Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare
I read his book twice and it was so much better the second time through! Overall, I really enjoyed it. “Julius Caesar” is a story about power and passion. It is also a story about men motivated by power. Shakespeare’s works in general are about men driven to action for the pursuit of power and love. The two things that drive the world forward are power and love! Men act and change the direction of the world in their pursuits of these two things, so it follows that well-written stories about these topics are everlasting. Everything is about love, sex, money, and power. The more that I experience the world, and the more that I read, the more that I think it’s true: love and power are the two primary motivators in our world.
Many commentaries about this play discuss how it deals primarily with the affairs of men. I think that even more accurately, it deals with the affairs of intelligent and powerful men. To demonstrate this, Brutus, who is arguably the play’s main protagonist, does not share the conspirators’ plan with his servant, Lucius. Lucius sleeps peacefully while Brutus talks with the conspirators about their plan. Lucius is simple-minded and does not understand enough to discuss complicated affairs; therefore, Brutus permits Lucius to sleep peacefully. Similarly, Brutus is hesitant to share the conspirators’ plan with his wife, Portia. He is concerned that women do not know how to keep secrets. Portia argues that anything he says is sealed by their marriage covenant. If Brutus is unwilling to share within the marriage covenant, then Portia becomes more like a whore than a wife. Reluctantly, Brutus shares his affairs and thoughts with Portia. As anticipated, Portia complained that it was difficult for her to keep her husband’s affairs a secret. I think that women generally have a tendency to gossip and over-share. However, I also think that it is appropriate to share your deepest concerns within the bounds of marriage, else like Portia said, the wife becomes more like a harlot. There needs to be trust in marriage to share your deepest concerns and most closely held secrets. Clearly something was bothering Brutus, because he was waking in the middle of the night. Noticing his unusual behavior, his wife encouraged him to share. And I think that it was appropriate for him to do so.
What does the relationship between Caesar and his wife, Calphurnia, look like? Caesar’s original intent was to attend the Senate meeting on the ides of March, despite the warnings of the soothsayer. However, Calphurnia encouraged Caesar not to attend. Calphurnia was strongly against Caesar taking the risk. Caesar initially conceded to his wife’s request and made it clear that he was acting only to humor his wife. Isn’t this exactly what I do with my fiancé, Grace? I push for adventure, but she reigns me in and I concede only out of a desire to honor her. However, in the case of Caesar, he is eventually convinced by Decius to oppose his wife. Decius, who happens to be one of the conspirators, encourages Caesar to attend the Senate meeting. Decius argues that Caesar has no true excuse to remit himself from the meeting. The people will make fun of Caesar, almighty Caesar, because he submitted to his wife’s arguably silly request. Essentially, Decius argues that Caesar will be viewed as a weak and “whipped” ruler. I think that this is interesting. The term “whipped” is appropriate to describe the situation. “Whipped” is used to describe a man that acts only to please his wife, and it usually has a negative connotation, because the word implies that the wife is over-controlling. A man that is “whipped” concedes to his wife’s wishes and is controlled fully by his wife. Usually, she controls by using her sexuality. By strategically withholding and offering sex, she is able to control the actions of her husband. That is the description of a “whipped” man, and it is not a desirable word to be described as. A whipped man is controlled by and manipulated by a woman. Caesar does not want the public to perceive him as whipped; therefore, he attends the Senate meeting against his wife’s wishes.
What else happened in Acts I and II? The larger Roman population seemed to want to give the crown to Caesar, but Caesar repeatedly refused to accept the kingship. Cassius was tired of being subordinate to Caesar, so developed a plan to murder Caesar. Cassius recognized Brutus’s authoritative position and tried to persuade Brutus to join the conspirators. Believing that the people wanted Caesar murdered, and concerned that Caesar would develop into a tyrant, Brutus agreed to participate in the murder plot. His reasons for participating were only for the greater good of the Roman citizens.
In Act III, the conspirators murder Caesar. Brutus speaks to the plebeians, saying that Caesar was a tyrant and that his execution should be celebrated. After Brutus’s speech, Antony takes the stage to tell the commoners that Caesar was actually their friend and that Caesar had the plebeians’ best interest in mind. The plebeians support Antony. Under no ruler, the plebeians act like a mob and kill innocent people. This Act is focused on the mass of the commoners. What significance does it have? I think that when it comes to power, the truly powerful are supported by the masses. The people want to be united by a common ruler. The division between Brutus and Antony is not ideal for the larger Roman population. The fight for power causes chaos, and this chaos is demonstrated through innocent murders.
Act IV examines the conflict from the perspective of each party competing for the Roman throne: (1) the conspirators, which includes Cassius and Brutus and (2) the incumbents, which includes Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus. Antony and Octavius speak poorly about their co-ruler, Lepidus. Consequently, Lepidus is assigned a simple errand and sent away. Conflict resolved. On the other hand, Cassius and Brutus speak bluntly about their conflict. Much of Act IV is focused on the discussion/argument between Cassius and Brutus. Antony and Octavius do not confront their partner, Lepidus, whereas Brutus and Cassius are unafraid to confront one another. They argue privately in Brutus’s tent, they reach a conclusion, and they increase their bond with one another. This seems like the correct way to resolve an argument. We also learn that Portia, Brutus’s wife is dead. In a way, this confirms that the events of this play are concerned primarily with men and that women should not be involved in such matters, just like the plebeians should not be involved. The women and plebeians act only in response to the actions of the powerful men. Finally, in this Act, Brutus sees Caesar’s ghost. The ghost tells Brutus that they will meet each other again at Philippi, which is the location of the final battle between the two parties. This clearly foreshadows Brutus’s death.
In the final Act, the two armies approach one another and exchange fighting words. Additionally, Brutus and Cassius say goodbye to one another in case they die during battle. Then, the fight begins. Cassius is the first conspirator to kill himself. Cassius’s suicide is followed by that of Titinius and finally that of Brutus. I think that the play is considered a tragedy because, although Octavius and Antony do not die, the primary “good guy” does die. Brutus was liked by everybody. He acted only for the common good of all the Roman citizens. Even the incumbents, Antony and Octavius, lament Brutus’s death, because they say that Brutus was an honorable man. If Brutus did not kill himself, then I think it is likely that Octavius and Antony would have let him live. It is tragic that Brutus thought life was so awful that he needed to kill himself. In life, he could have done so much good. I think this is the tragic element, and the lesson is to pursue honor above all. Act in a way that betters all of humanity. Act in a way that builds the Garden City. When somebody who is living an honorable life dies, especially pre-maturely, that person’s death is tragic, because humanity lost a person that could have done so much good and furthered God’s creation toward Christ-like glory. This play is a tragedy, because the Roman population loses Brutus.