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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS

SETTING

Julius Caesar is largely set in Rome, in February of the year 44 B.C. In later scenes, the action moves to Sardis and the battlefield at Philippi. The setting of Julius Caesar is vital to the understanding of the play. The Roman society presented is sophisticated, marked by a rich cultural heritage and a political tradition of democracy. The physical landmarks of ancient Rome, such as the Tiber River, the Capitol, and the house of the Senate, are referred to with great frequency. The Forum is also the setting for an important scene. Roman political institutions and officials, such as tribunes, Senators, Patricians, and priests, are always present. Many traditional Roman customs of the time are also mentioned, adding to the cultural setting; for instance, in the opening scenes there is a reference to the Feast of Lupercal. In actuality, Rome dominates the play and everything revolves around it, at times making it seem like a character in and of itself.

CHARACTERS

Major Characters

Julius Caesar

The protagonist of the play. He is the leader of Rome who hopes to be crowned head of the entire Roman Empire. He is enjoying popularity among the people because he has recently returned from a victorious battle against the sons of Pompey the Great; however, his susceptibility to flattery and his false sense of infallibility lead to his tragic assassination. The entire play revolves around this event and the attempts of his close friend Antony to avenge his death and restore order to Rome. Late in the play, Caesar's ghost briefly appears as a character.

Octavius Caesar

Julius Caesar's heir. After Caesar's assassination, Octavius makes a pact with Mark Antony and Aemilius Lepidus to seize control of the Roman Empire.

Mark Antony

Julius Caesar's trusted companion. After Caesar's assassination, Antony turns the crowds against the conspirators. He then enters into a pact with Octavius Caesar and Aemilius Lepidus to form a triumvirate to rule Rome. He instigates mob riots and subtly encourages the burning of the houses of the conspirators. Along with Octavius and Lepidus, Antony leads an attack against Cassius and Brutus (and their army of conspirators) and defeats them at Philippi.


Marcus Brutus

A supposed good friend of Julius Caesar. He is an idealistic man, motivated by nobility and principles rather than by personal relationships. He agrees to the plot to assassinate his friend because he believes it is for the good of Rome. Ultimately, his misguided sense of nobility and his poor judgement lead to his downfall.

Cassius

The chief architect of the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar. He is the opposite of Brutus in that his participation in the conspiracy is neither noble nor based on ideas. He is envious of Caesar and wants to achieve power for himself. He is a shrewd manipulator of people, easily able to understand their motivations and intents.

Minor Characters

Casca

The first conspirator to stab Caesar. Cassius manipulates Casca's simplicity and persuades him that the storm and other unnatural phenomena are omens about the fate of Rome if Caesar becomes the king. After the assassination Casca vanishes from the play.

Calphurnia

Julius Caesar's wife. She tries to prevent Caesar from going to the Senate because of her prophetic nightmare that foreshadows the assassination, but he does not listen to her.

Portia

Brutus' wife. She is devoted to her husband and is concerned for his safety above all else. When the tide turns against the conspirators, she commits suicide by swallowing hot coals rather than facing her husband's dishonor.

M. Aemilius Lepidus

The third member of the Second Triumvirate that rules Rome after Caesar's assassination. He considers himself equal to Antony and Octavius, but in his absence, Antony says he is weak and should only be a tool toward ruling, rather than a leader.

Artemidorus

A Greek teacher of rhetoric who tries to give Caesar a letter warning him of the conspiracy just before the assassination.

Cinna, the poet

An unfortunate man who is torn to pieces by an angry mob simply because he bears the name of one of the conspirators and because he writes bad poetry.

Soothsayer

The prophet who foresees Caesar's assassination and warns him to "Beware the Ides of March!" during the feast of Lupercal.

Cicero

A distinguished barrister and politician. He is an excellent orator and a fanatical conservative opposed to Caesar's overthrow of tradition. In the play, he is a minor figure in the action and is not asked to join the conspiracy.

Publius

A Senator who witnesses Caesar's assassination. Brutus sends him out of the Senate House to calm the citizens and to assure them that nobody else will be harmed.

Popilius Lena

A Senator.

Trebonius

One of the minor conspirators whose task is to divert Antony so that Caesar can be killed without interference. Consequently, he is the sole conspirator who does not stab Caesar. He is also the first conspirator to support Brutus' decision that Antony should be spared.

Caius Ligarius

One of the conspirators whose hatred of Caesar gives him the strength to overcome his illness and take part in the plot.

Decius Brutus

The conspirator whose favorable interpretation of Calphurnia's fateful dream tempts Caesar to the Senate.

Metellus Cimber

The conspirator whose request to Caesar to repeal his brother's exile is the cue for the others to gather around Caesar with knives and proceed to kill him.

Cinna

The conspirator who advises Cassius to win Brutus' support for the conspiracy and places the forged letters in Brutus' house.

Flavius and Marullus

Tribunes of the people who are put to death for removing scarves from Caesar's statues.

Lucilius

A close friend of Brutus and an officer in his army. He is a valiant soldier who pretends to be Brutus in order to deceive the enemy soldiers when he is captured in the battle at Philippi. Antony appreciates Lucilius' loyalty to Brutus and spares his life in the hope that he will serve him as loyally.

Titinius

A friend of Cassius who commits suicide on hearing of his death. He stands guard at the tent, when Cassius and Brutus quarrel at Sardis.

Messala

A soldier and friend of Brutus and Cassius.

Young Cato

Brutus' brother-in-law who valiantly rushes headlong toward the enemy and dies a glorious death during the second battle at Philippi.

Volumnius

A soldier and a friend of Brutus and Cassius. He refuses to help Brutus commit suicide on the basis of their friendship.

Clitus

Brutus' slave. He also refuses to help Brutus commit suicide.

Varro and Claudius

Brutus' servants.

Strato

Brutus' loyal slave. He is willing to hold the sword while his master runs through it, committing suicide.

Lucius

Brutus' servant. He is a gentle, mild mannered boy who sings for Brutus.

Dardanius

Brutus' slave.Pindarus Cassius' slave. He mistakenly tells Cassius that Titinius has been taken captive by the enemy forces. This causes Cassius to despair and kill himself. In truth, Titinius has not been captured at all.

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