Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: John D. Cox
Peer Reviewed

Julius Caesar: Introduction


Introduction

1Julius Caesar marks several departures for Shakespeare from his previous practice as a playwright. He had tried his hand only once before with classical subject matter, in Titus Andronicus, but he would eventually write three plays based on Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans, from which he drew for the first time in Julius Caesar. Moreover, in turning to Roman history, he departed from his long interest in English history, about which he had written nine plays. The next play he likely wrote after Julius Caesar was Hamlet, which suggests that tragedy—a genre he had tried twice but not yet perfected—may have been on his mind as he wrote about Caesar's assassination and Brutus's failed attempt at political resistance. These innovations in Julius Caesar call for some sense of what scholars have made of the play's genre and date, the two questions with which the introduction begins. A good deal of critical attention has also been paid to Plutarch's influence, which is evident principally in characterization and plot, the second topic of the introduction. Shakespeare's poetic imagination is the third topic, especially as it manifests itself in the imagery and symbolism of Julius Caesar. Finally, the introduction turns to the implicit sense of Rome that comes through in Shakespeare's Roman plays, including Julius Caesar.

Genre and Date

2From the beginning of its life as a printed play, Julius Caesar has raised questions about its genre. The earliest text was published in the first collected edition of Shakespeare's plays, now called the First Folio, in 1623, seven years after the playwright's death. In this collection the plays are separated into one of three genres—comedy, history, or tragedy—with Julius Caesar printed fifth among the tragedies. Moreover, the title page of the play itself in the First Folio identifies it as The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (Hinman 717), and the same identification appears in the running title at the top of each page of the play (718-38). Those who organized the First Folio, then, seem to have thought of Julius Caesar as a tragedy. In the First Folio's table of contents, however, the play is identified simply as The Life and Death of Julius Caesar (13). Though the difference may be nothing but an accident of printing, it nonetheless provides a useful basis for asking what kind of play Julius Caesar is. Is it a "history" ("life and death") of powerful men in political contention, or is it a tragedy?

3One way to answer the question might be to refer to the date when the play was composed, as distinct from its printed publication in 1623. If Shakespeare was in a phase of writing one of the dramatic genres exclusively or even predominantly when he likely wrote Julius Caesar, it might be a clue to the kind of play Julius Caesar is. The play seems to have been performed for the first time in 1599, because no references to it occur before that year. Confirming this inference is a striking record—an eyewitness account by a Swiss visitor to London, Thomas Platter:

4On the 21st of September, after dinner, at about two o'clock, I went with my party across the water; in the straw-thatched house we saw the tragedy of the first Emperor Julius Caesar, very pleasingly performed, with approximately fifteen characters. (Schanzer 466)

5Platter almost certainly refers to Shakespeare's play as performed in the newly-built Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames. Julius Caesar may, in fact, have been the Chamberlain's Men's inaugural play in the new location (Sohmer). Some references in the play itself seem to echo works published in early 1599, suggesting that Shakespeare likely composed it shortly before it was performed (Taylor).

6On first consideration, knowing the probable date of Julius Caesar does not tell us much about the play's genre. In 1599 Shakespeare had just completed Henry V, the last of his Lancastrian history plays, in addition to As You Like It, and he was probably working on Hamlet (Shapiro). Each of those three plays is one of the best examples of its dramatic genre among all of Shakespeare's plays, so 1599 was a year of exceptionally rich creativity for a playwright who is famous for his wide-ranging and diverse imagination. He was just emerging from a period in which he wrote four English history plays that are the best of their genre by any playwright: Richard II, 1 and 2 Henry IV, and Henry V. Yet the same period produced some of his best comedies, Much Ado about Nothing and As You Like It among them. Hamlet was the first of four extraordinary tragedies, written between 1600 and 1606, the other three being Othello, Lear, and Macbeth, yet during this "tragic" period Shakespeare also wrote three more comedies, Twelfth Night, All's Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure, and the first of his late comedies that recent criticism has identified as "romances": Pericles.

7Amid this unparalleled versatility, one point stands out about Julius Caesar: it was written at the conclusion of a sequence of four history plays and just before the first of four tragedies. While Julius Caesar has much in common with both the histories and tragedies, as the text in the First Folio implicitly suggests, Shakespeare's familiarity and commercial success with history plays suggests that the new play may owe more to what immediately precedes it than to the tragedies that follow. One of the hallmarks of the four great tragedies is that they focus intently on a principal character, for whom they are named. Though Julius Caesar is named for a great Roman hero, he appears in only three scenes (1.2, 2.2, and 3.1), and he dies less than halfway through the action. One of the hallmarks of the English history plays is that they focus consistently and almost exclusively on politics conceived as the effort of strong men to acquire or maintain political power (Cox 97-160). This is certainly true of Julius Caesar. The title character is the most famously ambitious politician of ancient Rome, and he is opposed by another patrician, Brutus, who successfully leads the conspirators against Caesar. Brutus in turn is opposed by Antony, who first appears in Caesar's company (1.2), and who eventually, in alliance with Octavius and Lepidus, triumphs over Brutus. At the end of Julius Caesar, the future appears to belong to these three, but only one of them (Octavius) will eventually go on to vindicate Caesar by defeating the other two and becoming "sole sir o' th' world," in Cleopatra's phrase (Antony and Cleopatra, 5.2.119), and eventually the first Roman emperor.

8In short, the "undular structure" of Julius Caesar (to borrow John Velz's term) is more akin to the structure of the English history plays Shakespeare had just been writing than to the tragedies he was about to undertake. In effect, Shakespeare seems to have turned directly from English history to Roman history and to have written a play whose characteristics were familiar to him from several years of thinking about how to turn history into drama. For one thing, the wavelike pattern of events that Velz refers to recedes into an unknown past as the action commences, and events similarly open into an unknown future as the play closes, as Shakespeare's history plays invariably do. "The pattern is larger than the play," as Velz puts it (21), as if history is defined by waves of political successes and failures, and Julius Caesar simply selects a particular sequence of this continuum. The tribunes disperse the plebeians who have gathered for Caesar's triumph in the play's opening scene, because the tribunes favor Pompey, whom Caesar has recently overthrown (TLN 44-62). Yet the play offers no clarification about how the conflict between Pompey and Caesar originated; it is simply presented as a fact of Roman political life. As the play's action develops, Brutus opposes Caesar not because Brutus favors Pompey, as the tribunes do; rather, Brutus thinks Caesar poses a threat to the republic, which is Brutus's chief concern (TLN 626-50). This point helps to make the past even more opaque. What motivated the rivalry between Pompey and Caesar in the first place? Did Pompey also oppose Caesar out of republican sympathies? Was Pompey also a threat to the republic?

9The ending of the play works similarly to raise questions about the future that are impossible to answer from information given in the play itself. Though Brutus's conflict with Caesar originated in Rome, seat of the Roman republic, the play's concluding battle takes place far from Rome, in what is now Turkey, and no end to conflict is in sight. To be sure, Octavius's last triumphant words seem to vindicate Caesar, because Antony and Octavius have successfully joined forces to defeat Caesar's enemies, and Antony has actually called Octavius "Caesar" shortly before (TLN 2355). But rivalry between Antony and Octavius is palpable from the beginning of their alliance, and Octavius's last line concedes little to Antony: "let's away / To part the glories of this happy day" (TLN 2729-30). While Octavius at least acknowledges that Antony deserves a share of the "glory," he is very far from deferring to Antony, though Antony was the first to take on the conspirators after Caesar's assassination, and Antony is a generation older than Octavius. The tension between two triumphant patricians therefore continues into an unknown future as the play ends, recalling the newly resolved competition between Pompey and Caesar and the budding tension between Brutus and Cassius as the play begins (1.2), which is produced by Cassius's (and eventually Brutus's) competition with Caesar.

10Where history and tragedy are concerned, it is instructive to compare the ending of Julius Caesar with the ending of Hamlet, the play that Shakespeare probably wrote after completing Julius Caesar. Far from raising questions about the future, Hamlet concludes by firmly directing attention to the past. Fortinbras has the last word in the later play, having just claimed "some rights of memory" in Denmark (5.2.391), and since he has no rival, the perceivable future is securely his. Yet the play does not make us care or even wonder about Fortinbras's success. His character is undeveloped; he appears briefly just twice (4.4 and 5.2); he is referred to slightingly by both Horatio (1.1) and Hamlet (4.4); and he functions almost entirely as a foil to Hamlet, in that both are bereaved sons determined to avenge their fathers. To be sure, Hamlet involves a struggle for power, as Julius Caesar does, but the possession of power in the end is unimportant, overshadowed by the loss of the play's most intelligent, witty, sensitive, fascinating, and dominant character—Hamlet himself. Hamlet's dying request is for Horatio "To tell my story," and his last words are, "The rest is silence" (5.2.351, 360). Horatio's lament for Hamlet is more memorable and more important than Fortinbras's claim of right in Denmark, and Horatio's lines after Hamlet's death all direct attention to Hamlet's story, just as Hamlet had requested.

11The open-endedness of Julius Caesar is not only a quality that the play shares with Shakespeare's history plays but also one that David Kastan identifies with Shakespeare's sense of secular history itself (41). The only dramatizations of history that Shakespeare knew were regional productions of biblical history—Coventry's most important among them because of its relative longevity and its proximity to Stratford, Shakespeare's home town: the Coventry plays were performed until 1580, the year Shakespeare turned sixteen. Kastan points out that in these ambitious, sometimes days-long productions, history is interpreted as a discrete sequence of events in which God interacts providentially with humankind: the creation, the fall, Noah's flood, and similar events from the Hebrew Bible, culminating in the ministry, trial, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and the last judgment (Kastan 4-5). These plays' definitive revelation of divine action in history determines their episodic, non-linear quality and also their absolute beginning (creation) and ending (doomsday). Shakespeare's plays about secular history are, by contrast, open-ended, because their action is insistently continuous with events that precede and follow them in the endless continuum of secular time. What Shakespeare's history plays therefore reveal is not the hand of God but the shaping influence of human action in the perpetual contest for power. Only one anachronistic allusion to the last judgment is made in Julius Caesar, when Trebonius exclaims, after Caesar's murder, that onlookers panicked, "as it were doomsday" (TLN 1312). The simile explains the startled reaction to Caesar's assassination without defining the event's meaning, in contrast to the biblical doomsday, which reveals the meaning of human history as described in the book called Apocalypse or Revelation; only the ongoing succession of Roman events can provisionally reveal the meaning of Julius Caesar, and the play's open-ended structure insists that revealing events will continue after the play ends, making the significance of the piece of history we have just witnessed impossible to determine in itself.

12In addition to emphasizing the continuum of time in their structure, Kastan argues, Shakespeare's history plays also emphasize time thematically, and this is true of Julius Caesar as well. Velz points out (23-24) that the image of wave action is twice associated with passing time: Antony laments Caesar as "the noblest man / That ever livèd in the tide of times" (TLN 1485), and Brutus urges Cassius to immediate action by arguing that "There is a tide in the affairs of men" which favors the conspirators at Philippi, so they must seize the opportunity and attack Antony and Octavius at once (TLN 2217). Brutus turns out to be mistaken in this proposed strategy, as he nearly always is in conflicts with Cassius, but nothing challenges Brutus's generalization about time and human action, and it is the obverse of Richard II's lament that "I wasted time, and now doth time waste me" (Richard II, 5.5.49). Cassius dies on his birthday, as he points out, and the fatalistic way he describes the coincidence makes his life seem futile:

13This day I breathèd first. Time is come round,
And where I did begin, there shall I end.
My life is run his compass. (TLN 2503-05)

14Despite Cassius's success in soliciting Brutus's support for the conspiracy against Caesar, and despite their mutual success in the assassination, Cassius's death on his birthday seems to suggest that he has accomplished nothing. He is afloat on a full sea, in Brutus's image, and they have lost their venture (TLN 2221-23). But in this respect they are like all the other competitors in Julius Caesar, in that all are part of time's undular action, rising and falling with the endless tide of political history.

Characterization and Sources

15The challenge of defining a "source" for Julius Caesar has been lucidly addressed by Robert Miola, who comments on the various terms scholars use ("tradition," "background," "influence," "origin," for example) and discusses Shakespeare's selective adaptation of Plutarch's Lives, as they had been translated from a French intermediary by Sir Thomas North in 1579, with the title Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. Plutarch was a Greek who lived in the first century AD, at the height of the Roman Empire, and he reflected on the greatness of ancient Greece and Rome by writing brief biographies of several eminent noblemen from each of the two cultures in pairs—Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, Demetrius of Macedonia and Antony, Dion the Platonist and Brutus, and so forth. Plutarch's aim was to show implicitly that Greek civilization had been as great as Rome's currently was, to suggest that the Greek way of thinking and being was a model for Rome, to warn against present failures by providing examples from the past, and to tell his stories memorably and well. His narrative brilliance and his keen observation of human thinking and behavior—especially of moral weakness—left a strong influence on Antony and Cleopatra and Coriolanus, as well as Julius Caesar.

16Where Caesar himself is concerned, Shakespeare selected details from Plutarch's account and invented others to create a much less impressive character than the one in the Lives. Whereas Plutarch starts with Caesar's valiant young manhood (as he does with Alexander), Shakespeare shows us Caesar only in his final days and mostly through the eyes of those who are his competitors for power in Rome. Cassius's account of his rescuing Caesar while they were swimming across the Tiber (TLN 198-213) may have been prompted by Plutarch's report that Caesar saved himself "with great hazard" by swimming across the harbor in Alexandria, while holding his most prized books out of the water with one hand (512). Whereas Plutarch cites an instance of extraordinary physical courage and audacity, however, Shakespeare has Cassius impugn Caesar's endurance, and he fills out the portrait of Caesar's physical vulnerability with Cassius's claim that Caesar depended on Cassius when he contracted a fever in Spain (TLN 217-26), that Caesar is hard of hearing (TLN 315; a detail not in Plutarch), and that he has the "falling sickness" or epilepsy (TLN 358; Plutarch 482), a disease that Elizabethans associated with deafness (TLN 315n.). Shakespeare also invented Caesar's belief in his wife's barrenness (TLN 95-97), a detail that could as easily reflect Caesar's disability as his wife's, though Caesar characteristically fails to see the situation that way.

17Shakespeare weakens Caesar physically in several ways in order to suggest that his bodily vulnerabilities exemplify his psychological and moral failings. The swimming episode is a good example. Though Caesar at one time called out pitiably to Cassius to help him, he now treats Cassius "As a wretched creature," who "must bend his body / If Caesar carelessly but nod on him" (TLN 215-26). In other words, Caesar has become so arrogant that he has conveniently forgotten what he owes to Cassius. Because Cassius himself is ambitious, and because he is trying in this speech to solicit Brutus's aid in the conspiracy, it is impossible to know how accurately he is reporting the event, or even if it happened at all, but his report of it nonetheless initiates a damning pattern in Shakespeare's portrait of Caesar.

18A surprising part of that pattern is the repeated suggestion, noticed by earlier critics (Gervinus 720, MacCallum 220-21), that Caesar has to work hard to suppress fear—a suggestion with no hint in Plutarch. On the morning of his assassination, Caesar patronizingly tells his wife, Calpurnia, that he his not afraid, in response to her expressed fear of wonders reported in the streets of Rome:

19Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come. (TLN 1020-25)

20The passage may have been inspired by Plutarch's brief comment that on the day before his death, when Caesar was discussing with friends "what death was best, he preventing their opinions, cried out aloud, 'Death unlooked for'" (524). In Shakespeare's version, however, Caesar has no sooner assured Calpurnia that death holds no fear for him than he demands of an entering servant what the augurers have said. In other words, Caesar is more afraid of the future than his bold words suggest, and his fear is confirmed by his vacillation about going to the senate. Moreover, his declaration to Calpurnia that he is not afraid is complemented by three other similar declarations on Caesar's part that have no precedent in Plutarch (TLN 300-14, 997-99, 1031-38). Repeatedly insisting on one's possession of a particular virtue (in this case courage) can be a clue to internal tension over that very virtue, as Shakespeare would famously suggest by means of Queen Gertrude in the next play he wrote: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks" (Hamlet, 3.2.228). Gertrude's perception that the player queen declares her fidelity to her husband too strongly is itself a hint of Gertrude's own struggle with her conscience regarding her unfaithfulness to old Hamlet.

21Shakespeare conveys this kind of imperfect self-knowledge even more strongly for Brutus, Caesar's principal competitor, than for Caesar himself. In Brutus's case, the issue is not fear but deep-seated agitation that continually disrupts his belief in his own stoic calm. Early in his conversation with Cassius, Brutus frankly acknowledges that he is "vexed" "with passions of some difference . . . / Which give some soil, perhaps, to my behaviors" (TLN 131-34), but as the competition becomes keener, he seems to suppress this self-insight in favor of expressed belief in his own stoic imperturbability. Plutarch again provided the hint in saying that Brutus "framed his manners of life by the rules of virtue and study of philosophy, and having employed his wit, which was gentle and constant, in attempting of great things, methinks he was made and framed unto virtue" (813). Plutarch also supplied the suggestion that Brutus did not so consistently practice the stoic virtue of controlling his inner turmoil as he wanted to and as he wished others to believe he did:

22He did so frame his countenance and looks, that no man could discern he had anything to trouble his mind. But when night came that he was in his own house, then he was clean changed. For, either care did wake him against his will when he would have slept, or else oftentimes of himself he fell into such deep thoughts of this enterprise, casting in his mind all the dangers that might happen, that his wife lying by him, found that there was some marvelous great matter that troubled his mind. (823)

23Acting on this intimation, Shakespeare wrote the wakeful night-time scene in Brutus's orchard (2.1), when Portia begs him to tell her what is troubling him, and he at first denies that anything is. Brutus's refusal to listen to his wife is one of many parallels that Shakespeare created between Brutus and Caesar in 2.1 and 2.2, respectively (Rabkin).

24But Shakespeare goes beyond Plutarch in suggesting that a divisive struggle with himself consistently underlies Brutus's façade of philosophic serenity. The extent of his self-knowledge is the very topic raised by Cassius at their first meeting, when Brutus acknowledges being vexed with passion. In spite of this admission, Brutus increasingly acts as if his great-souled nobility puts him above every human foible, including Caesar's ambition and Cassius's obvious envy of Caesar: "I love / The name of honor more than I fear death" (TLN 186-87). Moreover, he is unaware that his pride in patrician self-pos­ses­sion is the very means Cassius is using to persuade him to join the conspiracy, as Cassius trenchantly remarks to himself when Brutus leaves him: "Well, Brutus, thou art noble, yet I see / Thy honorable mettle may be wrought / From that it is disposed" (TLN 415-17). Cassius's inability to lead the conspiracy without Brutus undoubtedly makes Cassius the lesser man of the two, yet Cassius's ability to manipulate Brutus by means of Brutus's misplaced confidence in his own judgment is a devastating irony in their relationship, and especially in Brutus's character, when we first meet the two of them.

25Sometimes borrowing from Plutarch and sometimes inventing, Shakespeare repeatedly shows Brutus overruling Cassius (often disastrously) because of belief in his own superior assessment of every situation. Brutus instantly rejects Cassius's urging that the conspirators take an oath together, insisting that honesty, virtue, and "th'insuppressive mettle of our spirits" make an oath ignoble (TLN 745-71). Brutus seems not to realize that his harangue against oath-taking is an insult to Cassius, and Cassius seems so anxious to retain Brutus's approval that he does not object. (Plutarch reports that the conspirators took no oath, but he says they were all agreed on the matter, reporting no conflict between Cassius and Brutus [822].) Brutus overrules Cassius's suggestion that Cicero be included in the conspiracy (TLN 782), and he peremptorily objects to Cassius's urging that Antony be assassinated with Caesar: "Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off and then hack the limbs . . . Let us be sacrificers but not butchers, Caius" (TLN 795-99). Allowing Antony to live is one of Brutus's most momentous political miscalculations, as subsequent events make clear, and his insistence that the assassination can somehow be a sacred act, when it is in fact a plain political murder, is typical of the disjunction between his stoic idealism and the reality that constantly agitates him, both externally and internally.

26With no hint from Plutarch, Shakespeare most trenchantly explores Brutus's lack of self-knowledge in his quarrel with Cassius after the assassination, when they are encamped with their armies near Sardis (4.3). (Plutarch reports the quarrel [843], but Shakespeare's interpretation of it is entirely his own.) Like his original, Shakespeare's Cassius is "choleric" and "hot stirring" (Plutarch 819-20, 838), as Brutus is well aware. When Brutus immediately counters Cassius's objection that Brutus has treated him dishonorably with an accusation that Cassius is dishonest (TLN 1978-81), Brutus therefore speaks either out of obtuse self-righteousness or with the design to make Cassius even angrier—or perhaps both. Openly priding himself on his patrician self-control, Brutus mocks Cassius for his "rash choler" and urges him to "Go show your slaves how choleric you are, / And make your bondmen tremble" (TLN 2012-17). Beside himself with rage and frustration, Cassius draws his dagger and demands that Brutus use it against him, urging that Brutus might as well kill him in fact, since he is already killing him with his words. Brutus replies by ordering Cassius to calm down and then reiterating the difference between them, as he sees it:

27Sheathe your dagger.
Be angry when you will, it shall have scope;
Do what you will, dishonor shall be humor.
O Cassius, you are yokèd with a lamb
That carries anger as the flint bears fire,
Who much enforcèd, shows a hasty spark,
And straight is cold again. (TLN 2087-93)

28Brutus uses his façade of self-restraint to dominate Cassius, though apparently without consciously intending to do so. If Brutus truly cared as little for external events as his stoicism counsels him, he would not show so much as a hasty spark, but even more, he would not boast of his power over himself, nor would he care so deeply to agitate and humiliate his co-con­spirator, whom he treats as if he were his keenest rival.

29The resolution of the quarrel between these two has been much admired—"the contention and reconcilement of Brutus and Cassius is universally celebrated," remarked Samuel Johnson as early as 1765 (8.836)—but among other things it confirms Brutus's continued dominance of Cassius by Brutus's resourceful insistence on his own moral superiority. When Brutus unguardedly admits his inner turmoil ("O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs" [TLN 2131]), Cassius tweaks him with his stoic inconsistency: "Of your philosophy you make no use, / If you give place to accidental evils" (TLN 2132-33), only to have Brutus come back with his hardest-hitting comment thus far: "No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead" (TLN 2134). Brutus has to know that this information, conveyed in this way, will make Cassius completely submissive out of concern for him, as in fact it does, and Brutus presses his advantage by urging that Cassius "Speak no more of her" (TLN 2149). Having drawn Cassius in with the announcement of Portia's death, Brutus immediately shuts him out again by ordering him not to talk about it any more. Both comments maintain Brutus's dominance and keep Cassius off balance. Con­firming this strategy is Brutus's odd solicitation of news about Portia from the newly-arrived Messala—as if Brutus did not already know of her death. (For comments on the apparent textual crux produced by Brutus's seeming ignorance of Portia's death, see the Textual Introduction.) When Messala reports it, Brutus responds with perfect stoic rectitude (TLN 2186-88), thereby eliciting astonished admiration for his godlike endurance from both Messala and Cassius (TLN 2189-91). This is surely the very reaction Brutus had counted on, as Geoffrey Miles suggests in his analysis of Brutus's stoic constancy as "a genuinely noble ideal which nevertheless rests on unnatural suppression of feeling and on 'artful' presence, both directed toward satisfying the opinions of others" (143).

30The feelings that Brutus tries to suppress are aroused in domestic settings, as well as political ones, as Shakespeare makes brilliantly clear in Brutus's relationship with the boy Lucius, who has no precedent in Plutarch. Lucius is the only person who consistently defers to Brutus, and he therefore seems to call forth feelings of solicitude in Brutus that Brutus shows to no one else, even his wife, who challenges him to be more candid with her (TLN 874ff.). Yet as a stoic idealist, Brutus believes he should give way to no feeling, as the stoic and ex-slave, Epictetus, recommends:

31In the case of everything attractive or useful or that you are fond of, remember to say just what sort of thing it is, beginning with the least little things. If you are fond of a jug, say "I am fond of a jug!" For then, when it is broken you will not be upset. If you kiss your child or your wife, say that you are kissing a human being; for when it dies you will not be upset. (12)

32In keeping with stoic admonition, Brutus suppresses his affection for Lucius with peremptoriness, calling sternly for the lad's prompt attention in the small hours of the morning and demanding that he fetch a taper (TLN 616-24). When they are encamped near Sardis, Brutus shows his ambivalence in a brief scene of extraordinary imaginative insight on Shakespeare's part. Brutus again demands the boy's attention late at night, insisting that Lucius play his lute while Brutus reads. Yet noticing Lucius's tiredness, Brutus is irresistibly drawn to care for him: "What? Thou speak'st drowsily. / Poor knave, I blame thee not; thou art o'erwatched" (TLN 2248-49). When Lucius falls asleep while trying to play, Brutus tenderly removes the lute, so Lucius will not accidentally damage it (TLN 2282-84).

33These gestures of solicitude, however, are accompanied by glances at Brutus's stoic habit of suppressing all feeling—including affection—with harsh self-control. When Brutus finds a book he had been looking for in the pocket of his gown, Lucius's response makes clear that Brutus had blamed him for the book's disappearance: "I was sure your lordship did not give it me" (TLN 2264). When Brutus calls out, after the ghost's departure, Lucius suddenly wakes, and assuming that Brutus had scolded him, he blames his lute: "The strings, my lord, are false" (TLN 2305). Lucius would not instinctively defend himself if he were not in the habit of needing to, and Brutus seems to treat him with alternate tenderness and severity in order to correct the former in himself with the latter. As if commenting unconsciously on his own actions toward Lucius, Brutus urges the conspirators: "And let our hearts, as subtle masters do, / Stir up their servants to an act of rage / And after seem to chide 'em" (TLN 808-10).

34Perhaps Shakespeare's most important insight from Plutarch concerns patrician competitiveness. Caesar and Brutus are the principal rivals in Julius Caesar, though by no means the only ones, and Shakespeare's incisive characterization of these two as alter egos in their stoic ambition and vulnerability is a comment on their aristocratic emulation, which motivates all the main characters in Julius Caesar. Shakespeare encountered this kind of contest in Plutarch, who tells the famous story of the young Alexander's controlling an unmanageable horse as an instance of Alexander's fierce rivalry with his father, Philip, because Philip had declared the animal to be unbreakable. In other words, Alexander was determined to conquer something his father could not. Plutarch repeats this motif in his story of the young Caesar, who wept in frustration when he read of Alexander's deeds, because Alexander had conquered so much more than Caesar had at the same age (Plutarch 476-77). The parallel episodes point to a similar conception of upper-class male rivalry in both Greece and Rome. The difference, Gordon Braden argues, is that when Rome's territorial ambition produced ever-diminishing returns, the patrician warrior was compelled to turn inward for something to conquer, as Plutarch wrote of Caesar, whose desire for "glory" made him discontented with what he had achieved: "This humour of his was no other but an emulation with himself as with another man" (519). This distinctively Roman development helps to account for the widespread ideal of stoic perfectionism in Roman culture. The stoic sage, Braden concludes, "is so far ahead in the competition that he can never be caught" (23). Shakespeare seems to have drawn the same conclusion about stoicism from his reading and conceivably from what he knew of competition at the Elizabethan court, where neo-stoicism was the height of fashion in the 1590s.

35Shakespeare had a more familiar source, however, than Plutarch for the keen sense of self-deception that accompanies patrician competition in Julius Caesar. Long before he read Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare had explored in an early comedy, Love's Labor's Lost, the way noblemen compete and deceive themselves. In this play, four aristocratic young men take an ascetic vow to live in stoic self-denial for a year, only to find themselves incapable of keeping their promise. Shakespeare refers this failure not to classical sources but to the Bible. When Berowne catches the King scolding Longaville and Longaville scolding Dumaine for doing what each has done himself, Berowne exclaims to Longaville: "You found his mote; the King your mote did see; / But I a beam do find in each of three" (Love's Labor's Lost, 4.3.157-58). He is alluding to Matthew 7.3-5:

36And why seest thou the mote, that is in thy brothers eye, and perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how sayest thou to thy brother, Suffer me to cast out the mote out of thine eye, and behold a beam is in thine owne eye? Hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. (Geneva translation)

37The point is not to moralize either Love's Labor's Lost or Julius Caesar but to suggest where Shakespeare derived his acute sense of how people deceive themselves. The Christian idea that Berowne alludes to had been influential in centuries of Christian drama before Shakespeare, especially the morality play, which used personified abstraction to imagine the self as divided against itself (the soul and its five "wits," for example) in the process of temptation. Self-deception depends on self-division, which morality plays dramatized as an external reality by staging various parts of the self as different "characters." This tradition of dramatizing the inner life underlies Brutus's description as "with himself at war" and Cassius's rhetorical question "can you see your face?" which he goes on to explain:

38it 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. (TLN 148-51)

39Extrapolating from the morality play's invention of self-division as necessary to the process of self-deception, Shakespeare not only imagines the process at work in Brutus but also introduces a clever seducer in Cassius, who explicitly alludes to the process while he is deceiving a man who is excessively proud of his self-knowledge and unusually deceived about its limitations.

40Discovering Shakespeare's sources is most important, perhaps, not for revealing what Shakespeare owed them but what he did with them. His extraordinary rhetorical facility immeasurably enriched what he read in Plutarch and North. The best-known passage from Julius Caesar is probably Antony's speech to the plebeians after Caesar's assassination (TLN 1610-44), which follows a speech to the same audience by Brutus (TLN 1543-77). Though Plutarch mentions that the speeches were stylistically distinct, he records neither one, so they are entirely original with Shakespeare. Brutus "counterfeited that brief compendious manner of speech of the Lacedaemonians" (Plutarch 814), whereas Antony "used a manner of phrase in his speech, called Asiatic, which carried the best grace and estimation at that time, and was much like to his manners and life: for it was full of ostentation, foolish bravery, and vain ambition" (678). These are small hints on which to base two such memorable and brilliantly contrasting passages, conforming to the laconic and Asiatic styles respectively, as Plutarch reports. It is possible, as Geoffrey Bullough notes (5.7), that Shakespeare may have found descriptions of the two men's contrasting oratorical styles in Cicero, as well as Plutarch, but Cicero does not quote the speeches either, so they remain a tribute to Shakespeare's remarkable inventiveness and dramatic power.

Imagery and Symbolism

41In her classic study of Shakespeare's imagery, Caroline Spurgeon notes the relative paucity of images in Julius Caesar while observing "a certain persistence in the comparison of the characters to animals" (346). (For other critics of the play's imagery, see the separate "Survey of Critical Responses.") What is noteworthy about the play's animal images is their rhetorical function, for speakers use this imagery almost exclusively to characterize others, and since the images nearly always appear in various ways as insults, they implicitly reveal the speaker's sense of himself as human rather than animal, like those he despises or fears. Consider, for example, a series of deliberate rhetorical images in Cassius's attempt to persuade Casca to join the conspiracy:

42And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?
Poor man, I know he would not be a wolf,
But that he sees the Romans are but sheep;
He were no lion, were not Romans hinds.
Those that with haste will make a mighty fire
Begin it with weak straws. What trash is Rome,
What rubbish and what offal, when it serves
For the base matter to illuminate
So vile a thing as Caesar! (TLN 544-52)

43The four animal images (in two rhetorically opposed pairs) parallel a concluding image of fire to make Cassius's point that Caesar's ambition depends on Roman submissiveness. The first image may derive from a proverb, "He that makes himself a sheep shall be eaten by the wolf" (Dent S300), but Shakespeare changes the emphasis to have Cassius say that Caesar is a wolf only because the Romans are sheep. By the same token, Caesar is a mighty fire only because the Romans allow themselves to be combustible weak straws, trash, rubbish, offal, and base matter. "Base" is a socially loaded adjective that is especially designed to appeal to Casca's sense of his own social worth: if you want to be a real patrician, Cassius implies, reject that predator Caesar and the weak prey who submit to him, and join us genuine noblemen who oppose him.

44Antony similarly directs scorn against another in his comparison of Lepidus to an ass and a horse (TLN 1873-96). Unlike Cassius, however, Antony is not trying to persuade his companion, Octavius, to anything in this speech; Antony is sorting out the power relations between the triumvirs who have assigned themselves to punish Caesar's assassins. In the process of deciding who should be put to death, Octavius immediately asserts his dominance by proscribing Leipdus's brother and ordering Antony to add the brother's name to the list. Lepidus asserts himself so far as to insist that Antony's brother, Publius, also be proscribed, but Lepidus tacitly reinforces Octavius's dominance by offering an affront to Antony instead of Octavius. Though Antony acquiesces in his brother's proscription, he establishes his dominance over Lepidus by ordering him to fetch Caesar's will, and when Lepidus meekly departs in compliance, Antony launches into two insulting animal similes against Lepidus. Octavius demurs, but only to challenge Antony and keep him in his place, not to defend Lepidus from Antony's crude verbal assault, which insists that Lepidus is no more than their beast of burden or their horse to be managed: "Do not talk of him / But as a property" (TLN 1895-96). While Antony's bravado establishes his dominance over Lepidus, it does nothing to enhance Antony's status with Octavius, to whom Antony tacitly defers, despite his bravado, which includes a vain assertion of his seniority in years (TLN 1873). Antony fails to see the irony that he establishes his status with Octavius only by making Lepidus out to be a pack animal.

45Shakespeare invents still another animal simile in Brutus's description of Cassius, and this simile has still another rhetorical function: to indicate Brutus's barely suppressed fury while he self-righteously depicts Cassius as "deceitful."

46Ever note, Lucilius,
When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith,
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle;
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and like deceitful jades
Sink in the trial. (TLN 1930-39)

47Brutus's implicit pride in his own "plain and simple faith" is another example, among many in Julius Caesar, of a patrician warrior protesting his own virtue too much. Brutus's image implies that he is the rider, and Cassius is the kind of horse who shows a great deal of spirit before a competition, only to fade when his rider needs him most. "They should endure the bloody spur" is an especially angry clause, indicating not only what Brutus thinks Cassius should do but also what Brutus would, in effect, like to do to him. Brutus is not idly comparing Cassius to a horse; Brutus is venting rage that he believes, in keeping with stoic assumptions, he should not feel, and the bitterness of his simile helps to clarify the strain he is under. His effort to portray Cassius as an animal and himself as a superior human being actually reveals his vexed passions in a way he does not suspect.

48Even more complex than imagery in Julius Caesar is Shakespeare's use of language that hovers somewhere between the symbolic, the literal, the psychological, and the supernatural, without being exclusively identifiable as any of them. This language is particularly striking on the night before the assassination of Caesar, when Casca meets Cicero and Cassius in succession (1.3). Though Cicero was an ambivalent stoic (sometimes even identified as anti-stoic), he was one of ancient Rome's most influential purveyors of stoicism, while Cassius is a self-proclaimed Epicurean (TLN 2416), and each speaks in this scene consistently with his philosophical profession, yet the scene is about more than philosophy. Though both Cicero and Cassius respond without concern to the fearsome storm on the eve of Caesar's assassination, the play does not make clear that their dismissive interpretation of the weather is definitive or even coherent. Moreover, the ambiguity of language throughout the scene suggests an interpenetration of inner and outer reality that makes the boundary between them impossible to discern.

49In the eight and a half lines assigned to him in his sole appearance in the play, Cicero perfectly models a generalized Roman stoicism, remaining unperturbed by the severe weather, though it terrifies Casca, who personifies it in such a way as to make clear his belief that it is supernatural. The winds are so "scolding," the ocean so "ambitious," the clouds so "threat'ning" that the gods must be at odds with one another or inclined to destroy the world because it is "too saucy" (TLN 335-45). Cicero's sardonic reply indicates how little the storm affects him and how little he regards Casca for submitting to his fears: "Why, saw you anything more wonderful?" (TLN 446). Reacting strenuously to Cicero's implicit skepticism, Casca cites more amazing wonders he has seen, some of them taken by Shakespeare from Plutarch, who confirms Casca's view of them: "destiny may easier be foreseen, than avoided, considering the strange and wonderful signs that were said to be seen before Caesar's death" (524). Casca concludes with an emphatic statement of his (and Plutarch's) point:

50When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say,
"These are their reasons, they are natural,"
For I believe they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon. (TLN 460-64)

51Cicero remains unimpressed by either the weather or Casca's interpretation of it, agreeing that "it is a strange disposèd time" but insisting that people often misconstrue things "Clean from the purpose of the things themselves" (TLN 65-67). But then, as if changing the subject, Cicero in fact introduces the very subject whose presence has been heavy by its absence from Casca's fearful assertions: "Comes Caesar to the Capitol tomorrow?" (TLN 468). Cicero is not referring to the conspiracy, because he has not been informed of it, so his question is weighty with dramatic irony. Without knowing it, he has put his finger on the very issue he has been dismissing: the wonders in the streets of Rome are not mere projections of Casca's fear; they are portents of Caesar's death. Cicero himself has misconstrued things clean from the purpose of the things themselves, because his question is portentous without his knowing it. It is not clear that Cicero's skepticism prevails in this conversation, given the quiet irony that undercuts him in the end.

52When Shakespeare again uses the same passage from Plutarch in Hamlet, written shortly after Julius Caesar, he again does so in a scene whose language is strongly suggestive and heavily symbolic. Having just seen old Hamlet's ghost, the nervous watchmen believe, as Casca does, that it must mean something—that the wonders they have seen are somehow symbols to be read in light of momentous human affairs. The learned Horatio agrees and offers a confident interpretation of Claudius's preparation for war as it relates to old Hamlet's defeat of old Fortinbras. Bernardo draws an inference about the ghost's appearance from the information Horatio has just given, and Horatio again agrees, as if the inference were perfectly obvious:

53A mote it is to trouble the mind's eye.
In the most high and palmy state of Rome,
A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,
The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead
Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets;
As stars with trains of fire and dews of blood,
Disasters in the sun; and the moist star
Upon whose influence Neptune's empire stands
Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse.
And even the like precurse of feared events,
As harbingers preceding still the fates
And prologue to the omen coming on,
Have heaven and earth together demonstrated
Unto our climatures and countrymen. (1.1.116-29)

54The play vindicates Horatio's assertion that the ghost's appearance is portentous, and Horatio's language, like Casca's, is more than literal. Rather than precisely describing the effect of the moon's gravity on the earth's oceans (a phenomenon everyone observed and counted on but no one could explain in the sixteenth century), he says the "moist star" that supports the dominion of Neptune by its influence "Was sick almost to doomsday with eclipse," because his point is that the interconnection between heavenly and terrestrial events is self-evident, though indefinable and mysterious. Metaphor complements personification and apocalyptic allusion in an uncanny mythopoeic evocation of personal agency in nature. Yet Horatio is wrong about the reason for the ghost's appearance, and his certainty about his explanation is to that extent misplaced. Though he is not skeptical, like Cicero in Julius Caesar, Horatio's confidence that he knows what is going on carries with it some of the same dramatic irony that marks Cicero's question about Caesar's coming to the senate.

55Cicero's exit is simultaneous with Cassius's entry, which Casca marks by the same fearful challenge that opens Hamlet on a troubled dark night: "Who's there?" Cassius replies even more insouciantly than Cicero, all but mocking Casca's fear, but Cassius is not openly skeptical like Cicero; on the contrary, Cassius asserts that "heaven" has sent the wonders of the night "To make them instruments of fear and warning / Unto some monstrous state" (TLN 509-10). As an Epicurean, Cassius does not believe the gods have anything to do with mortal affairs, as Lucretius makes clear (see Appendix), so he seems to accommodate himself to Casca for strategic reasons. His assertion that he is confident because he believes the portents in Rome are heaven's warning about the ambition of Caesar has the aim of persuading Casca to join in the effort to check that ambition—in effect, to put himself on heaven's side. This is why Cassius answers Casca's fearful question, "Who ever knew the heavens menace so?" with an answer that seems to refer to Caesar: "Those that have known the earth so full of faults" (TLN 481-83). Cassius does not construe the portents as a threat to himself but only to an unnamed guilty man who is

56Most like this dreadful night,
That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars,
As doth the lion in the Capitol,
A man no mightier than thyself or me
In personal action, yet prodigious grown
And fearful, as these strange eruptions are. (TLN 511-17)

57Cassius's indirection accomplishes two purposes: it suggests a connection between inner and outer tumult, and it introduces an extended verbal ambiguity in his exchange with Casca that makes their talk about suicide also implicitly a talk about assassination. The first of these purposes has already been suggested in Casca's description of the troubled night as "scolding," "ambitious," and "threat'ning"—all terms that reflect Casca's fear while applying to the portentous storm itself and Caesar's ascendancy. This kind of double entendre reappears in Cassius's assertion that the night's wonders are "instruments of fear and warning" and his description of the unnamed man (i.e., Caesar) as "prodigious grown / And fearful [i.e., fearsome]." Is the "fear" he twice mentions political, or meteorological, internal to himself, or all three? He seems to suggest, if only for Casca's benefit, that the frightening events of the night mirror the frightened state of those who witness them because "heaven" is trying to warn Romans that something terrible is about to happen. Casca thinks this impending event is Caesar's coronation by the senate (TLN 525-26), and Cassius agrees, yet he fails to reckon with the thought of everyone watching the play—that "heaven" might be warning against the assassination that Cassius himself is planning, as Horatio suggests in Hamlet. The scene in Julius Caesar simply suggests all these possibilities without indicating how to decide between them. As Geoffrey Miles puts it, "The storm is all the more terrifying because, though it seems meaningful, its meaning is obscure" (127).

58As for ambiguous language about the assassination, it arises in Cassius's bold response to Casca's comment about Caesar's being crowned the next day: "I know where I will wear this dagger then: / Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius" (TLN 529-30). His allusion to the assassination is obvious to anyone who knows he is a conspirator, but Casca does not know (though he seems to suspect), and Cassius seems to use language hinting at suicide ("life . . . / Never lacks power to dismiss itself" [TLN 536-37]) in order to sound out Casca about the assassination without committing himself openly, while Casca replies in the same suggestively ambiguous terms: "So every bondman in his own hand bears / The power to cancel his captivity" (TLN 542-43). Even when they shake hands, and Cassius says he has already gathered certain patricians to join him in an "honorable dangerous" enterprise (TLN 566), neither of them says what he means, and Cassius concludes with another ambiguous reference both to the assassination and to inner and outer reality: "the complexion of the element / Is fev'rous, like the work we have in hand, / Most bloody, fiery, and most terrible" (TLN 570-72). Ambiguous euphemisms for murder appear again in Macbeth several years later, and disturbances in nature are also reported on the night of Duncan's death (Macbeth, 2.4), but Caesar is not a king—he just hopes to be one—and the wonders reported by Casca are more ambiguous than those in Macbeth. Shakespeare leaves no doubt that something frightening, uncanny, and mysterious is afoot in Julius Caesar, but none of the principals seems to have any idea what it is, just as we, the play's auditors, do not know precisely what it means.

59The richly symbolic language that surrounds Caesar's assassination appears elsewhere in Julius Caesar as a means of placing characters in their undular destiny. Caesar is warned three times to beware the ides of March—which indeed turns out to be the day he dies—twice by a soothsayer and once by Brutus's repetition of the soothsayer's warning for the partially deaf Caesar's benefit (TLN 107, 109, 113). But Caesar dismisses the soothsayer: "He is a dreamer. Let us leave him" (TLN 114). Confident in himself, as he is when he later dismisses Calpurnia's dream, Caesar assists in his own downfall by ignoring signs that it is coming. Brutus does the same with the ghost that twice appears to him, though the ghost is more ambiguous than the one in Plutarch. Brutus at first thinks "it is the weakness of mine eyes / That shapes this monstrous apparition" (TLN 2289-90)—a skeptical interpretation that Shakespeare transferred to Brutus from Cassius in his source: "Cassius being in opinion an Epicurian, and reasoning thereon with Brutus, spoke to him touching the vision thus," followed by a long speech that Shakespeare's Brutus summarizes in the two lines just quoted (Plutarch 845). Elsewhere Plutarch states that "the ghost that appeared unto Brutus showed plainly, that the gods were offended with the murder of Caesar" (530), but Brutus's own skepticism makes Shakespeare's ghost more equivocal. "Art thou anything?" Brutus demands, "Art thou some god, some angel, or some devil / That mak'st my blood cold and my hair to stare?" (TLN 2291-93). The ghost says simply that Brutus will see it again at Philippi, and Brutus seems unimpressed: "Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then" (TLN 2300). Brutus himself reports the ghost's second appearance, which seems to defeat him and prompts one of the play's many allusions to time: "I know my hour is come" (TLN 2663). "Fatalistic" seems exactly the right adjective for his mood at the end: "Our enemies have beat us to the pit. / It is more worthy to leap in ourselves / Than tarry till they push us" (TLN 2667-69). Macbeth uses a similar image in his final despair: "They have tied me to a stake. I cannot fly, / But bearlike I must fight the course" (5.7.1-2), and Macbeth, too, alludes to the hopelessness of successive moments: "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time" (5.6.19-21). The difference is that Macbeth knows what he is doing—fully recognizes and understands the hope he rejects—whereas Brutus labors hopelessly for a destiny he never sees or comprehends.

The Empire of Rome

60Writing about the lives of Caesar, Brutus, and Antony, Plutarch refers frequently to "the empire of Rome" (in North's translation), by which he means "Roman political dominion" rather than "Roman Empire" in the strict sense, because he is describing the late Roman Republic, before Octavius was named Augustus by the senate in 27 B.C.E and claimed sole right to the traditional military accolade imperator, from which "emperor" and "empire" derive. As one of the contending parties in Julius Caesar, the future Augustus is introduced simply as Octavius, the adopted son of Julius Caesar, because the events in Julius Caesar take place many years before Octavius's eventual defeat of Antony and his claim to unchallenged rule in "the empire of Rome." His presence in Julius Caesar raises the question of what Shakespeare seems to make of the Roman Empire Augustus founded. "The time of universal peace is near," Octavius says before his final battle with Antony in Antony and Cleopatra, "Prove this a prosp'rous day, the three-nooked world / Shall bear the olive freely" (4.6.5-7). He is foreseeing the so-called pax Romana, the long internal peace, initiated by his own success, when Rome enjoyed freedom from civil war for more than two centuries. Speaking of Octavius's accomplishment, Plutarch writes: "he was a merciful physician, whom God had ordained of special grace to be governor of the empire of Rome, and to set all things again at quiet stay, the which required the counsel and authority of an absolute prince" (864). Writing in the early twentieth century, M. W. MacCallum thought this comment by Plutarch explained "the spirit of Caesar" in Julius Caesar (215-16): history would produce a great ruler, who would unite Rome and bring peace, and that ruler is anticipated in the first Caesar, who was assassinated, even though the destined ruler himself was the second Caesar. As explained in the "Survey of Critical Responses," MacCallum's interpretation was very influential in subsequent criticism of Julius Caesar, even though MacCallum may have been thinking more about the British Empire he knew than about "the empire of Rome" in Shakespeare's Roman plays.

61Octavius's prediction of the pax Romana in Antony and Cleopatra is complemented by other, more ambiguous references to the Roman Empire in Julius Caesar. Cassius compares himself favorably to Aeneas (TLN 210-13), for example, whose story as the founder of Roman history was authoritatively rendered for Shakespeare and his contemporaries in Virgil's Aeneid:

62I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so, from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tirèd Caesar. (TLN 210-13)

63The event Cassius alludes to is iconic for Virgil, since it involves Aeneas's departure from Troy, in obedience to divine urging, bearing his aged father on his back, and thereby symbolizing his piety both to the gods and his forefathers. Such a paragon of Roman virtue deserved to become the destined founder of Rome and the progenitor of Augustus, who was Virgil's patron when Virgil wrote the Aeneid. Yet Shakespeare's way of imagining both Aeneas and Octavius in Julius Caesar is quite different from Virgil's. Cassius's evocation of Aeneas as "our great ancestor" (TLN 210) is self-serving and petty, strategically deflating Julius Caesar's reputation in order to ascertain Brutus's willingness to join the conspiracy.

64As for Octavius, before the sudden arrival of his servant in 3.1, no one has so much as mentioned him. The conspirators never refer to him, because they do not think of him as a risk to them—unlike Antony, about whom they disagree. This is a serious underestimation on their part, as events make clear. Octavius has the last word in the play, having triumphed with Antony over those who defeated Caesar. Yet Octavius's joint triumph does not clarify destiny in Julius Caesar, where his success fails to culminate Roman history, unlike his defeat of Antony in the Aeneid. The triumvirs' victory at Philippi merely marks another stage in the endless struggle for power that stretches into unknown time before the play began, when Julius Caesar and Pompey were rivals, and into unknown time after the play ends, when the rivalry between Octavius and Antony will inevitably continue, with no hint of what lies thereafter. In short, Roman history in Julius Caesar is marked by endless competition among relentless patrician rivals, who seem to serve no other destiny than their own ambition, no matter how strongly or how often they may proclaim their belief in higher ideals both to themselves and to others. Despite Octavius's prescience about his own success in Antony and Cleopatra, he remains the same ruthless patrician competitor in that play as in Julius Caesar, as J. Leeds Barroll points out. In short, Shakespeare never imagines Octavius in the same way Virgil does. Whether Octavius brings a Virgilian sense of destiny into Antony and Cleopatra is another question. Despite Plutarch's praise of Augustus, Julius Caesar by itself reveals no meaning in history beyond the meaning that powerful men make their own history.

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