Theme Analysis of Julius Caesar The subject of a talk, a piece of writing, a person’s thoughts, or an exhibition; a topic: “the theme of the sermon was reverence”. Almost everything a person reads has some sort of theme, without a theme, is the material really meaningful? When one is asked to identify the theme of a work of literature there is not one right answer, but many. In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, power and masculinity go hand-in-hand, pride holds both positive and negative qualities, and friendship results in manipulation and violent betrayals.
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In ancient Rome, it was a “man’s world” where men are considered weak and cowardly at any sign of fear or emotion and women are considered inferior and irrelevant simply because they were women. In act one, Cassius attempts to undermine Caesar’s authority as a leader by attacking his masculinity multiple times: “But ere we could arrive the point proposed, / Caesar cried ‘Help me, Cassius, or I sink! ‘… ”(Shakespeare), here Cassius tells of a time when Caesar had tried to prove his bravery and nearly drowns in the Tiber river and called out to Cassius for help.
In another instance, Cassius tells of a time when Caesar was ill and had to ask for water, “Alas, it cried ‘Give me some drink, Titinius,’ / As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me”(Shakespeare). In ancient Rome, being sick or in distress was a sign of weakness and lack of manliness. In act two, Portia attempts to persuade Brutus to share his secrets with her by telling him if he will not tell her, then she is simply his harlot, not his wife: Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus, Is it excepted I should know no secrets That appertain to you?
Am I yourself But, as it were, in sort or limitation, To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed, And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs Of your good pleasure? If it be no more, Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife. (Shmoop Editorial Team) After a failing attempt to convince Marcus Brutus to confide in her, she decides to prove her strength by giving herself a voluntary wound in her thigh, “I have made strong proof of my constancy, / Giving myself a voluntary wound / Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience”(Shmoop Editorial Team).
Caesar completely disregards his Calpurnia’s, his wife, ominous dream so he will not be seen as a coward to the other men, “Calphurnia here, my wife, stays me at home: / She dreamt to-night she saw my statue, / Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts, / Did run pure blood:…. ”(Crowther). Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay home because ancient Rome was very superstitious and she had dreamt of his death. At first, Caesar agrees because, in reality, he too is superstitious and fearful, until Decius persuades him. “ How foolish do your fears seem now, Calphurnia! / I am ashamed I did yield to them. Give me my robe, for I will go“ (Crowther), Decius changes the interpretation of Calpurnia’s dream by telling Caesar that Calpurnia is unable to properly interpret her dream and everyone would question his manhood and power if he listened to his wife. Although masculinity was a problem for both men and women in ancient Rome, pride seems to be more troublesome for the men versus the women. Julius Caesar’s lack of humility and extreme arrogance throughout his time in the play is blinding him, but Marcus Brutus’ humbleness leads him to seem wiser and more likeable compared to Caesar.
Caesar’s prideful arrogance shields him from seeing the harm the conspirators accuse him of and the harm that is being planned against him: “Caesar shall forth: the things that threaten’d me / Ne’er look’d but on my back; when they shall see / The face of Caesar, they are vanished” (Crowther). The women, Portia and Clapurnia, are less affected by arrogance because for one, they lack the ability to hold arrogance. Calpurnia is open and honest about her fears of her dream and of her desires for Caesar to stay home: “Alas, my lord, Your wisdom is consumed in confidence.
Do not go forth to-day: call it my fear That keeps you in the house, and not your own. We’ll send Mark Antony to the senate-house: And he shall say you are not well to-day: Let me, upon my knee, prevail in this. ” (Shmoop Editorial Team) Portia is accepting of the fact that Brutus is untrusting of her because she is a woman even though her father is a great man, as is her husband (Brutus), “I grant I am a woman; but withal / A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter. / Think you I am no stronger than my sex, / Being so father’d and so husbanded? (Shmoop Editorial Team). Brutus’ humility is ultimately the downfall of him as he lacks the strength and conviction to justify the murder of Caesar, his friend. “O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs” (Shakespeare), here Brutus tells Cassius he is feeling guilty about his actions and decides to bear his grief nobly. He also decides to not get upset or worried about things like the death of his wife or murdering his best friend. If he had decided that he had the right to judge Caesar, and judged him correctly, then he may not have decided to be a art of the conspiracy and the murder of Julius Caesar might not have happened. Pride played major parts in the play for both Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus, as does friendship. The men, particularly Caesar and Brutus, in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar must decide between their friendships and their loyalty to the Roman Republic. Brutus is the first to fall victim to the manipulation and violent betrayal when he joins the conspiracy act once it appears that he, Caesar, is headed for absolute power. Cassius,
Be not deceived: if I have veil’d my look, I turn the trouble of my countenance Merely upon myself. Vexed I am Of late with passions of some difference, Conceptions only proper to myself, Which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors; But let not therefore my good friends be grieved— Among which number, Cassius, be you one— Nor construe any further my neglect, Than that poor Brutus, with himself at war, Forgets the shows of love to other men. (Shmoop Editorial Team) here, Brutus goes out of his way to apologize to Cassius once he, Cassius, sks Brutus why he’s been “distant”, later in act one, Cassius manipulates Brutus’ friendship by extreme flattery, “And be not jealous on me, gentle Brutus: / Were I a common laugher, or did use / To stale with ordinary oaths my love / To every new protester; if you know / That I do fawn on men and hug them hard” (Shakespeare). Brutus then, in act three, states that his choice came down to his love for Rome, versus his love for his friend “–Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved / Rome more”(Shakespeare). In The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, it is nearly impossible for the men to separate their true friends from their enemies.
Caesar was unable to identify his true friend, Antony, who would grieve and attempt to avenge his, Caesar’s, death by killing Cassius and Brutus. In act three scene one, once Antony is notified of Caesar’s death, he tells the conspirators that if they believe he too, is corrupt, than to kill him then because he would be happiest to die next to Caesar, “No place will please me so, no mean of death, / As here by Caesar, and by you cut off, / The choice and master spirits of this age” (Shmoop Editorial Team). During Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral, he indirectly declares vengeance against Brutus and Cassius.
In this play, manipulation and friendship go together in the ways that they lead to each other. Cassius is not truly Brutus’ friend, he only used and manipulated him, Brutus, because without Brutus, the conspiracy may not have been successful; Tis just, And it is very much lamented, Brutus, That you have no such mirrors as will turn Your hidden worthiness into your eye That you might see your shadow. I have heard Where many of the best respect in Rome, Except immortal Caesar, speaking of Brutus And groaning underneath this age’s yoke, Have wish’d that noble Brutus had his eyes. (Crowther)
The conspiracy cannot be complete without Brutus as shown in the following quote “That Rome holds of his name, wherein obscurely / Caesar’s ambition shall be glanced at. / And after this let Caesar seat him sure; / For we will shake him, or worse days endure“(Crowther), Cassius is placing fake letters from fake citizens about their desires for Brutus to rule, in hopes that this will contribute to Brutus joining the conspiracy. Also, once it is clear that Mark Antony is going to win the war, Cassius seems to attempt to leave Brutus and the war and flee, showing again, that Cassius isn’t true to Brutus or their so called “friendship”.
Antony is able to use manipulation to change the citizens from being on Brutus’ side, to rioting in a matter of minutes, “Never, never. Come, away, away! / We’ll burn his body in the holy place / And with the brands fire the traitors’ houses. / Take up the body”(Shmoop Editorial Team). Masculinity, pride, and friendship are all themes affecting Shakespeare’s characters in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. The men of Rome faced many problems with the ideals of their time and some of which eventually led to the downfall of some men (and Portia) in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.