, the latter of whom “runs on his sword.” Hapgood interprets this gestural pattern as a suppression of spontaneous, direct expression and sees in this “a mordant critique of the Roman way of life.”

Kahn, Coppélia. “Mettle and Melting Spirits in Julius Caesar.” Chapter 4 in Roman Shakespeare: Warriors, Wounds, and Women, pp. 77–109. London: Routledge, 1997.

Focusing on the wound as “a fetish of Roman masculinity,” Kahn draws on feminist and psychoanalytic criticism to “interrogate . . . the gender ideologies that uphold Roman virtus” (i.e., Roman manliness—martial, valorous, and self-disciplined) in Lucrece, Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, and Cymbeline. In the chapter on Julius Caesar, Kahn examines Brutus’s encounters with Cassius (1.2) and Portia (2.1) in order to chart his evolution as “exemplar of Roman virtus.” The two meetings demonstrate how the ethos of Roman manliness was (1) rooted in rivalrous emulation and (2) implicated in the feminine. Cassius’s seduction of Brutus “from passivity to political action” mirrors for Brutus “the public Roman,” thereby confirming masculine identity; Portia’s failure to draw a secret from her husband captures his divided interior (the “ ‘feminine’ Other within him”), thus subverting masculine identity. The crucial sexual difference in the play, however, is not “framed simply as one between male and female.” In the orchard scene, we hear of Portia’s “voluntary wound . . . in the thigh” (2.1.323–24), a valorous gesture of emulation that serves to idealize the masculine constructs of Roman virtus while also destabilizing traditional distinctions between polis (the public/political forum of men) and oikos (the private/domestic household of women, children, and slaves). Portia’s act “shows . . . a fine discernment in this strategy of constructing herself as a man, for . . . men mutually confirm their identities as Roman through bonds with each other. Brutus can trust Portia only as a man.” As the wounded bodies of Portia and Caesar manifest—his being “the feminized object through which the conspirators try to restore their manly virtue as citizens of the republic”—the wound that signifies virtus cannot be equated with a fixed and delimited masculinity, neatly and rigidly separated from the feminine; though rendered subordinate and inferior, women are essential to the “construction of male subjects as Roman.” Roman masculinity in Shakespeare remains a “question of sexual difference—an open question, still.”

Marshall, Cynthia. “Shakespeare, Crossing the Rubicon.” Shakespeare Survey 53 (2000): 73–88.

Marshall combines source study with psychoanalytic criticism to explore the semiotics of character in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus. Prompted by the question “What are dramatic characters characterizations of?” she examines Shakespeare’s use of Plutarch’s Lives (see below), the primary source of his Roman plays and a “key text in the evolution of the early modern concept of character or subjectivity,” to argue that in refiguring narrative as drama, Shakespeare establishes “our culture’s prevailing model of character as one that is at once intensely performative and putatively interiorized.” Plutarch’s emphasis on internal debate in his narration of Caesar’s Rubicon dilemma and the Oedipal dream that resolves it—an episode not found in Shakespeare—focuses Marshall’s analysis of how Shakespeare converts decision making into dramatic event in two scenes of Julius Caesar: Brutus’s struggle as he considers whether to join the conspiracy (2.1) and Caesar’s decision to go forth on the ides of March (2.2). The first is interiorized by the use of “soliloquy-as-dialogue” (2.1.10–36, 51–61, 64–72, and 84–93); the second exteriorized by assigning two opposing interpretations of a dream, further differentiated as male and female, to Decius Brutus and Calphurnia, with Caesar ultimately transferring his fears to his wife (2.2.110). Brutus’s articulation of his moral ambivalence in a dialogic soliloquy that internalizes his struggle results in an “unprecedented depth of character” that “accords with the intrinsic importance of moral sensibility to Western culture’s basic idea of selfhood.” Detecting a trace of Plutarch’s interiorized Rubicon decision in Julius Caesar, Marshall claims that Shakespeare “had to cross this symbolic Rubicon, marking off the richly inventive but largely plot-driven plays of the 1590s from the deeply characterological dramas that follow, in order to take possession of his territory as a dramatist.”

Miles, Gary. “How Roman Are Shakespeare’s Romans?” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 257–83.

Writing as a classicist, Miles compares Shakespeare’s Roman characters to depictions of these characters in the writings and sculpture of their own times. He finds significant and interesting differences between Romans and Shakespeare’s Romans. For the Romans themselves, character was defined entirely by public action—by holding public offices, by winning military victories, and by providing public benefactions. Shakespeare, though, establishes his Roman characters—at least partly because of the influence of his main source, Plutarch’s Lives (see below)—in terms of “essentially personal values and intentions.” For example, both Antony and the play Julius Caesar force us to reflect on the extent to which Brutus is an honorable man, that is, the extent to which his inner character is consistent with his conduct. Although the Romans had in the word honorabilis a cognate for Shakespeare’s honorable, the Latin word has reference only to one’s outer condition and political position and therefore would not give rise to reflections on the interior lives of Romans themselves. Miles emphasizes that he does not mean to say that Shakespeare regards the public lives of his Roman characters as trivial or irrelevant or that the Romans themselves were two-dimensional and uninteresting. Rather he calls attention to the changes in worldview and language between classical Rome and Shakespeare’s England.

Paster, Gail Kern. “ ‘In the Spirit of Men There Is No Blood’: Blood as Trope of Gender in Julius Caesar.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989): 284–98. Revised and reprinted as part of The Body Embarrassed: Drama and Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England, pp. 93–111. New York: Cornell University Press, 1993.

In an ambitious project of historical reconstruction, Paster deciphers the “complex annotation of gender difference in apparently unambiguously gendered characters.” Through an interrogation of Shakespeare’s use of blood and bleeding in Julius Caesar, Paster concludes that the outbreak of war after Caesar’s assassination results from the disclosure of his wounds, a disclosure that draws attention to the bleeding body, which had specific cultural meanings in early modern Europe. As Paster shows, in Julius Caesar “the meaning of blood and bleeding becomes part of an insistent rhetoric of bodily conduct in which the bleeding body signifies a shameful token of uncontrol, as a failure of physical self-mastery particularly associated with woman.”

Plutarch. “The Life of Julius Caesar,” “The Life of Antonius,” “The Life of Brutus.” In Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, trans. Thomas North. In Selected Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, edited by Paul Turner, 2:1–46, 104–61, 162–97. 2 vols. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1963.

Plutarch chronologically traces the characters and careers of individual men, filling his accounts with anecdotes illustrating their traits. Sir Thomas North’s 1579 translation was Shakespeare’s main source for Julius Caesar, for which he drew on all three of the Lives listed above. For example, from “The Life of Julius Caesar” he took the names of the tribunes Flavius and Marullus and their 1.1 confrontation with the plebeians over the adorning of Caesar’s statues. The 1.3 descriptions of the marvels visible in the streets also come from “The Life of Caesar.” Both it and “The Life of Brutus” gave Shakespeare detailed accounts of Caesar’s 3.1 assassination and of the events immediately surrounding it. The scene in which Antony, Lepidus, and Octavius meet to determine whom they will proscribe (4.1) draws on “The Life of Antonius.” For the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius (4.3) and for the details of the Battle of Philippi (Act 5) Shakespeare turned to “The Life of Brutus,” which also provided the episodes in the domestic life of Brutus and Portia that he vividly dramatized.

Rabkin, Norman. “Structure, Convention, and Meaning in Julius Caesar.” Journal of English and Germanic Philology 63 (1964): 240–54. Revised and reprinted as part of “The Polity” in Shakespeare and the Common Understanding, pp. 105–19 (of 80–149). New York: Free Press, 1967.

Rabkin focuses on the first two scenes of the play’s second act, 2.1 set in Brutus’s home, 2.2 in Caesar’s, the night before the assassination. First examining the structure of these scenes, Rabkin finds them remarkably similar. Just as 2.1 begins with Brutus, his sleep disturbed, calling out for a servant, so 2.2 begins with Caesar, unable to sleep, calling out. In the course of each scene, each man welcomes the conspirators as a group of honored friends, each is supplicated by his wife on her knees, and each exits on his way to the Capitol. These structural parallels highlight other similarities between the two men’s characters—their stoicism, their occasional bluster, their use of “fine rhetoric to support a mistaken decision.” For Rabkin, they are both “flawed giants,” and these parallels discredit Brutus’s version of the assassination as an act of public virtue. Rabkin also identifies Antony’s speech in the Forum as a moment of transformation in dramatic convention, shifting the play from a tragical history to a revenge tragedy, casting Brutus now in the role of “first criminal” and Antony simultaneously as the hero-revenger and “the villain of the piece.” With this shift Brutus’s character undergoes degeneration, “which demonstrates clearly that even character is determined more by process than by abiding and shaping inner principles.”

Ripley, John. “Julius Caesar” on Stage in England and America, 1599–1973. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

In this extensive and detailed stage history of Julius Caesar, Ripley draws on archival materials (e.g., promptbooks, reviews, diaries, letters, and interviews) to reconstruct Anglo-American productions from 1599 to 1973. The volume begins with a brief overview of the afterlife of Julius Caesar in criticism and on stage and concludes with an afterword offering some directions for future exploration. Ripley moves quickly through seventeenth- and eighteenth-century productions to concentrate on major nineteenth-century revivals under the following chapter headings: “John P. Kemble, 1812,” “From Young to Phelps, 1819–65,” “The Booth-Barrett-Davenport era,” “The Meiningen Court Company (1881) and Beerbohm Tree (1898),” and “F. R. Benson at Stratford-upon-Avon (1892–1915).” Separate chapters deal with American revivals in the intervals 1770–1870 and 1892–1949; the final chapters cover the efforts of William Bridges-Adams at Stratford-upon-Avon (1919–34), productions in London between 1900 and 1949, and stagings in England and North America from 1950 to 1973. For each reconstruction, Ripley tries to determine what text was spoken; records distribution of speeches, cast size, cuts, and (more rarely) additions; considers the particular theater and audience tastes; and describes set design, costumes, stage business, crowd scenes, and the interpretation of the four major roles (Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony). The play has enjoyed perennial popularity on the stage from its first performance at the Globe in 1599, and this despite “grave theatrical drawbacks”: a titular hero who dies in Act 3; a three-way competition for the audience’s sympathy by Cassius, Brutus, and Antony; a mob that can either rob the play of vitality if it is too small or inactive or “swamp . . . the action” if given to boisterous spectacle; the threat of anticlimax in the final two acts; and “little feminine interest.” The prevailing assessment of the play in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that it is successful only in its parts gave way in the twentieth century to recognition of its wholeness “and a willingness on the part of the theatre to offer more than piecemeal solutions to its problems.”

Stirling, Brents. “ ‘Or Else Were This a Savage Spectacle.’ ” In Unity in Shakespearean Tragedy. New York: Columbia University Press, 1956, pp. 40–54. Reprinted in Essays in Shakespearean Criticism, edited by James L. Calderwood and Harold E. Toliver, pp. 405–14. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970.

Stirling catalogues the pervasiveness of ritual and ceremony in Julius Caesar, which includes the dressing of Caesar’s statues in 1.1; the “feast of Lupercal” in 1.2, together with the formal entries and exits of Caesar and his train, and the offstage ceremony of the crown offering; the augury of 2.2; the ceremonial kneeling before Caesar of each of the conspirators who surround him before the assassination, their each stabbing him in their turn (Casca first and Brutus last), and their ritualized bathing of their arms in his blood (3.1). Stirling determines that Brutus’s incorporation of the assassination into the pattern of Roman ritual is motivated largely by his attempt—by depersonalizing Caesar and the conspirators—to assuage the contradiction inherent in an idealized conspiracy that in the main satisfies Brutus’s personal ends. Stirling then goes on to examine Antony’s strategy of appropriating Brutus’s ritualization of the assassination through his own counterrituals—Antony’s shaking each of the conspirators’ bloody hands in turn, just as they stabbed Caesar in turn, and Antony’s display of Caesar’s mantle to the Roman mob, assigning each rent in the garment to the stroke of a particular conspirator’s sword. Thereby Antony undoes Brutus’s version of the assassination as a sacrifice and transforms it into the butchery of Caesar-as-prey by the conspirators-as-hunters.

Zander, Horst, ed. Julius Caesar: New Critical Essays. London: Routledge, 2005.

This collection consists of twenty new essays spanning a variety of critical issues and ideologies. The essays are as follows: Martin Jehne, “History’s Alternative Caesars: Julius Caesar and Current Historiography”; Clifford Ronan, “Caesar On and Off the Renaissance English Stage”; Vivian Thomas, “Shakespeare’s Sources: Translations, Transformations, and Intertextuality in Julius Caesar”; Barbara L. Parker, “From Monarchy to Tyranny: Julius Caesar among Shakespeare’s Roman Works”; Joseph Candido, “ ‘Time . . . Come Round’: Plot Construction in Julius Caesar”; Barbara J. Baines, “ ‘That every like is not the same’: The Vicissitudes of Language in Julius Caesar”; J. L. Simmons, “From Theatre to Globe: The Construction of Character in Julius Caesar”; Naomi Conn Liebler, “Buying and Selling So(u)les: Marketing Strategies and the Politics of Performance in Julius Caesar”; Andreas Mahler, “ ‘There is restitution, no end of restitution, only not for us’: Experimental Tragedy and the Early Modern Subject in Julius Caesar”; David Hawkes, “Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Marxist and Post-Marxist Approaches”; David Willbern, “Constructing Caesar: A Psychoanalytic Reading”; Simon Barker, “ ‘It’s an actor, boss. Unarmed’: The Rhetoric of Julius Caesar”; Dennis Kezar, “Julius Caesar’s Analogue Clock and the Accents of History”; Graham Holderness and Marcus Nevitt, “Major among the Minors: A Cultural Materialist Reading of Julius Caesar”; Coppélia Kahn, “ ‘Passions of some difference’: Friendship and Emulation in Julius Caesar”; James Rigney, “Stage Worlds of Julius Caesar: Theatrical Features and Their History”; Michael Anderegg, “Orson Welles and After: Julius Caesar and Twentieth Century Totalitarianism”; Tom Matheson, “Royal Caesar”; Michael Greenwald, “Multicultural and Regendered Romans: Julius Caesar in North America, 1969–2000”; and Mariangela Tempera, “Political Caesar: Julius Caesar on the Italian Stage.” The editor’s introductory essay identifies main critical issues, charts the critical reception of the play through the twentieth century, analyzes various theoretical and ideological approaches to Julius Caesar, and provides a selective account of the play on stage and in film, on television, and in other media. Among the issues Zander addresses are the question of the play’s protagonist, the play’s temporal and spatial design, and the private Caesar versus the public institution of “Caesar.” Zander claims that Julius Caesar marks the turning point in the Shakespeare canon, signaling the “shift from history to basic issues of human existence.”