January 4 – April 7, 2013

In this profoundly moving, thrilling, and deeply human play, Shakespeare shows us a world on fire; a world spinning out of control; a world where some of history’s most famous men commit horrific crimes in the name of patriotism and honor. Julius Caesar is a dazzling masterpiece of betrayal, violence, and perhaps most surprisingly — love.

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Stuff that Happens
Stuff that happens before the play
  • Caesar and Pompey form an alliance. Pompey returns to Rome to govern the city while Caesar takes several legions to defend the borders.
  • Caesar wins great victories in Gaul. His spoils of war enrich him and the city of Rome, making him wildly popular with the common people.
  • Pompey’s political faction accuses Caesar of waging illegal war and demand that he come back to Rome to face trial.
  • Caesar returns with an army.
  • Pompey and his followers flee Rome, pursued by Caesar.
  • Caesar defeats Pompey, who flees to Egypt, where he is murdered.
  • Caesar also goes to Egypt, settles a succession dispute, fathers a son with Cleopatra, and then finally decides to go home, where the Senate appoints him sole dictator of Rome.
Stuff that happens during the play
  • In Rome, Flavius and Marcellus break up a group of common people celebrating the return of Caesar from a military triumph. They tell the plebeians to go home and remember Pompey.
  • Caesar arrives in Rome to great fanfare. A soothsayer warns him to “Beware the ides of March.”
  • Brutus reveals to Cassius that he fears that the people will make Caesar a king, overturning the Republic. Casca reports to them that, during the celebration, Antony offered Caesar a crown three times, which Caesar refused, much to the crowd’s delight.
  • Caesar’s growing popularity spurs a conspiracy among the late Pompey’s followers and among others worried about Caesar’s power.
  • Cassius tries to convert Brutus to the conspiracy.
  • On a stormy night, the conspirators convince Brutus of their cause. Brutus’s wife, Portia, asks him to tell her what is troubling him.
  • Caesar’s wife, Calphurnia, relates a bad dream and asks him to stay home. A conspirator, Decius Brutus, reinterprets Calphurnia’s dream favorably and escorts Caesar to the Capitol.
  • In the Capitol, one of the conspirators distracts Mark Antony (who is loyal to Caesar) while the rest of the faction stab Caesar. Antony submits to the conspirators and obtains Brutus’s permission to speak at the funeral.
  • After Brutus defends his actions to the crowd, Mark Antony incites the crowd against the conspirators, who flee Rome.
  • Antony joins Octavius Caesar (Julius’s nephew) and Lepidus to battle the conspirators.
  • Antony and Octavius join forces. They pursue Cassius and Brutus, who are encamped near Sardis.
  • Brutus and Cassius argue bitterly, but make amends. Brutus tells Cassius some bad news. Brutus persuades Cassius to meet the enemy at Philippi.
  • Ghostly visitations, battles, and bad judgement ensue.
Dr. Ralph's Brief

1. When was the play first peformed?

2. Where was the play first performed?
This may have been the first play by Shakespeare performed at the new Globe. If not, it was one of the last performed at the Theatre in Shoreditch.

3. How does the play fit into Shakespeare’s career?
Written near the middle of his playwriting career, Julius Caesar began Shakespeare’s run of famous tragedies. His next will be Hamlet, in which Shakespeare playfully refers back to this play by having the actor playing Polonius say, “I did enact Julius Caesar.”

4. How is this play like Shakespeare’s other plays?
Like his later Roman plays, Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, Julius Caesar mines the material Shakespeare found in the Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans by Plutarch (46 – 120 AD). As usual in Shakespeare, the characters in Julius Caesar lend themselves to a variety of interpretations. His depiction of Brutus, for example, seems to ignore the centuries-old view that he was a worldly version of Judas (Dante puts his Brutus in the lowest circle of hell) and gives us instead a character that plays equally well as a hero.

5. How is this play unlike other Shakespeare plays?
Spoiler alert: the title character dies halfway through the play.

6. What do scholars think about this play?
One thumb up. My own view is that this is a much better play than high school has taught us. Yes, the play features four of the ancient world’s most famous men and speeches that can serve as rhetorical models for young minds, but it also gives us a withering (and sometimes comic) look at the dangers of a phallocentric society.

7. Are there any controversies surrounding the work?
Yes, the best kind, the kind that you can decide. Is the play a totally unexpected endorsement of the values of a republic from a 16th-century author who is in all other respects a monarchist? Or, is it the very opposite – an indictment of any kind of democratic rule?

8. What characters should I especially look out for?
At least five:

  • Brutus, for the reasons I mention above
  • Cassius, for his mostly overlooked sympathetic qualities
  • Antony, for the seeds of the man who will die for Cleopatra in a later play
  • Caesar, for his remarkable but wholly familiar self-obliviousness
  • Portia, for a portrait of a wife straight out of Mad Men, or any contemporary spouse whose partner has stopped partnering.

9. What scene should I especially look for?
The play is chock full of great scenes, but especially look at the way that the “tent” scene between Brutus and Cassius in the second part of the play bookends the “orchard” scene between Brutus and Portia in the first half.

10. What is the language like?
Deceptively simple.