Julius Caesar

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Julius Caesar Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's father was a glove-maker, and Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, but left his family behind around 1590 and moved to London, where he became an actor and playwright. He was an immediate success: Shakespeare soon became the most popular playwright of the day as well as a part-owner of the Globe Theater. His theater troupe was adopted by King James as the King's Men in 1603. Shakespeare retired as a rich and prominent man to Stratford-upon-Avon in 1613, and died three years later.
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Historical Context of Julius Caesar
Because of strict government censorship, writers in Shakespeare's time who wished to comment on contemporary politics had to do so indirectly, which they often did by focusing on historical situations that seemed similar to current events. In 1599, Queen Elizabeth was getting old and had produced no heirs, and there was concern that political strife—even civil war—might follow her death. It is likely that Shakespeare intended Julius Caesar as a warning to ambitious British nobles who might try to seize power after Elizabeth died.
Other Books Related to Julius Caesar
The assassination of Julius Caesar and the ensuing power struggles are among the best-documented events ever dramatized by Shakespeare, meticulously chronicled by Roman historians and a favorite subject of poets for centuries thereafter. Shakespeare's chief source was Thomas North's translation of Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, by the famous historian Plutarch.
Key Facts about Julius Caesar
  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  • When Written: 1599
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: The Renaissance (1500 - 1660)
  • Genre: Tragic drama
  • Setting: Rome and environs, 44 BCE
  • Climax: Brutus's suicide
Extra Credit for Julius Caesar

A global first? Many scholars believe Julius Caesar was the first play acted in Shakespeare's Globe theater, which opened in 1599. The play was written around that time, and Shakespeare may have seen Rome's far-reaching conquests, and the influence of Caesar's death on history, as symbolically related to the playhouse's name.

Playing with time. As in many of his plays, Shakespeare manipulates time in Julius Caesar, both for dramatic convenience and to make the setting less foreign to his audience. Historically, the time between Caesar's triumphal march with Pompey's sons and the defeat of Cassius and Brutus is around two years, but Shakespeare compresses it into two months. Additionally, references the characters make to their clothes reveal that they are dressed as people in Shakespeare's day would have been, not as Romans. Also, at one point a mechanical clock strikes the time—such clocks weren't be invented for over a thousand years!

The tragedy of Brutus. Despite the title, you could make a good argument that this play should actually be titled the Tragedy of Brutus. Caesar's tragic flaw is supposedly his ambition, but as Antony points out in his eulogy, we see few examples of Caesar's ambition in the play. Additionally, Caesar dies less than halfway through, and has fewer lines than several other characters. The story of the noble Brutus being undone by his dispassionate logic and his trust in Cassius conforms much more closely to the model of tragedy.