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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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13. To answer this question, you need only to read and carefully study Octavius' words during his four appearances-a total of only 30 lines. He appears in Act IV, Scene i and in Act V, Scene v.

When Octavius first appears he's checking off the names of people who must die, and behaving as casually as someone checking off items on a laundry list. Unlike Brutus, he has no qualms about murder, and he doesn't let principles stand in the way of what he thinks is best for his cause. As the head of Rome, he would therefore probably be a pragmatist and a man of action. He would be willing to sanction any action that furthered the greater good of his country. Whether he would be a man of vision is unclear, but he would establish specific goals and get results.

Octavius tries to save Lepidus' life, not, apparently, from any sense of mercy-only moments before he was willing to kill Lepidus' brother-but from the belief that it would be useful to have another "tried and valiant" soldier in his ranks. Later on Octavius offers to take all of Brutus' men into his service. Charity doesn't seem to be one of his virtues, though; what seems to motivate him is the practical need to end the war and reunite the country under his single rule.

Octavius is a person who accepts the world for what it is and does everything necessary to achieve his goals. His methods may not be admirable, but they are effective. To his credit, he seems more interested in preserving order than in revenge. Blind ambition seems to be less a factor in his decisions than a clear-sighted, single-minded drive to defend what he considers the best interests of Rome. Would Brutus the idealist have made a better ruler? To answer that question, you'll have to discuss Brutus' behavior before and after the assassination, and then decide whether you think a country needs a visionary at its helm, or a practical politician.



14. Brutus, Cassius, Caesar-all three strut across the public stage, speaking grandly about power and principles. But underneath, what matters most to them is the loyalty of friends. It is an act of disloyaltythe murder of Caesar-that undermines the order of the world and plunges Rome into civil war. Disloyalty is like a disease that can threaten the health not only of individuals but of an entire nation. As death approaches, the three men come to recognize the truth, that friendship matters more than abstract principles or vain ambitions. Health is restored when Octavius takes command and extends a friendly hand to his enemies.

How should you discuss the role of friendship in the lives of these three men? Point out that Caesar's last words (Act III, Scene i, line 77) are not about the loss of glory, or about death, but about the disloyalty of his friend, Brutus. Mention that when Brutus puts his abstract sense of justice ahead of his love of Caesar, he rains destruction on himself, on his fellow-conspirators, and on all of Rome. His betrayal accomplishes nothing, for Caesarism-what Caesar represents-lives on in the hearts of the people, and is reborn in the person of Octavius. Brutus' final words (Act V, Scene v, lines 50-51) are an admission that he never forgave himself for murdering a friend.

Point out that almost everything Cassius does is motivated by a need for friendship, and by a desire to revenge himself on those who deny it. Why does he want to destroy Caesar? Because Caesar bears a grudge against him. Why does he always follow Brutus' advice, even when it's contrary to good sense? Because he's dependent on Brutus' affection. Cassius' final thoughts (Act V, Scene iii, 34-35) are not for himself-for power and glory-but for a friend whom he believes (mistakenly) he has sent to his death.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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