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Julius Caesar is William Shakespeare’s first piece of literature written in 1599 which gives a vivid picture of the before Christ era of Roman Emperors. According to Sanderson (2003), “Shakespeare based this play on Thomas North’s 1579 English translation of Plutarch’s Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans”.
The play revolves around the conspiracy of the Roman senators against their ruler, Julius Caesar. The vehement malice against Caesar led to his brutal assassination. The repercussions were chaos and immense upheaval in the political and social atmosphere of Rome. The manner in which the entire plot and its consequences were built in the play reflects Shakespeare’s strong belief in the power of the ruler. Although the murderers of Caesar apparently had also killed the likely undesirable outcomes of his ambition, his assassination had triggered a state of affairs which was far more unexpected and intolerable. Sanderson (2003) writes that probably Shakespeare intended to draw the attention of the audience in the 16th century to the then crippling aristocracy. The rule of Queen Elizabeth I was reaching its end and she had no “heir to succeed her”. (Sanderson, 2003)
Persuasion, Manipulation, Survival and Success
The entire play is full of instances of persuasion and manipulation by arguments and opinion. Other than some prominent examples of the use of persuasion and manipulation by crucial characters, it is interesting to note that the general public or the citizens of Rome have been shown to be easily influenced against and in favor of Julius Caesar throughout. In Act 3 Scene 1 of Roma Gill’s (1995) edited version of Julius Caesar, the citizens rejoice in triumph of Caesar prior to he was being crowned. Their enthusiasm is easily maneuvered after the murder by the persuasive speeches delivered by Brutus, Cassius and Casca, the assassins of Caesar. As Brutus shouts “Let’s all cry, ‘Peace, freedom and liberty!’”, (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 47), the Romans begin to acknowledge Caesar as a potential oppressor or tyrant. After a lapse of a few moments when Antony begins his eulogy for Caesar, the same people start cursing the murders by calling them “villains, murderers”. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 58). The citizens of Rome are persuaded and manipulated by the friends and foes of Caesar repeatedly.
A brilliant example of the use of persuasion and manipulation by Shakespeare is when Cassius slowly poisons Brutus’ ears against Caesar. Since the beginning of the play edited by Roma Gill (1995), Brutus is presented as a character who is very close to Caesar and is a “great friend” of his. Nonetheless, Brutus’ “love for Rome is even greater than his love for his friend”. (p. viii). Cassius, “a fanatic”, is well-aware of Brutus’s idealism. Therefore, he decides to ignite the fire of patriotism, and social interest and welfare in Brutus to turn him against Caesar through persuasion and manipulation. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. viii). Although Cassius is cynical in nature and has a radical attitude, he is a very “practical” and realistic man.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings. Brutus and Caesar: what should be in that ‘Caesar’? Why should that name be sounded more than yours? Write them together, yours is as fair a name;…………. O, you and I have heard our fathers say, There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome As easily as a king. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 9).
Cassius plays with Brutus’s emotions and forces him to contemplate the fact that all Romans were physically and psychologically just as strong or weak as another; the sole difference was in the roles and positions they held. He also reminded Brutus of his ancestor who had exiled a tyrant from Rome to protect his people and the political scenario. To add fuel to the fire, Cassius also decided to write letters in different handwritings and throw them at Brutus windows declaring him as a “nobleman” and at the same time, airing suspicion about Caesar’s “ambition”. He knew well that he does this, even if “Caesar seat him sure”, he along with the other conspirators would “shake him, or worse days endure”. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 14).
Cassius also uses his tactics to persuade Casca and manipulate him to join the conspiracy. He told Casca “why should Caesar be a tyrant then? Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf, but that he sees the Romans are but sheep”. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 19).
This statement of Cassius had very powerful impact on Casca. Cassius’ power of persuasion and manipulation is also reflected in Brutus’s soliloquy when he is completely convinced by the arguments presented against Caesar.
It must be by his death: and for my part, I know no personal cause to spurn at him, But for the general. He would be crown’d: How that might change his nature, there’s the question. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 22).
Mark Antony’s speech in praise of Caesar a little while after his death is again a remarkable example of persuasion and manipulation which is often quoted in various literary works. He, very subtly, accuses Brutus and the other conspirators as the ruthless murderers so that the citizens are greatly moved by his speech. “But Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honourable man”. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 56). He brings along Caesar’s will and informs the citizens of the advantages they would have achieved if Caesar was alive. Antony said that “:Than I will wrong such honourable men. But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar; I found it in his closet, ’tis his will”. The same Romans who were chanting slogans against Caesar after being manipulated by the speeches of the assassins, started to curse and abuse the conspirators.
The use of words in Julius Caesar paints a powerful imagery of the characters and their acts. Examples of persuasion and manipulation are intertwined with those of success and survival. All the four subtle themes of persuasion, manipulation, survival and success are well-integrated and used very sensibly by Shakespeare.
Brutus’ address to the citizens immediately the murder, effective but not long lasting, is a beautiful example of how the conspirators succeed in convincing Romans against Caesar.
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more…..As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him…… death for his ambition. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 54).
I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself, when it shall please my country to need my death. (Roma Gill, 1995, p. 55).
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Mark Antony has been shown to have profoundly survived the anger and hatred of the mob against Caesar when he began his speech. His statements were so overwhelming and so well-delivered that the Romans were in awe of Caesar and Antony’s love for Caesar by the time he finished his address. He referred to the murderers as “honourable men” throughout his speech. This created an impact on the minds of the citizens about Antony’s respect for the politicians of the country. This strategy was very beneficial in perverting the mob in favor of Caesar.
Shakespeare’s use of words paints a beautiful picture of the characters and the enactment of their speeches in the minds of the readers. Julius Caesar is one such play where characters have complex personalities and an exceptional temperament. They all have their own styles of persuasion which motivates the mob and their counterparts and are able to succeed in getting their point across.
Sanderson, Jeannette, 2003, Julius Caesar, Teaching Resources, North Carolina.
Gill, Roma, 1995, Oxford School Shakespeare – Julius Caesar, Oxford University Press, Cambridge.