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Misperception in Julius Caesar

By mtang16 Sep 07, 2013 960 Words
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cicero states “Men may construe things after their fashion,” (Act I Scene iii, Page 37, Lines 34–35) Often, misperception and misreading can drastically affect the outcome of people in their lives. Misperception and misreading not only affects the characters in Julius Caesar, it also affects everybody’s decisions in their day-to-day lives. In much of Shakespeare’s tragedy, the reader witnesses the idea of misperception and misreading of omens and events as they occur throughout the book. It is by his own misperception that Brutus is manipulated, and it is because of Decius Brutus’s misreading of Calpurnia’s dream that Caesar is killed later that day. Also, it is due to misperceptions the citizens of Rome are so easily swayed by Antony’s speech in the marketplace and Cassius commits suicide. Misperceptions and misreadings both shape and carry the plot throughout the book and are the main theme in it.

Misperception and misreading in Julius Caesar is used in major events in the plot. One of the most important events dealing with misperception is in the beginning of the book when Cassius and Cinna set a letter on the window of Brutus’s house. Brutus misperceives the letter and assumes an anonymous citizen of Rome wrote it. This letter convinces Brutus that Caesar’s “ambition” will destroy the Roman Republic, and consequently he joins the conspiracy to kill Caesar (Act III Scene ii, Page 117, Line 30). His reasoning that he is doing his country good, because “he loves Rome more” is completely false and based off the misperception that the people believed that Caesar “was a tyrant,”(Act III Scene ii, Page 117, Line 23 and Act III Scene ii, Page 121, Line 76). This misperception that the people of Rome wanted “Caesar [to] fall,” is an important part of the plot because if Brutus were to not turn his back on his best friend for the sake of Rome, it is likely that the conspiracy would have not happened and Caesar would of lived (Act III Scene ii, Page 117, Line 38). In this way, misperception has the strongest influence on the plot. In fact, without it, the plot line of the entire tragedy of Julius Caesar would of not taken place.

Another example of how the theme, misperception and misreading, shaped the plot is when Decius Brutus misreads Calpurnia’s dream in order to deceive Caesar. Originally, Caesar planned on staying home on the ides of March because Calpurnia had a “horrid” dream that she believes was a “frighten[ing]” “omen” (Act II Scene ii, Page 75, Lines 12-15). Decius Brutus deceived Caesar by stating, “the dream was all [mis]interpreted” (Act II Scene ii, Page 81, Line 88). He then manipulated Caesar by claiming that the dream was “fair and fortunate” and reminded Caesar that he is a “great man” (Act II Scene ii, Page 81, Line 90-93). The purposeful misreading of the omen in Calpurnia’s dream is an essential part of the plot line; because it assures that the conspiracy to kill Caesar will in fact take place. The idea of misreading in order to satisfy a personal motive is universal and without the misreading, Caesar would have again, avoided death.

Misperception and misreading is not solely a theme seen in the main characters of Julius Caesar. In addition, the theme also impacts the common citizens of Rome. After Caesar’s assassination, plebeians gather around to hear word from the Senate as to why Caesar was killed. The plebeians hear two speeches: first from Brutus, then from Marc Antony. Brutus states in his speech that Caesar was “ambitious,” and that the conspirators were keeping Rome “free,” by getting “rid of him,” (Act III Scene ii, Page 117, Line 23 and Act III Scene ii, Page 121, Line 70) However, Antony later manipulates the crowd and has them misperceive Caesar as non- “ambitious” and instead, extremely “generous” and “giving,” (Act III Scene ii, Page 121, Line 183 and Act III Scene ii, Page 131, Line 259). This misperception infuriates the crowd and effectively wages the war against those who were against Caesar.

Lastly, and perhaps the most important instance of misperception and misreading is the circumstances of Cassius’s suicide. Cassius, towards the end of the book, calls upon his slave Pindarus to view the battle between his troops and Marc Antony and Octavius’s troops from above the hill they were resting at. Watching what is occurring, Pindarus misreads the situation and draws a false conclusion that Titinius, Cassius’s closest friend, had been captured. This conclusion was false. In actuality, Titinius had rejoined with friendly forces. This misreading of the events transpiring is what motivates Cassius to commit suicide. This moment of the tragic story is crucial because it marks the end of the war, because Cassius was the main commanding officer along with Brutus. This form of misperception and misreading displays how assumptions can force one to make rash decisions.

It is exhibited how radically a plot line can change due to misperception and misreading in a story such as Julius Caesar, just like how it can affect our lives. Due to the major impact this theme has on the plot, I believe that misperception and misreading is the most important theme of the story. Though it might be argued that friendship, loyalty, or fate versus free will is the main theme of Julius Caesar, no theme affects the plot as much as misperception and misreading does. The idea of misperception and misreading causes both manipulation and rash decisions, which makes Julius Caesar so interesting and heartbreaking. It is a theme that everyone can connect to on all levels. This theme of the tragedy is important in understanding Shakespeare’s work, and also understanding life.

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