Friday, May 1, 2009

Julius Caesar Characters: Keeping Them Straight

Julius Caesar Characters guide studies each character's role and motivation in this play.

Julius Caesar: The victorious leader of Rome, it is the fear that he may become King and revoke the privileges of men like Cassius that leads to his death at the hands of Cassius, Brutus and their fellow conspirators.

The threat that Caesar was moving away from the ideals of the Roman republic towards an Empire ruled directly by himself is the chief reason so many senators, aristocrats and even

Caesar's friend Brutus, conspired to kill him.

Introduced early in the play as a great (and arguably arrogant) leader who fears nothing, Caesar is warned by Artemidorus, The Soothsayer and wife (Calphurnia) alike not to go to the Senate on the "ides of March" the very day he is assassinated.

Caesar later returns in the play as a ghost which haunts Brutus in Act V. Easily flattered by Decius Brutus (not to be confused with Brutus), Caesar appears to us as a man almost guided not so much by his own will but what he believes are the expectations his people have of "Caesar." This is why he is reluctant to show fear, Caesar, as he frequently refers to himself in the third person, fears nothing and can show no sign of weakness or indeed mortality...

Note: The "ides of March" is the fifteenth of March (See Act II, Scene I, Line 58).

Octavius Caesar: The adopted son of Caesar, Octavius by history, ultimately became ruler of the Roman Empire following his defeat of Mark Antony in Egypt (See Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra). In this play, Octavius with Mark Antony and Lepidus (The Second Triumvirate), destroy the forces of Brutus and Cassius on the Plains of Philippi, which results in the death of both these conspirators (Act V).

Marcus Antonius (Mark Antony): One of the Triumvirs (leaders) who rule Rome following Caesar's assassination. Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) is famous in this play for his speech, which turns the Romans against Brutus following his group's assassination of Caesar. Famous for the immortal lines "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;" (Act III, Scene II, Line 79), Mark Antony with fellow Triumvirs, Octavius and Lepidus later defeat Brutus and Cassius on the Plains of Philippi in Act V.

M. Aemilius Lepidus: The last of the Triumvirs, this old man holds little real power and is used in Mark Antony's own words as a loyal, trusted man "Meet [fit] to be sent on errands:" (Act IV, Scene I, Line 13).

Cicero: A well-known orator (public speaker) and Senator, Cicero is killed by the Triumvirs (Mark Antony, Octavius and Lepidus) following Caesar's assassination.

Publius: A Senator who travels with Caesar to the Senate House the day Caesar is killed, he witnesses Caesar's assassination. Though deeply "confounded" or confused and shaken by the assassination of Caesar (Act III, Scene I, Line 86), he is used by Brutus to tell the citizens of Rome that Caesar aside, no one else will be hurt (Act III, Scene I, Lines 89-91).

Popilius Lena: The Senator who terrifies Cassius by telling Cassius that he hopes his "enterprise [assassination attempt] today may thrive" or be successful just as Caesar goes into the Senate house on the "ides of March" (Act III, Scene I, Line 13).

Marcus Brutus: The most complex character in this play, Brutus is one of the men who assassinate Caesar in the Senate. Brutus is complex, because he does not kill Caesar for greed, envy nor to preserve his social position like so many of the other conspirators against Caesar. This Brutus makes very clear in his speech in Act III, Scene II (Lines 12-76), when he explains his actions as being for the good of Rome.

Unlike the other conspirators, Brutus is in fact a dear friend of Caesar's but kills his beloved friend not for who he is, but what he could become as a King. It is for this reason that when Brutus dies by suicide in Act V, Mark Antony describes his bitter enemy by saying "This [Brutus] was the noblest Roman of them all;" (Act V, Scene V, Line 68).

Mark Antony recognizes with these words that Brutus acted from a sense of civic duty, not malice, nor greed nor envy.

In academic circles, Brutus is still a source of much heated debate; does assassinating a leader for the good of the people constitute bravery worthy of a tragic hero or can the end never justify the means? The controversy on whether Brutus is tragic hero or villain still rages...

Ironically, though it can be argued that Brutus assassinated his friend to prevent one man ruling the Roman Empire, history was later to make this a reality. Octavius, one of the Triumvirs who defeated Brutus and Cassius, was later to become a Roman Emperor ruling the entire Roman Empire alone following his victory over Cleopatra and Mark Antony.

Cassius: One of the original conspirators against Caesar. Like the other conspirators he fears what life under King Caesar's rule could mean for him and the privileges he has.

Unlike the other conspirators however, Cassius plays a leading role in Caesar's assassination. It is he who gathers those against Caesar around him and it is Cassius who carefully manipulates Brutus to their cause by appealing to Brutus' sense of civic duty which believes that Caesar as a King would be bad for the people of Rome and by Cassius' clever use of forged letters.

The great thinker of the conspiracy, his advice is continually overruled by Brutus with tragic results for the conspirators.

First, his advice to kill Mark Antony as well as Caesar is ignored leading to Mark Antony becoming their greatest enemy.

Later at Caesar's funeral, Cassius' advice that Mark Antony should not speak at the funeral is also ignored leading to Antony turning the masses against the previously popular conspirators.
Finally in Act V, Brutus ignores Cassius' advise to stay on high ground, leading to a battle in the plains of Philippi, a battle favored by Mark Antony and Octavius, their enemies. Like Brutus, he dies by suicide in Act V, when fearing Brutus dead, he commits suicide.

Casca: One of the conspirators against Caesar, he starts the actual assassination of Caesar by stabbing first from behind.

Terminus: The only conspirator who does not actually stab Caesar, he is the man responsible for saving Mark Antony's life following Caesar's assassination. He leads Mark Antony away from the Senate house following the assassination and he backs up Brutus' suggestion that Mark Antony's life be spared.

Ligarius: The reluctant assassin, Caius Ligarius at first hesitates in killing Caesar, but later enthusiastically follows the others in killing Caesar after Brutus restores his conviction.

Decius Brutus: A man who lures Caesar to his death by his deep understanding of Caesar's true vanity...

Not to be confused with Marcus Brutus, who is referred to in Julius Caesar simply as as Brutus. It is Decius Brutus who convinces Caesar to turn up to the Senate on the "ides of March" after Caesar announces that he is unwilling to attend the day's Senate because of his wife Calphurnia's dream foretelling doom. Decius Brutus turns Calphurnia's dream into a reason to attend the Senate by cleverly reinterpreting its negative imagery to instead symbolize Caesar's triumph.

Metellus Cimber: A conspirator against Caesar, it is his petition or request to Caesar for his brother's banishment to be overturned, that allows the conspirators to move close to Caesar, before they assassinate him with multiple stab wounds...

Cinna: A conspirator against Caesar, who plays a key role in enlisting Brutus to their cause. It is Cinna who suggests to Cassius that Brutus join their conspiracy. Also assists Cassius' manipulation of Brutus by placing Cassius' letters responsible for manipulating Brutus where Brutus is sure to find and read them... Indirectly responsible for Cinna, the poet's death; since it is he the mob originally wished to kill...

Flavius and Marullus: Two Tribunes introduced to us at the beginning of the play. Their conversation reveals the deep mistrust and fear many in Rome have about Caesar's growing popularity, which eventually leads to Caesar's assassination. These two men criticize Rome's citizens for praising Caesar almost without reason and are later put to death or "put to silence" for "pulling scarfs off Caesar's images," (Act I, Scene II, Line 291) during the Feast of Lupercal in Act I, Scene I (Note: Flavius the Tribune is not the same person as Flavius, a soldier whom appears in Act IV).

Artemidorus: The man who nearly saves Caesar, he presents Caesar with a letter warning warning Caesar that he will be killed (Act II, Scene III). Caesar however does not read the letter and so proceeds to his doom...

Cinna, the Poet: A humble poet, this man dies because he has the wrong name at the wrong time. After Mark Antony incites (angers) the people of Rome against Caesar's assassins, Cinna who shares the same name as one of the assassins, is killed despite his explaining his identity as a poet. The mob, eager for blood, kill him regardless and use the excuse that they never liked his poems much anyway (Act III, Scene III, Lines 1-43).

Lucilius, Titinius, Messala, Young Cato and Volumnius: Friends to Brutus and Cassius.

Varro, Clitus, Claudius, Strato, Lucius and Dardanius: Servants to Brutus.

Pindarus: A servant to Cassius, he is also the messenger bearing the wrong news... In Act V, Pindarus misreports to Cassius that Titinius, a scout sent to Brutus' forces was captured by the Triumvir's forces when he was actually welcomed by Brutus' army. On Pindarus' information, Cassius assumes that Brutus has been defeated and so thinking all is lost, decides to kill himself, using Pindarus to hold a sword out which he runs onto, the very sword, Cassius used against Caesar...

Calphurnia: The wife of Caesar, she begs her husband not to go to the Senate on "the ides of March" (March 15) when she cries out "'Help, ho! They murder Caesar!'" three times in her sleep, the day before Caesar's death. This and strange occurrences such as a lioness whelping in the streets of Rome,"Fierce fiery warriors" fighting in the clouds (Act II, Scene II, Lines 12-24) and graves yawning and yielding up their dead, convince Calphurnia that her husband Julius Caesar, must stay home on the "ides of March" (the fifteenth of March). Unfortunately just as Calpurnia convinces Caesar to stay home and avoid the death that awaits him, Decius Brutus (not to be confused with Brutus), arrives at Caesar's home convincing him that these images mean that Rome will be revived by Caesar's presence at the Senate the following day. Caesar ignores his wife's pleas and meets his bloody destiny at the hands of Brutus and company the very next day.

Portia: The wife of Marcus Brutus, she tries to learn from Brutus the assassination conspiracy he is hiding from her. She is later assumed to have committed suicide at the end of the play when her death is reported as being under strange circumstances...

Senators, Citizens, Guards, Attendants and others...