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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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1. C
2. B
3. C
4. B
5. A
6. C
7. B
8. C
9. B
10. B

11. You can argue that it isn't-but only if you believe that Caesar is the main character and that it's wrong for the main character to die in the middle of a play. In order to prove that Caesar is Shakespeare's "hero," point out that the play is named after him, and that a reader's feeling toward the assassination, which is the central action of the play, depend on his attitude toward Caesar.

If you believe that Caesar is the main character and that Julius Caesar is a well-structured play, point out that although Caesar dies in the third act, his spirit-what he stands for-dominates the action of the play from the opening scene until Brutus' death, and that it continues to live on in the person of Octavius. To prove that Caesarism lives after the man's death, discuss: the way the common people want and need a king, whoever he may be; the appearance of Caesar's ghost (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 273-285); Cassius' comment as he dies: "Caesar, thou art revenged" (Act V, Scene iii, line 45); Brutus' comment that he has seen Caesar's ghost again on the fields of Philippi (Act V, Scene v, lines 16-19); and Brutus' dying words, "Caesar, now be still" (Act V, Scene v, line 50).

If you consider Brutus the main character, you'll have no trouble arguing that Julius Caesar is a well-constructed play, since the action begins with Brutus' involvement in the plot and ends with his death and the eulogy over his body.

A play can be structured, of course, not only around characters, but also around certain actions. You can point out that the assassination, the pivotal action of the play, takes place in the very middle of Julius Caesar (Act III, Scene i). Acts I and II lead up to the assassination, and Acts IV and V trace the consequences of the assassination. A more balanced structure would be hard to imagine.

12. As in life itself, it's possible to defend two opposing points of view.

If you believe Brutus is a man of high principles who is simply too good for the world he lives in, point out how he is defeated (a) by the underhandedness of Cassius; (b) by the blind emotions of the mob; (c) by Cassius' fatal error on the battlefield; and (d) by the common man's need for a king. To prove that Brutus has a conscience, note the fact that he hasn't the heart to watch races (Act I, Scene ii, lines 25-30) while a tyrant threatens the freedom of his countrymen. Point out the high esteem in which he's held by both friend and foe, by Senators and commoners alike. (The conspirators know they can't win the common people to their cause without Brutus' support.) Note how Brutus alone, of all the conspirators, insists that Antony's life be spared and that Antony be allowed to speak at Caesar's funeral. Study Brutus' own oration as the work of a man who believes that right is on his side and that justice will prevail. Quote Brutus' speeches defending his honor (for example: "For let the gods so speed me, as I love / The name of honor more than I fear death" (Act I, scene ii, lines 88-89). Today, in our post-Freudian world, we wonder if a truly virtuous man would need to call attention to his virtue. Yet it seems only natural for a man contemplating murder to defend himself, and it seems unfair to question Brutus' integrity when he expresses how he feels.

If you are feeling less kind to Brutus, you could write a paper proving that he is the villain of the play. Note how Cassius gets him to join the conspiracy by flattering him and appealing to his sense of family pride (Act I, Scene ii, lines 58-62, 158-161). Note how in his discussions with Cassius, both before and after the assassination, he is incapable of compromise and always insists on getting his way. Point out how Brutus begins his speech (Act II, Scene i, lines 10-34) with his mind already made up to murder Caesar ("It must be by his death"), and how he goes on to rationalize this decision with the most tenuous logic. His pride causes him to dismiss Cicero, even though Cicero is the most famous orator of the day. Brutus insists that he himself is honorable, but a truly noble man wouldn't need to go around making pompous speeches about it. Brutus likes to think of himself as a Stoic, who lives by reason alone; yet he's plagued by a guilty conscience, and, in his quarrel with Cassius, he is reduced to a squabbling child. Brutus' funeral oration shows how out of touch he is with the hearts and minds of the people whom he says he wants to serve. In his unwillingness to accept himself for what he is, Brutus is as vain and dangerous as Caesar.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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