Character Analysis in Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar: At the play’s start, Julius Caesar is the sole ruler of the Roman Republic, having recently defeated Pompey. His ascent to the throne—and the political unrest surrounding it—drives the plot and produces the play’s central tensions. Alhough the play is named after Caesar, he is not the protagonist and speaks far less often than he is spoken about. Caesar is a polarizing figure: revered or despised. In his appearances, Caesar often speaks of himself in the third person—“No, Caesar shall not”—a testament to his sense of personal grandiosity. Yet his pomp is tempered by his devotion to his wife, Calpurnia, and his genuine desire to serve Rome.

Brutus: A politician and military commander, Brutus is the play’s protagonist and moral center. In Shakespeare’s hands, Brutus, the leader of Caesar’s assassins, becomes a complicated figure. On the one hand, Brutus respects and admires Caesar. On the other, Brutus understands that his primary allegiance lies with Rome and its people. He views Caesar’s increasingly dictatorial behaviour as a problem. Despite his role in Caesar’s murder, Brutus is always motivated by a deep sense of responsibility.

Cassius: Cassius is a Roman politician who feverishly opposes Caesar. Cassius identifies Caesar’s rise to power as a problem and gathers the band of assassins. While Brutus fluctuates in his loyalties, Cassius continually pushes him deeper into the conspiracy. Cassius is sharp and perceptive, adept at reading the motivations of those around him. He is touchy and proud, but ultimately loyal to his friends and his cause.

Mark Antony: Mark Antony is a young soldier and politician, as well as an ally and protégé to Julius Caesar. In the first two acts, Antony makes only brief appearances. Upon Caesar’s death, Antony steps in to fill the void. Standing over Caesar’s body, Antony transforms from a spirited young man into brilliant, mercurial statesman. Turning the Roman populace against the assassins, he delivers one of the signature speeches of the Shakesp

Character Analysis Examples in Julius Caesar:

Act I - Scene I 1

"Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home? What tributaries follow him to Rome,(35) To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Marullus’s opinions about Caesar clue us into the play’s intense interest in political rhetoric. Indeed, Julius Caesar is more a character spoken about than a character who speaks. Caesar’s standing as a ruler, first introduced in this moment, remains a central topic of debate throughout the play. Class distinction is a key element here. In this scene, we see Marullus the tribune swaying the common cobbler. The play contains many more instances of politicians convincing the public of their views.

"Ye gods! It doth amaze me A man of such a feeble temper should(135) So get the start of the majestic world And bear the palm alone...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Part of the case Cassius lays before Brutus in convincing him of Caesar’s unworthiness is a devaluation of Caesar’s status from God to man. Cassius is unconvinced that Caesar’s leadership is “in the stars,” or destined. Cassius spins an account of Caesar as a flesh-and-blood man, rendering him no more worthy to rule than any other mortal. This moment ties into the play’s ongoing debate over whether Rome’s political fate is in the hands of gods or men.

"I have heard Where many of the best respect in Rome, Except immortal Caesar, speaking of Brutus,(65) And groaning underneath this age's yoke, Have wish'd that noble Brutus had his eyes...."   (Act I - Scene II)

This is a pivotal exchange between Brutus and Cassius. Cassius understands that Brutus, though a close friend of Caesar, has concerns about the King’s leadership. Cassius tries to compel Brutus to ”have his eyes”: to see himself as Cassius and his fellow conspirators do. Cassius views Brutus as a potentially powerful leader, and a worthy addition to the conspiracy. We will see echoes of this dynamic throughout the rest of the play. Brutus has real doubts about deposing Caesar;. Cassius does not, and ceaselessly pulls Brutus into the conspiracy.

"I, as Aeneas our great ancestor Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber..."   (Act I - Scene II)

Cassius makes reference here to Virgil’s Aeneid. He portrays himself as Aeneas, the Trojan hero, and Caesar as Anchises, the crippled father. This comparison tells us two things. First, Cassius thinks of himself as superior to Caesar and thus deserving of political leadership. Second, by alluding to one of Rome’s founding fathers, Cassius foreshadows his intentions to overthrow Caesar and rebuild Rome anew.

"Beware the ides of March...."   (Act I - Scene II)

The "ides of March" is March 15th. Each month has an "ides," or middle of the month, but the ides of March became famous because it is the day in which Caesar was assassinated. This bit of foreshadowing has become one of the most famous lines in this play. Caesar hears two warnings from this soothsayer, someone who can see and predict the future, and a warning from a dream his wife has that something bad will happen to him on March 15th. However, Caesar ignores these warnings and ventures out unprotected on this day anyway. This shows that Caesar believes in his own power: he thinks that his is impervious to prediction, danger, and the will of the gods.

"Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;(200) He thinks too much; such men are dangerous...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Caesar uses this metaphor to compare one's physical appearance to their internal ambitions. He states that "fat men" are content with their lives and therefore not a threat to his rule, while skinny men are "lean and hungry" not only for food but for power. Caesar rightly sees that Cassius threatens his rule and his life. This shows that Caesar is a very perceptive and capable ruler, which works to undermine the conspirator's accusations that he threatens the Roman Republic.

"And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?(110) Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf But that he sees the Romans are but sheep...."   (Act I - Scene III)

Cassius’s understanding of the world centers around a belief in free will and agency. He seeks to assign responsibility to himself and his fellow Romans for the current state of political affairs. Not content to buy into a narrative that renders Caesar’s rise inevitable, he blames the citizens of Rome for allowing it to happen. Cassius in turn takes on the responsibility to shape events to come.

"And for Mark Antony, think not of him, For he can do no more than Caesar's arm When Caesar's head is off...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Brutus’s estimation of Antony’s power proves to be pivotal in the ensuing acts. Brutus fails to see Antony as a potential catalyst. Indeed, thus far the audience has had little reason to doubt this opinion. Shakespeare limits Antony’s appearances in the first two acts, making it tempting to believe Brutus’s opinion that Antony is no more than Caesar’s puppet.

"That every like is not the same, O Caesar,(135) The heart of Brutus yearns to think upon!..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Brutus latches onto Caesar’s use of the word “like,” lamenting that their relationship has become like a friendship. Even after having aligned himself with the conspirators, Brutus continues to feel some level of doubt, guilt and sorrow.

"How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia! I am ashamed I did yield to them...."   (Act II - Scene II)

A major source of irony in this scene lies in Caesar’s insistence on making decisions of his own will. He wants to decide for himself whether to go to the senate-house. Yet his decision is swayed in one direction upon Calpurnia’s insistence, and then the opposite way by Decius’s words. By the scene’s end, it can be argued that Caesar has no agency.

"No, Caesar shall not. Danger knows full well That Caesar is more dangerous than he...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Caesar’s attitudes towards the readings of the augurs, which dictate that he should not go to the senate house, speak to his unique approach to fate. He requests to know his destiny, and then ignores it, countering with supreme confidence. Note, too, how Caesar refers to himself in the third-person, assuming an elevated tone.

"Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Caesar uses this figurative language to tell Calpurnia that he will not hide from the ides of March even though her dream, the sacrificial lamb, and the soothsayer have warned him against this day. It is unclear whether this is an act of pride or an act of devotion to the gods. Caesar claims that if his death is the will of the gods that he must go as he cannot defy them. However, these lines could also be read as him brushing off these predictions and not believing that he can be killed. In both understandings of these lines Caesar appears to be a courageous man. Unlike the cowards he mentions, he refuses to metaphorically die from his fear and instead face whatever tragedy might befall him. Whether or not this bravery is caused by pride or faith, Caesar is still undoubtedly brave.

"Ay me, how weak a thing The heart of woman is!..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

One wonders where some of the attitudes towards women expressed in the play come from. Not only are there just two female characters in the play, Portia and Calpurnia seem to have accepted their lower social standing as women. In this case, Portia believes her sex has left her with character flaws.

"But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament...."   (Act III - Scene I)

Caeser callously rejects the conspirator's plea to repeal the banishment on Publius Cimber. Caesar's lines demonstrate an inflated sense of self-importance. He compares himself to the brightest star in the sky and to an Olympian god. Caesar clearly demonstrates some of the traits that Brutus and his conspirators have mentioned as reason for killing him. However, the audience should question whether or not this inflated speech is grounds for the horrific murder that follows. Caesar claims he has the right to maintain his banishment on Cimber because weakening this punishment would weaken the empire. Ironically, the conspirators see self-interest in Caesar's actions when these actions could be interpreted as symbolic of Rome's power.

"Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is one of the most famous lines in literature and has come to signify the absolute and ultimate betrayal by one's closest friend. "Et tu, Brute" is Latin for "Even you, Brutus?" Notice that this is one of the only lines within this play spoken in Latin, the native tongue of the Roman Empire. It is rumored that these were Caesar's actual last words, but there is no historical record to support this claim. While this line could demonstrate confusion or bewilderment at the betrayal, Shakespeare adds the final three words "Then fall, Caesar" to make the character die as a hero. He is not confused, but rather accepts his death valiantly, essentially stating that if he has lost the support and devotion of Brutus then he is no longer Caesar. While the conspirators have insisted that Caesar overstepped his bounds and threatened the Roman Republic, this valiant death suggests that he actually did understand his role as a public servant.

"disposing of new dignities...."   (Act III - Scene I)

That is, "handing out political offices."

This line reveals how Cassius is already thinking about money and other perks that can be obtained by the "disposing of new dignities." That he thinks this here also reveals that he's been considering these advantages likely since he first began plotting against Caesar.

"I am no orator, as Brutus is; But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Once again, a stunning oratorical move by Antony. By depicting himself as plainspoken, he is concealing the subtle trickery woven throughout his speech. Antony knew precisely how to turn the crowd’s favor to his side. But, having done so, he pretends to be blind to his own charisma, which makes him all the more popular.

"There is tears for his love, joy for his fortune, honor for his valor, and death for his ambition. Who is here so base that would be a bondman?..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Brutus’s case for his murder of Caesar hinges on two arguments. First, Caesar was ambitious, and ambition is punishable by death. Second, that Caesar was tyrannical, putting the Roman people in the position of bondmen (slaves). Note that Brutus offers no evidence to support these claims. Mark Antony’s ensuing speech is remarkable in the way that he uses evidence to dismantle Brutus’s position here.

"He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold, To groan and sweat under the business, Either led or driven, as we point the way;..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

It is fascinating to see new aspects of Antony’s character revealed in this scene. He uses his silver tongue to degrade Lepidus in a darkly comic manner. In the first two acts, Antony was Caesar’s obedient protegé. In the third act, he revealed himself to be a bold leader and a talented, if two-faced, orator. And now we see a side of him that is perhaps disloyal and even deceitful.

"Is it fit, The three-fold world divided, he should stand(15) One of the three to share it?..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

Here Antony can be said to be guilty of the primary crime of which Caesar was accused: ambition. Antony, sensing how close he is to the throne, does not wish to share it with Lepidus, whom he perceives to be a lesser man.

"Thou hast described(20) A hot friend cooling...."   (Act IV - Scene II)

In these lines, Brutus calls Cassius’s character into question. Where Cassius had once posed as the ringleader of the assassination, Brutus detects his co-conspirator’s confidence and commitment to the cause shrinking in the aftermath of the violence. It is likely that Brutus is projecting his own “cooling” commitment onto Cassius.

"Hath given me some worthy cause to wish Things done undone;..."   (Act IV - Scene II)

Now in retreat from the Roman public, Brutus appears to express some regret over “things done”—the murder of Caesar. Although Brutus has risen to the position of leader in the assassination, his words here suggest a return to his initial position of doubt about the overthrow.

"Speak no more of her. Give me a bowl of wine. In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Brutus’s reaction to Portia’s death is difficult to read. The news of her death surfaces amidst the much more extensive interpersonal dispute between Cassius and Brutus. At each subsequent mention of Portia’s death, notice how Brutus swiftly changes the subject. Either Brutus’s grief is shallow or he copes with his grief by denying it.

"I'll use you for my mirth, yea, for my laughter, When you are waspish...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

“Waspish” means wasp-like, irritable, easily offended, choleric. In this passage Brutus displays a delight in provoking and teasing Cassius, which is surprising given Brutus’s serious nature.

"Must I give way and room to your rash choler? Shall I be frighted when a madman stares?..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Brutus cites the ancient system of medicine in which the human body was understood to be organized by four balancing “humors”: melancholia, cholera, phlegma, and sanguis. Each humor was associated with an element, a bodily fluid, and a temperament. By accusing Cassius of being choleric, Brutus is calling the man irritable and cranky.

"Must I give way and room to your rash choler? Shall I be frighted when a madman stares?..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Brutus cites the ancient system of medicine in which the human body was understood to be organized by four balancing “humors”: melancholia, cholera, phlegma, and sanguis. Each humor was associated with an element, a bodily fluid, and a temperament. By accusing Cassius of being choleric, Brutus is calling the man irritable and cranky.

"I am...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

The irony in this exchange is in the infantile nature of the back and forth between Brutus and Cassius. Their dispute is over which man is older and more able, and yet they argue the point much in the way a pair of schoolboys would.

"Let me tell you, Cassius, you yourself Are much condemn'd to have an itching palm,..."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Brutus accuses Cassius of having an "itching palm," an insatiable, greedy desire for money and power. Brutus accuses Cassius of being too compulsive; he does not think, he simply strives to generate money by any means necessary. While these two conspirators are on the brink of battle with Antony and Octavius, their relationship begins to unravel. Brutus's insult shows that he has begun to mistrust Cassius.

"If we do meet again, we'll smile indeed;(130) If not, 'tis true this parting was well made...."   (Act V - Scene I)

Despite the tensions in the friendship of Brutus and Cassius, these characters part on touching terms. The audience gets the sense that this will indeed be their final encounter.

"In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words...."   (Act V - Scene I)

This is an elegant chiasmus—reversal of words—by Antony. He turns Brutus’s own phrase around, calling to mind the “bad strokes” Brutus dealt to Caesar. Antony does not trust Brutus’s stated desire to talk rather than fight.

"Friends, I owe more tears To this dead man than you shall see me pay. I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time...."   (Act V - Scene III)

Brutus remains the stoic. As with the news of Portia’s death, he refers to his grief but does not show it. The metaphor of “ow[ing]” tears underscores Brutus’s reluctant relationship with mourning.

"Within my tent his bones tonight shall lie, Most like a soldier, order'd honorably...."   (Act V - Scene V)

By ending the play with the discussion of Brutus’s character and legacy, Shakespeare asks us once again: Who is the play’s protagonist? Despite the play’s title, Julius Caesar is not as prominent or vocal a presence as Brutus or Cassius. These final moments, in which Antony, working himself into a rapture, proclaims that “Nature might stand up/And say to all the world, ‘’This was a man!” indicates that Brutus stands at the play’s heart. Brutus’s honor is important, and so is the honor bestowed upon him in his elegy.

"Caesar, now be still; I kill'd not thee with half so good a will...."   (Act V - Scene V)

Brutus’s suicide is striking for several reasons. In Act V, Scene III, Brutus seems to deride Cicero’s choice to commit suicide, and he decides to instead face his fate. Clearly, his fate is imminent and deadly enough to warrant a re-appraisal. Like Cassius, Brutus utters a couplet directed at Caesar before dying. Perhaps hoping to absolve himself of his crimes, Brutus admits to the half-hearted nature of his participation in Caesar’s assassination. Perhaps Brutus recalls the remarks of Caesar’s ghost—that Caesar and Brutus would meet again at Philippi—and thus addresses this couplet to Caesar.

"Now is that noble vessel full of grief,(15) That it runs over even at his eyes...."   (Act V - Scene V)

This is a beautiful image of Brutus as a bowl or chalice, brimming with tears. This marks the first instance of Brutus demonstrating his sorrow so outwardly.