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The perceptions of Shakespeare’s literary work vary among different writers and actors alike. The interpretation of the actual literary themes in Shakespeare’s 19 century plays and poems is difficult without distortion; in addition, representation of these themes in the original language in films diminishes the actual quality of his works.
According to Stanivukovic, in Shakespeare and Homosexuality, the conception of homosexuality in the 19th Century was explicit based on the literary views of Shakespeare. He argues that the cultural perceptions of that time helped to shape Shakespeare’s views on homosexuality. He further argues that the opinions held by intellectuals of the time about homosexuality further contributed to Shakespeare’s homoerotic acts in his literary work.
Other authors believe that producing Shakespeare’s literary work on film cannot work. Thomas Cartelli, in Doing it slant: Reconceiving Shakespeare in Shakespeare aftermath, argues that producing Shakespeare plays and poems on films makes them lose their literary value.
In addition, the films produced do not provide the actual picture presented in his literary works. The original language used in Shakespeare’s work also diminishes with the production of Shakespeare’s work in films. The plot of play also diminishes with the introduction of modern literary genres into films. In Julius Caesar, the theme revolves around the struggle for power and fate over leadership in ancient Rome.
Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, begins with a disapproval of the mass celebrations by the Roman citizens of Caesar’s victory over his enemies. Murellus and Flavius discourage the citizens from participating in these celebrations while neglecting their work. During the celebration Brutus and Cassius, Caesar’s confidantes, express their fears over Caesar’s perceived popularity in the public domain which could enable him to become the king despite his lack of the right qualifications and they feel that this will not be good for the republic.
The politicians, notably Cassius, then conspire to block Caesar’s ascendancy to power citing his lack of appropriate qualities. After much persuasion, Brutus agrees to Cassius’s proposition to assassinate Caesar. Later on Caesar visits the Senate accompanied with his conspirators despite his wife and soothsayer expressing fear over his safety.
At the senate, the conspirators stab Caesar to death. During his funeral the masses turn against the conspirators, Brutus and Cassius, over their role in Caesar’s murder, who retreat with their armies from Rome. Meanwhile Caesar’s son, Octavius, the heir to the throne, decides to avenge for his father’s killing which leads to the deaths of the chief conspirators, Cassius and finally Brutus. The plot of the play revolves around struggle for power and betrayal from the inner circle of the leadership.
The Plot in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
In act one scene I, Flavius and Murellus try to discourage the citizens from participating in the celebrations to mark Caesar’s victory over his long-term enemy, Pompey. The citizens neglected their work that day to watch Caesar’s victory parade which Murellus feels is unnecessary since the defeated enemy is a former ally to Rome.
He further reproaches the citizens for their disloyalty to Pompey and advises them to “pray to the gods to intermit the plague” (Shakespeare 32) that might befall Rome due to disloyalty. Flavius and Murellus plan to tame Caesars popularity by removing decorations from Caesar’s statue built on the Capitol for which they later get punished.
Scene II involves the actual celebration where, Caesar and his entourage comprising of his wife, Calpurnia, politicians, Brutus, Cassius, Cicero, Portia and Decius. Roman superstitions become evident when Caesar advises Antony, a celebrated runner, to touch his barren wife in order to cure the barrenness.
At the same time, the Soothsayer warns Caesar of the impending ides of March, to which Caesar dismisses and proceeds to the streets of Rome. However, Cassius and Brutus remain and engage in a conversation that includes the prospects of Caesar assuming leadership over Rome. They both feel that the popularity of Caesar among the people is undeserved with Cassius tries fruitlessly to convince Brutus to also seek to lead Rome. In addition, Cassius expresses fears over Caesars qualifications to rule Rome.
After the return of the procession, Caesar confides with Antony over his dislike of Cassius as a dangerous character. Meanwhile Casca informs the two men that Caesar failed to accept the crown three times amid the cheers from the crowd. He however, tells them that Caesar’s popularity is still high despite the unfortunate incident. The scene ends with Cassius wondering over Brutus stubbornness not to oppose Caesar’s leadership. He then plots to convince him by delivering forged letters declaring citizen support for Brutus at his house.
Act one scene III details misinterpretation of signs associated that prophesy destruction. Many people have different interpretations of the signs witnessed at night with Cassius feeling that they signify destruction that may arise when Caesar assumes leadership. He actually compares the dreadful signs of the night to Caesar himself.
Meanwhile, Cassius plots to convince a number of high profile individuals to resist Caesars coronation the following day. Cassius and Cinna proceed with the plan of convincing Brutus, a popular figure, to challenge Caesars leadership by sending misleading letters.
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Act two, scene I, begins with Brotus convinced that Caesar leadership may not be good after receiving the forged letters. He becomes determined to resist Caesar’s ascendancy to power by interfering with the coronation. A group of conspirators including Cassius visits Brotus and they hatch a plan to kill Caesar. One of the conspirators, Dicius, offers to lure Caesar into the Capitol so that they can execute their plan. In scene III, Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife instructs Caesar not to leave the house after the many dreadful signs.
However, Caesar is convinced by Dicius to visit the Senate and assures Calpurnia that all will be well. In scene IV, Artemidrous being aware of the plot, prepares to hand a warning letter to Caesar regarding the conspiracy. He feels that the conspirator’s motives are improper as Caesar is a good leader. In scene v, Portia becomes concerned of the whereabouts of Caesar, sending Brutus servant to the Senate to observe the events.
Act three scene 1 revolves around Caesar’s death and the events preceding his death. Caesar first ignores to accept Artemidrous warning letter and enters the Capitol. In the senate, he refuses to accept the demands of the conspirators by comparing himself to the Northern star whose position is fixed in the sky.
The conspirators then proceed to stab him beginning with Decius and Ligarius. Caesar fails to defend himself after learning that Brutus is one of the conspirators. Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son assumes the leadership role and promises to avenge his father’s death. Scene ii covers Caesar’s funeral, where Brutus convinces the citizens that Caesar was actually a tyrant and deserved to be killed.
However, Antony evokes emotions when he describes Caesar’s murder and the role of the conspirators and finally reads Caesar’s will that reveals that Caesar’s wealth be distributed to the people. Later Brutus and Cassius escape from Rome fearing public rage. Scene III, entails the wrongful murder of a man named Cinna after being confused as one of the conspirators.
Act IV scene I details the deliberations regarding the distribution of power and the governance of Rome involving Octavius, Lepidus and Antony. However, the news that Brutus and Cassius are gathering up an army stops these negotiations. Brutus and Cassius army later matches to Phillippi to fight Octavius. Scene ii covers Portias committing suicide prior to the march to battle with new leadership.
Act V opens with the armies preparing for a battle between two rebel camp headed by Brutus and Cassius and the new leadership of Octavius. The two agree that they must succeed in the battle as they could not picture themselves prisoners of war. Scene II covers the battle between the two sides with Brutus claiming that Octavius army is weak and they will defeat them. Scene III details the defeat of Cassius army as Octavius’s army advances towards Cassius army camp, which refuses to flee.
However, Cassius mistakenly sees Brutus army as those of the enemy and can not wait for them. After sensing defeat, he hands his sword to Pindarus and orders him to kill. He speaks his last words that Caesar’s death has been avenged with the same sword before succumbing. Brutus enters to find Cassius body and cries out believing that Caesar revenge even in death. However, he resumes fighting with the combined armies of Antony and Octavius.
Scenes IV-V of Act V covers the final battle between the rival armies. Lucillus is captured by Antony’s army after impersonating as Brutus. Brutus refuses to flee after Antony’s army advance towards him. He instead uses his sword to kill himself while declaring that Caesar’s spirit has come to avenge his killing. At that instant, Antony accompanied with Octavius enter to find Brutus lying dead and plan to bury him honorably. They then set out to celebrate their victory over the enemy.
Summary and Conclusion
Julius Caesar by Shakespeare revolves around power struggle in ancient civilization of Rome. Caesar’s fateful ascendancy to power is disputed by Cassius who blames himself and Brutus for allowing Caesar to gain popularity at their expense. Cassius manages to convince Brutus and they hatch a plot to kill Caesar by branding him a tyrant which culminates in the killing of Caesar.
Antony who remains loyal reveals to the citizens of the Caesar’s good intentions for Rome and explains that the ill motives behind his murder. Meanwhile, Brutus and Cassius assemble armies to fight Octavius, the heir to the throne. However, Octavius and Antony respond by defeating the rebel armies while both Cassius and Brutus commit suicide.
Cartelli, Thomas. Doing It Slant: Reconceiving Shakespeare in Shakespeare Aftermath. New York: Associated University Press, 2010
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Eds. Barbara Mowat and Paul Westine. New York: Washington Square press, 1992.
Stanivukovic, Goran. “Shakespeare and Homosexuality.” Forum for Modern Language Studies 46.2 (2010): 138-151.