In the play ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, the Emperor of Rome, is murdered during the third Act. It has been suggested that power and the quest for power are the reasons behind his murder. Power is defined as a position of authority or control with the ability to do or act upon you will. The issue to be investigated is whether Brutus, Octavius and Antony became so corrupted in their quest for power that they killed Julius Caesar, so as to gain his power. It has also been suggested that ‘power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. However, this is not the only way power affects people. For instance, power could make an individual nobler or more successful, or enable them to help those under their rule. The following shall outline what Brutus, Octavius and Antony do in the play, and explain how power affects these characters.
Brutus, probably the most significant character in the play, is the leader of the group who plans to kill Caesar, although Cassius is the initiator of the plot. Brutus loves Caesar, as Caesar does him, and ironically this is why he kills Caesar – he does not want to see him corrupted by the absolute power he (Caesar) would have if he were king. He gives Caesar the final stab which kills him. He then leads his and Cassius’ army against Antony and Octavius’ and finally kills himself to avenge Caesar’s death.
Caesar was getting so popular with the people that they wanted to crown him king, which would mean he would have absolute power. Brutus knew this, and so he convinced himself that he needed to kill Caesar for once Caesar was king, the absolute power would corrupt him and he would become a tyrant, doing whatever he pleased.
“But for the general. He would be crown’d:
How that might change his nature, there’s the question:
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that;
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,
That at his will he may do danger with.
Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power…
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 2, Scene I, lines 12–19; 32–34)
So Brutus killed Caesar not for personal gain, but for the perceived good of Caesar and of Rome. From this we can see that Brutus was on one level a very noble man. Power or the search for power is not the motivation for his actions here.
However, power or the fight for power does destroy his and Cassius relationship. At the beginning of the play they were very close and scheming together very well, but once Caesar was dead and they were seeking equal power over the same army, they started arguing and got angry with each other, to the point that Cassius wanted to die.
Cassius (to Brutus)
I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart:
Strike, as thou didst at Caesar; for, I know,
When thou didst hate him worst, thou lovedst him better
Than ever thou lovedst Cassius. (Act 4, Scene III, Lines 103–106)
It is also power which destroys Brutus in the end. Before Caesar’s death he was relatively happy in his position, but once the power was up for grabs, he unwillingly became involved in the struggle for it. If he did not (become involved) he would be killed by Antony and Octavius anyway. But when his army started losing the battle, to the point where he had to flee, Brutus realised that the only way out for him was to kill himself, which also avenged Caesar’s death. So effectively, it was the search for power which destroyed him, although it was not his motivation for joining in the battle.
Octavius appears after Caesar is killed and along with Antony proclaims himself ruler of Rome. He collaborates with Antony in their quest to kill people who might get in the way of them keeping power, and to help him win the battle. He does this so that he can gain power for himself and keep it, not for anyone...
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