Does Shakespeare depict Julius Caesar as a tyrant who deserved to be deposed because of his unconstitutional usurpation of power?
William Shakespeare’s well-renowned play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, has led to centuries of controversial debate on the validity of tyrannicide based on his depiction of Julius Caesar. Some scholars have argued that Shakespeare intended to portray Caesar as a tyrant, while others believe he is acting as a just King. On one hand, it is difficult to assume that Shakespeare plainly viewed Caesar as a tyrant, especially since Shakespeare deliberately left Caesar’s actions and intentions ambiguous, making him into a less obvious tyrannical figure compared to Plutarch’s representation of Caesar. In addition, Shakespeare does not solidify Caesar as a tyrant in the same way he does with Macbeth and Richard III in their respective plays. On the other hand, it is difficult to reason that Caesar is a just King because he came into power by usurpation. “In antiquity the term [“tyrant”] referred to a ruler who came to power by usurpation, without constitutional warrant.”1 Based on insight from several sources and my own interpretation of Julius Caesar, I have concluded that Shakespeare left Caesar’s objectives unknown in order to focus on the moral dilemma faced by Brutus, but Shakespeare still intended to depict Caesar as a tyrant who deserved to be deposed because of his unconstitutional usurpation of power. In order to prove this I will evaluate the political turmoil during the Elizabethan era in an attempt to understand Shakespeare’s perspective on the concept of tyranny and tyrannicide, which is influential to his work, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. In doing so, I will compare the ruling styles of Queen Elizabeth I, who was considered a tyrant queen during her time, and the ruling styles of Julius Caesar in order to characterize Caesar as a tyrannical leader. Furthermore, I will briefly compare Shakespeare’s Caesar to Plutarch’s...
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