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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 178-214

Caesar returns and describes Cassius as a dangerous man with "a lean and hungry look." This is such a delicious description that we're tempted to take it as the final word on Cassius. But Cassius has other, more admirable traits, which will become more evident after the assassination.

When Caesar speaks about Cassius (lines 198-214), notice the funny, almost pathetic way he switches roles from a private individual to a public figure:

The private Caesar is suspicious and fearful of Cassius. "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look," he says.

The public Caesar, of course, has to be above such human emotions as fear, and therefore announces for all the world to hear: "But I fear him not."

"Yet," says the private Caesar, "if my name were liable to fear, / I do not know the man I should avoid / So soon as that spare Cassius."



It is unthinkable for the great Caesar to be afraid, and so he puts his political mask back on and assures his audience: "I rather tell thee what is to be feared / Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar."

If only he could be this legendary figure! But once again the mask slips, revealing an ordinary human being who is physically handicapped ("Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf") and in need of reassurance ("And tell me truly what thou think'st of him.). Is Caesar aware of the difference between the man and the mask? Does he deliberately fool his public to gain power (as any clever politician would do), or does he fool himself, too? There are no easy answers to these questions, but you will need to consider them before you can decide on Caesar's right to rule.

Antony tries to allay Caesar's fears about Cassius, and says:

Fear him not, Caesar, he's not dangerous;

Act I, Scene ii, line 196

Could he be more wrong?

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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