"Julius Caesar" by Shakespeare - An Analysis of the Themes of Power, Manipulation, and Ambition

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Analytical Essay

Julius Caesar

Power is a theme that has dominated mankind since history was recorded. The assassination of Julius Caesar, ruler of the greatest empire the world has ever known, was a result of such a struggle for power. The foundations of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar' are power relationships which dominate the liaisons between characters of opposing sex, classes, and ambitions. Even in the historical context, Rome in 44 BC, the height of the Roman Republic, predisposes the play to a complex tangle of power conflicts. As the power of prominent characters builds tension, ambitions develops, and thus manipulation arises. Struggles of authority and dominance are evident between the characters in 'Julius Caesar', through Shakespeare's adept manoeuvring of the language of power, ambition, and manipulation.

The historical circumstances of Rome predispose the play to struggles for power. In 44 BC, Rome had endured 100 years of civil war between the patrician families and generals at the head of the armed forces, a dispute which foreshadows the antagonism that would emerge between the two groups in Shakespeare's play. Pompey, Caesar's rival to the throne, has just been vanquished in a bloody war, and the patrician families now resent Caesar, the 'first man in Rome', for his new-found supremacy. It is from these tense conditions that the characters are virtually set-up to develop contests for power in various relationships, whether it is with the masses, with their wives, or with each other.

Throughout the entire play, power is a theme of focal importance, and it is revealed as prominent from the start. In the first line of the first scene, power becomes central to the relationship between characters, with Flavius ordering the crowd to flee to their homes, insulting them as 'idle creatures'. The use of insulting and imperative sentences by the tribunes establishes the power relationship between the tribunes and cobblers. In the third line, Flavius makes the first allusion to class, asserting that 'being mechanical', the cobblers have no right to be dressed as they are, without the mark of their caste. The carpenter addresses Flavius using polite formulas, such as 'Sir', and 'you', whereas, Flavius and Marullus address the cobblers with insults and the familiar pronoun, 'thou'. The play begins at once with imperative and interrogative sentences, insults, and a clear divergence in the language employed by the two opposed social groups, thus demonstrating the dominance of the theme of power through social standing straight away.

Shakespeare's focus on power evolves around the central figure of the play, Julius Caesar, who is the prominent example of extreme power among the characters. Even in his absence or death, the manner in which characters address Caesar, describe him, and act in his presence, reveals the authority and influence he has over people's lives. From the first scene, Caesar is presented as victorious, having vanquished his rival, Pompey, and as an extremely popular figure among the people, with the commoners even defying authorities to celebrate his victory. As the play continues into scene ii, Caesar appears before the crowds as a modern-day pop-star, surrounded by a trail of subservient entourage. Casca and Antony display complete submission to Caesar, with the latter declaring that 'when Caesar says Do this! It is done' . In Caesar's absence, fellow patricians, Brutus and Cassius, describe him as 'mighty Caesar', a man who 'has now become a God', and strides in the world 'as a Colossus' . It is therefore evident that his close subordinates are jealously affected by his power, an effect which will later germinate into conspiracy. Even after his assassination, Caesar's ghost continues the task of perpetuating the fear of his everlasting power on those he influenced. Caesar holds enough power over his subjects that he is capable of influencing them continually, in his life and death.

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