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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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THEME ANALYSIS

Major Theme

The major theme of the play is the corruptive influence of power. From the very beginning of the plot to the very end, everything is driven by a desire for increased power. Julius Caesar returns from his military victory over Pompey with a desire to be crowned the ruler of Rome and the entire Empire. As soon as he knows that the populace supports him, he begins to rule in a tyrannical and dictatorial way. Because the Senators do not want to lose their own power, several of them, led by Cassius, plot to destroy Caesar. Brutus is manipulated into joining the conspiracy, for he fears his friend will become a ruthless dictator; he openly states his belief that power corrupts all leaders.

After Caesar's assassination, Octavius and Antony seek their own power structure and Cassius, leading the conspirators, plots for his own victory. The two forces, in their search for ultimate power, are destined to clash. In the end, Cassius and Brutus are defeated in the power struggle, and Octavius and Antony emerge victorious. The power struggle, however, is not over, for Octavius will defeat Antony and become the ultimate Emperor of Rome. Shakespeare, in the play, has clearly depicted the corruptive influence of the search for power.

Minor Themes

One of the minor themes of the play is the quickness of one's fall from greatness. The name "Caesar" had always been associated with an all-powerful, ever-victorious, and absolute monarch. At the first of the play, Caesar appears as a man accustomed to great power and authority that takes the unquestioning obedience of his commands for granted. His attitude leads to great fear among the nobility of Rome that he might become a ruthless dictator if he is crowned the king. Cassius, the originator of the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar, denounces him as a tyrant, a man who acts "like a colossus' while lesser beings "walk under his huge legs and peep about/to find dishonorable graves." Caesar does little to allay these fears, since his own pride and arrogance makes him bear himself as invincible, unquestionable, and all-powerful. As a result, his demise is quickly plotted and his assassination occurs within a matter of days after his triumphant return from victory.


Another theme is the importance of balance. Brutus' tragedy stems from his totally idealistic belief that all men are guided by noble thoughts and also from his supposition that the ideal should be more important than reality. He fails to realize that men actively seek out their own interests since he himself is guided by altruistic motives. He is guided in all his actions by the desire to do right and suffers intensely when he realizes that he has, in fact, done wrong. Because of his naïve assumption, he is easily misled and manipulated into murder that he thinks is justified. It is through his character that Shakespeare explores the theme of the virtuous murderer. He, like Caesar, constructs a faulty self-image and falls prey to it. He sees himself as the only protector of Roman republicanism and is unable to step outside this self-image. He is torn apart by the conflicting claims of love for Caesar and love for Rome. He ultimately aligns himself with the conspirators because he values his public duty to Rome more than his personal friendship with Caesar. Had Brutus been more balanced in his approach or had Caesar been more balanced in his self-image, the outcome of the play could have been very different.

Closely related to the earlier themes is the importance of order in the universe. There was a widespread belief in the Elizabeth Age that political order was a reflection of cosmic order. In the Elizabethan world picture, the state was seen as a middle link between the cosmic universe and the individual man. For Elizabethans, all three levels of creation needed to work in close harmony with each other and any violation of order or degree in one level made its impact felt in all the levels of existence. Caesar himself compares his constancy to the fixity of the North Star, which provides a point of order in the firmament. Caesar's death results in chaos, destruction, death, and "domestic fury and fierce civil strife" which lets loose the "dogs of war." Throughout the play, the levels are clearly out of order, and the conflict is really about the reordering or Rome so that life can positively continue.

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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Summary
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