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Literary Devices in Julius Caesar

Literary Devices Examples in Julius Caesar:

Act I - Scene II

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"Men at some time are masters of their fates:(145) The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings...."   (Act I - Scene II)

Cassius uses this logic to draw Brutus into his plan to kill Caesar. Cassius first inflates the magnitude of Caesar's power and threat to the Republic by comparing Caesar a "Colossus" that over shadows all of the other leading Roman citizens. By "stars," Cassius means the destiny laid out by heavenly powers for each man. He displaces the importance of this heavenly power's influence and claims that it is up to men to control their own fate. Cassius uses this logic to contradict Brutus's belief that fate will right the situation and check Caesar's power. Instead, he uses this logic to convince Brutus that they must take immediate action to fight against Caesar's power. This makes Cassius the primary assailant in the plot against Caesar though Brutus comes to be remembered as the ring leader.

"Think you I am no stronger than my sex, Being so father'd and so husbanded?..."   (Act II - Scene I)

Portia uses this speech to convince Brutus to confide his secrets in her. She reminds him that she is Cato's daughter, a famous Roman statesman who killed himself in battle rather than surrender to Caesar, and his wife. She goes on to wound her thigh to show that she can withstand pain, and will therefore never give his secrets away. This speech and her actions convince Brutus that she is trustworthy, even though he is called away before he can tell her his plans.

"And therefore think him as a serpent's egg Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous, And kill him in the shell...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Brutus uses imagery to rationalize his choice to join the assassination attempt on Caesar's life. He compares Caesar to a serpent within an egg that is not dangerous before it hatches but becomes deadly once it has hatched. Like the infant serpent, Caesar has not yet proven to be dangerous. This rationale is flawed because it makes claims based on assumptions; Brutus cannot be certain that Caesar will become as threatening as he fears.

"When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Calpurnia believes that the comets that were reported from the night before portend the death of a royal. This coupled with her nightmares about Caesar dying, warnings from the priests, and a number of other strange rumors, Calpurnia uses these lines to beg her husband not to leave.

"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.

"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.

"This was the most unkindest cut of all; For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Unkind" in Shakespeare's time meant unnatural, ungrateful, and degenerate. Antony uses these words to blame Caesar's death on Brutus's character: in essence, it was not the stab wound that killed Caesar, but Brutus's betrayal. Antony's memorial for Caesar quickly becomes a character assassination of Brutus.

"Ambition should be made of sterner stuff...."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Stern" means harsh or severe. In painting Caesar as a weak man who lacked stern ambition, Antony makes the ambition of the assassins cold, stern, and self-interested. Unlike Brutus who uses rhetorical questions to guide his audience onto his way of thinking, Antony makes declarative statements. Caesar wept for the poor. Ambition should be stern. This leaves little up to interpretation for the audience and makes Antony's speech stronger.

"Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. ..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Brutus uses rhetorical questions and antithesis to make his case to the mob why he and the other conspirators murdered Caesar. In this way, Brutus is able to emphasize both his love of country and his love of Caesar while deemphasizing the murder.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Antony beings his speech, one of the most famous speeches in Shakespearian drama, by parodying Brutus's speech. Brutus says "Romans, countrymen, and lovers, hear me for my cause, and be silent." Antony improves the internal rhythm of the line and invokes an intimacy and shared nationality that Brutus's lines lack. In calling his audience "friends" first, Antony establishes a connection that Brutus's formulaic address lacks. Antony also uses mock humility with his "lend me your ears" as opposed to the arrogant command "be silent" that Brutus uses to command attention. Antony's rhetorical appeal allows him to manipulate the crowd and make them believe his position; Brutus lectured the crowd to get them on his side. For this reason, the crowd supports Antony's claim and turns on Brutus.

"There is a tide in the affairs of men Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;(245) Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries...."   (Act IV - Scene III)

Brutus uses this metaphor to convince Cassius to attack Octavian before their enemy can recruit more forces. He uses the tide to show a natural ebb and flow in war and highlight the importance of timing. If they "take at the flood," or go with the tide, they will more likely be fortunate. If they wait then they will miss the fortunate tide and be left in the "shallows," or miss their opportunity.

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