GradeSaver(tm) ClassicNotes Julius Caesar
Home : Julius Caesar : Study Guide : Major Themes

Julius Caesar Themes

by William Shakespeare

Major Themes

Heroes vs. Villains

Both Cesar and Brutus are perceived to be heroes and villains in Julius Caesar. At the opening of the play, Caesar is hailed for his conquests and is admired for his apparent humility upon refusing the crown. However, once murdered, Caesar is painted (by Brutus et al) as a power hungry leader with the intentions of enslaving all of Rome. Brutus' speech, which follows Caesar's death, successfully manipulates the plebeian perspective. By the end of his speech, the crowd is hailing Brutus for killing Caesar, whom they now perceive as a great villain. But, the crowd is easily swayed once again when Antony speaks. Following Brutus' remarks, Antony gives Caesar's eulogy, manipulating the crowd with stories of Caesar's kindness, and sharing the details of Caesar's will, which leaves money to every Roman. At the end of Antony's speech, the crowd is once again supportive of Caesar, mourns his death, and seeks to kill Brutus, Cassius, and the other murderers. The swaying opinions of the plebeians, and the great differences in opinion that the play presents leave the audience to determine who, if anyone, is the hero of the play, and who, if anyone, is the villain.

Omens

The seriousness with which Romans looked to omens is evident throughout Julius Caesar; however ominous warnings and negative omens are often overlooked or misinterpreted. For example, Caesar ignores the soothsayer's warning to "beware the ides of March", ignores Calpurnia's detailed dream of his death, and ignores the negative omen of the sacrificial animal who has no heart. After ignoring these omens, Caesar dies.

In addition, after the festival of Lupercalia, Casca sees many strange omens, such as a man with a burning hand, a lion roaming the streets, and an owl screeching during the day time. Cicero, with whom Casca confers regarding these matters, explains that people with interpret omens as they see fit, inventing their own explanations. True to form, Casca interprets these strange omens as warnings of Caesar's wish to rule all of Rome with an iron hand, and to destroy the Republic.

Other omens that play important roles in the play include the appearance of Caesar's ghost and when eagles abandon Cassius' and Brutus' camp and are replaced by vultures.

Idealism

Brutus wishes for an ideal world. He is happily married, lives in a beautiful home, and is successful according to all measures of Roman living. However, Brutus wishes for perfection in his life, and although he loves Caesar, Brutus fears Caesar is too power hungry, and might possibly destroy the Republic. Cassius understands Brutus' idealism and takes advantage of it in order to manipulate Brutus into joining the conspiracy against Caesar. At heart, it is Brutus' idealism that causes his ultimate downfall. Antony recognizes this fact when addressing Brutus' dead body at the conclusion of the play, saying "This was the noblest Roman of them all".

Identities, both Public and Private

In Julius Caesar, the audience is able to see both the private and public sides of Caesar and Brutus. Caesar is a powerful confident man who leads great armies and effectively rules the Roman empire, yet he is not without weakness. He is highly superstitious, suffers from epilepsy, and ultimately proves to be human when murdered by his closest friends. Similarly, Brutus is strong and refuses to show weakness when in public, whether it be speaking to the plebeians or leading an army into battle. However, we see through his intimate conversations with his wife Portia and with Cassius, that Brutus is often unsure and greatly pained. Specifically, after fleeing Rome, Brutus learns that his wife has committed suicide, and is heartbroken when discussing it with Cassius. However, as soon as soldiers enter his tent, he pretends to not know of her death, and when told of it, does not react with great emotion.

Ambition and Conflict

Caesar is a great man, and an ambitious man. His ambition is what worries Brutus, and ultimately leads to Brutus joining the conspiracy to murder Caesar. Cassius is also a very ambitious man, and because he is so jealous of Caesar's power, wishes to kill him to gain more power for himself. Ultimately, the ambition of these two men leads to their downfalls and to virtual anarchy in the streets of Rome. Great ambition leads to great conflict.

Power of Speech

Speech plays a very important role in the plot developments of Julius Caesar. The plebeians are easily swayed into greatly opposing viewpoints through Brutus' and Antony's speeches. Antony's great manipulation of the crowd causes anarchy in the streets of Rome and creates the support for a mission to avenge Caesar's death.

In addition, Brutus is hesitant at first to join the conspiracy against Caesar, but after speaking with the highly manipulative Cassius, Brutus is more convinced. Then, after receiving an anonymous letter (actually written by Cassius) that decries the rule of Caesar, Brutus is convinced he must take action and agrees to join Cassius' murderous plot.

Julius Caesar Essays and Related Content