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Shakespeare Shakespeare's Julius Caesar vrs. The Historical Caesar Gaius Julius Caesar was born in 100 BC, and assassinated 56 years later. In that time, he was captured by, and slew the offending, pirates, became question, pontifex maximus, propretor, a member of the First Triumvirate, Consul, and dictator. He defeated the Helvetii, invaded Britain, and fought the Gauls. He crossed the river Rubicon and started the 49 BC Civil War. A year later, he defeated the great Pompey at the battle of Pharsalus.
He also reformed the calendar. Why then, was he hated by his own people? Why was he cruelly assassinated so shortly after his crowning? How does the historical man compare and contrast to Shakespeare's version? All of these questions will be answered here. When we first begin Julius Caesar, the man himself is entering Rome, returning from battle.
He has defeated Pompey, and the crowd is joyful. However, not all citizens are happy. Already there is conspiracy in the air. Marullus and Flavius chide the commoners, for did they not recently cheer for Pompey in the manner that they now cheer Caesar? Marullus angrily yells: O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome, Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft Have you climb up to walls and battlements, To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops, Your infants in your arms, and there have sat the livelong day, with patient expectation, To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome And do you now strew flowers in his way, That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood?
Be gone! (I: i) Pompey's defeat is crucial to Caesars rise to power. Many men volunteered to fight, unpaid, under the general Caesar. There was not a single deserter during the Civil War. The commanding Julius halted the few episodes of insubordination.
He was a firm, yet fair leader. His troops were never addressed as My soldiers, but as Comrades. His attitude differed greatly from Pompey's. Whereas Pompey declared that all who were not actively with the government were against it and would be treated as public enemies, Caesar announced that all who were not actively against him were with him. (Suetonius, pg. 45) Caesar was favored among his men, but this favor was soon lost entirely. There came a day, soon after his triumph at Pharsalus, where the Senate in total came with elected honors galore. Julius Caesar did not rise to greet them.
Though some retelling's state that it was Cornelius Babes who prevented him from this traditional sign of respect, it most often considered (as it was by the Senate) to be an act of the utmost arrogance. The Senators began to feel the beginnings of a murderous hatred for Caesar. This feeling was magnified by another incident. Upon returning from the Alban Hill, a member of the crowd placed a wreath of laurels and white fillet upon the statue of Caesar. Epidius Marullus and Caesetius Flavius demanded that the wreath be removed.
Caesar dispatched these tribunes, who we met quickly in Julius Caesar, instantly. It is not known for certain why this was done; though there are two popular theories. One is that Caesar was enraged that the thought of his becoming king was such an easily dismissal one. The second is one of Caesars own mind: he was enraged that he was not given the chance to demand the removal of the laurels himself. Either way, the prevailing thought was that he had tried to resurrect the crown. The tide was now almost fully against him, though the next event would certainly turn it completely.
When addressing the populous at the Rostra during the Lupercalia n Festival, Marc Antony tried several times to offer the crown to Caesar, and was several times denied; though Caesar then sent the crown to the Capitol to be dedicated. Shakespeare echoes this event, though in a different manner. He failed to include Caesars bought claque: those who were paid to cheer or hiss at specified signals. In Plutarch's version of this event, he specifies that at each offering of the crown, a very small group of people cheered loudly, and at each declination of the crown, the rest of the population cheered. Shakespeare only mentions the cheering of the declinations. Though Caesar never accepted the title of king, he acted as one.
This, along with a prophesy from the Sibylline Book which stated: Only a king can conquer the Parthians, frightened the republican Senators greatly. Plots of assassination began to brew with a force more strong that before. Small groups of two or three conspirators now joined together. This phrase was written on Old Brutus statue: If only you were alive today! The general populous voiced their unhappiness loudly. They sang this popular song frequently: Caesar led the Gauls in triumph, Led them uphill, led them down, To the Senate House he took them, Once the glory of our town.
Pull those breeches off he shouted, Change into a purple gown! (Suetonius, pg. 53) Over sixty men were actively conspiring against Caesar. They established two plots that were considered seriously until Caesar called for a Senate meeting at the Pompeian Assembly Room on the Ides of March. This, they decided. Would be the ideal location and date. Caesar did have fair warning of this treachery.
Shakespeare tells us of terrific thunderstorms, lions parading the streets, corpses rising from their graves and of people walking engulfed in flame. Suetonius tells of other signs of doom. Capuan tombs were being torn down to get building bricks. One of these tombs was that of the towns founder, Capys. A tablet on his desecrated resting place read: Disturb the bones of Capys, and a man of Trojan stock will be murdered by his kindred, and later avenged at great cost to Italy. Another notable event revolved around horses.
Caesar had dedicated a herd of these beasts to the Rubicon, and upon damming the river, allowed the horses to roam freely. It was reported that shortly before March 15 th that these horses lost their taste for the lush valley, and began to shed bucketfuls of tears. The soothsayer Spurinnia gave Caesar the famous warning Beware the ides of March, to which Caesar paid no mind. Calpurnia, his wife, was stricken with dreadful nightmares the night of March 14 th, and cried aloud in her sleep, Help, ho!
They murder Caesar! (II: iii) Still Caesar, after some careful thought and prodding by Decimus Brutus, went to the Assembly Room. He set forth at 10 oclock. On his way to the House, he was handed a note that outlined the plot against him. Caesar did not read it, but placed it in a bundle of documents that he intended to read later. He saw the prophet Spurinnia, and said, The Ides of March have come, to which the augur replied Yes, they have come, but they have not yet gone. (Suet. Pg. 50) As soon as Caesar took his seat the conspirators crowded around him as if to pay their respects.
Tillius Cimber, who had taken the lead, came up close, pretending to ask a question. Caesar made a gesture of postponement, but Cimber caught hold of his shoulders. This is violence! Caesar cried, and at that moment, as he turned away, one of the Cascas brothers with a sweep of his dagger stabbed him just below the throat. Caesar grasped Casca's arm and ran it through with his stylus; he was leaping away when another dagger blow stopped him. Confronted by a ring of drawn daggers, he drew the top of his gown down over his face, and at the same time unaided the lower part, letting it fall to his feet so that he would die with both legs decently covered.
Twenty-three dagger thrusts went home as he stood there. Caesar did not utter a single sound after Casca's blow had drawn a groan from him; though some say that when he saw Marcus Brutus about to deliver the second blow, he reproached him in Greek with: You too, my child? (Suet. Pg. 51) Shakespeare's rendition of this begins with a citizen, Artemidorus, reading aloud a note warning Caesar of the conspirators. Here he tries to deliver it. Art. Hail, Caesar!
Read this schedule. Dec. Trebonius doth desire you to ore-read, At your best leisure, this his humble suit. Art. O Caesar! Read mine first; for mines a suit That touches Caesar nearer.
Read it, great Caesar. Caes. What touches us ourself shall be last served. (III: i) The way Shakespeare kills Caesar is also somewhat different from the historical texts. First, China begins to ask a question of Caesar. Then the Senators rush in, and stab him. Caesar utters the famed words: Et tu, Brute!
Then fall, Caesar! (III: i) In every version of this tale, the facts remain constant. As Shakespeare based much of his play of the histories of Plutarch, he is able to both entertain and stay historically accurate. Of course the author is expected to take some poetic license, and the man did, as it says in the introduction to our play, Shakespeare adds Lucius, and entirely remodels Cascas. (Pg. 1146) Though the Bard downplays many (in fact, all) of Julius Caesars achievements, the English audience who so hated their Roman conquers, even from so long ago, would have enjoyed the play very much. In conclusion, I must state that Shakespeare's Caesar is reasonably historically correct.
He is made out to be a villain, one who wishes to destroy the great republic of Rome, though the truth is that this is what he was. He wanted to be king, there is no doubt in my mind of this, yet he was prevented by men who cared more for the State than for their own lives. Bibliography Works Referenced: SUETONIUS, The Twelve Caesars, 1957 PLUTARCH, Lives of the Noble Romans, 1959 BAKER, Barton, Kermode, et al. , eds. , The Riverside Shakespeare (Second Edition) 364
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