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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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OCTAVIUS

Octavius-Caesar's adopted son-is more important a character than his appearances (only four) and his lines (only 30) would indicate, since the fate of Rome rests in his hands after the death of the conspirators. From such limited information, we have to decide whether Rome has been left in good hands.

What we should be able to agree on is this: Octavius is a capable soldier who accomplishes the work at hand by whatever means are needed to achieve it. Honorable men like Brutus can be dangerous; perhaps Rome needs pragmatists like Octavius to reestablish order.

The first time Octavius appears (Act IV, Scene i, line 2) he is busy checking off names of people who must die-including the brother of his friend Lepidus. Is he a cold-blooded murderer, then? Perhaps. But he is also a hardened soldier, who knows that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice individuals for the sake of victory. Like Brutus, he kills for what he considers the greater good; but, unlike Brutus, he has no qualms about it.

Moments later (Act IV, Scene i, lines 27-28), Octavius tries to save Lepidus' life. Since he showed no mercy to Lepidus' brother, we can assume he is not just being a good guy, but that he recognizes the practical value of having a "tried and valiant soldier" in his ranks.

Yet Octavius lets Antony decide Lepidus' fate. Is this a sign of weakness? Or is it the wise decision of a practical man, who knows the issue isn't worth fighting over?

The second time Octavius appears (Act V, Scene i, lines 1-20), he ignores Antony's wishes and insists on keeping his forces to the right side of the battlefield. "I do not cross you," he tells Antony, "but I will do so." Octavius seems to be behaving like a willful young Caesar, insisting on his natural right to rule. Whether his tone is spiteful, or firm but polite, you'll have to decide for yourself.

Only moments later (line 24), Octavius asks Antony if they should attack, and this time he gives in to Antony's wishes. Once again you'll have to decide: is Octavius incapable of important decisions-or is he simply smart enough to listen to someone with more experience?

The four generals now confront each other before the battle (lines 27-66)- Octavius and Antony on one side, Brutus and Cassius on the other. Antony, Brutus and Cassius squabble like children-only Octavius keeps his perspective. "Come, come, the cause," he says-let's keep our sights on what's important and get to the matter at hand.



The third time we see Octavius (Act V, scene v, line 60), he offers to take all of Brutus' men into his service. This may be an act of charity, but from what we know of Octavius, he is probably motivated by the practical need to end the war and bring both sides together under his single rule. His intentions may not matter so much as the fact that he is trying to end the bloodshed and reestablish order.

As the successor to Caesar, Octavius is given the final words of the play. It is as a soldier, not as a noble man, that Octavius praises Brutus, for nobility is a quality Octavius seems indifferent to. His tribute to Brutus may not be genuine-he is probably only doing what is expected of him-but whatever his motives, he seems to have no interest in revenge. His desire to reunite the country bodes well for the future of Rome.

(The historic Octavius did restore order. He also restored the Republic-but more in name than in fact. The Senate retained its forms and privileges, but the power resided in Octavius, who controlled the army. In 27 B.C. Antony took the name of Augustus and became the first Roman Emperor. Shakespeare portrays him principally as a soldier, yet during his reign he became more interested in peace than in war, and his rule became known as the golden age of Roman literature and architecture.)

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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