Julius Caesar

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Politics and Morality Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Manhood and Honor Theme Icon
Logic and Language Theme Icon
Public vs. Private Theme Icon
Politics and Morality Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Julius Caesar, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Politics and Morality Theme Icon

Since the Rome of the play is the pinnacle of civilization, arguments about how it should be run are also arguments about what constitutes an ideal government. The entire play centers around Brutus accepting the truth of two moral statements: First, that Rome must not become a monarchy; and secondly, that killing an as-yet-innocent man is morally acceptable if it prevents Rome from becoming a monarchy. Brutus's strict moral code makes no allowance for self-preservation, however, and so he flatly rejects Cassius's suggestion that they also kill Antony, and even allows Antony to address the plebians. Giving in to Cassius on either of these points would have prevented Brutus's ruin, but violated his principles.

Politics and Morality ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Politics and Morality appears in each scene of Julius Caesar. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Politics and Morality Quotes in Julius Caesar

Below you will find the important quotes in Julius Caesar related to the theme of Politics and Morality.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Related Characters: Caius Cassius (speaker), Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus
Page Number: 1.2.140-142
Explanation and Analysis:

Talking in private away from the spectacle of "the order of the course," Cassius is carefully convincing Brutus to conspire against Caesar. Displaying skillful use of language, Cassius appeals to Brutus's sense of honor, morality, and love of Rome while belittling Caesar and ironizing his immortality and greatness. In this quote Cassius suggests that he and Brutus are subservient to Caesar not because of fate or any particular excellence in Caesar, but because of their lack of action.

This quote brings up the question of fate and reinforces the ambiguity that comes with attempting to answer it. Cassius does not say definitively that fate is meaningless. Instead he says that "Men at some time are masters of their fates." In this particular case, he argues, reason, action, and free will determine the outcome instead of fate and the stars. Cassius pairs this suggestion with an appeal to Brutus's sense of honor and duty to Rome in order to persuade Brutus to act and join the conspiracy.

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Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
Related Characters: Julius Caesar (speaker), Caius Cassius
Page Number: 1.2.193-196
Explanation and Analysis:

The public event has ended, and Caesar and his train have re-entered the stage. While Cassius and Brutus plan to pull aside Casca and get details on "what the matter is," Antony and Caesar speak privately. Caesar notices a suspicious look on Cassius's face, saying that he is "lean and hungry." Here lean is proverbially related to envy, and hungry and fat are meant figuratively. Caesar wishes that he was surrounded instead by "fat," lazy, well-groomed, predictable men who can sleep at night, because he wouldn't have to fear that such men might be plotting against him. The reference to men who can sleep at night also foreshadows Brutus's sleeplessness as he contemplates assassinating Caesar.

Caesar characterizes Cassius as "dangerous," but Antony quickly responds "fear him not." This moment shows Caesar's political insight, since Cassius is dangerous to him, and Antony's lack of experience and optimism.

Also note the distinction that Caesar makes between what is rhetorically and politically dangerous and what Caesar says he actually fears (nothing). Perpetually idealized and manly, Caesar clearly indicates that he is not afraid of Cassius. Rather, Caesar tells Antony what should be feared rather than what he does fear, explaining that "for always I am Caesar." While Caesar's bravery gives him an appearance of profound nobility, the play also shows how Caesar's public persona as an invulnerable, fearless leader has crossed over into his private life and his opinion of himself, making him blind to the danger actually facing him. He has, in a sense, become trapped inside his public persona, which forces him to continually reject his fears, superstitions, and the warnings and omens he sees and to behave in ways (like going to the Senate on that fateful day) that lead to his death.

But those that understood him smil'd at one another, and shook their heads; but for mine own part, it was Greek to me.
Related Characters: Casca (speaker), Julius Caesar
Related Symbols: Rome
Page Number: 1.2.294-295
Explanation and Analysis:

This line is the origin of the common idiom 'it's all Greek to me.' Caesar and his train have left the stage, leaving only Brutus, Cassius, and Casca, the speaker of this quote. Casca is relating to Brutus and Cassius what happened during the public event while the two were plotting. He explains that the cheers they heard were caused by Antony offering Caesar a crown (three times). A cynic, Casca suggests that it was harder for Caesar to reject the crown each time it was offered. He then describes Caesar's epileptic fit, another infirmity ironically paired with power.

The quote specifically refers to the public speech made in Greek by Cicero, a famous orator. Casca cannot summarize the speech because he doesn't speak Greek. Note that in this scene, Casca speaks in prose, while Brutus and Cassius continue to speak in verse (iambic pentameter), a sign that Casca is less educated and less skilled with Language. The cheering people, the language barrier, and Cicero's public speech in Greek emphasize the growing divide in Rome, and the importance of controlling the public opinion. Public oration and persuading the common people to see a certain viewpoint will become extremely important when Brutus and Antony speak after Caesar's assassination.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Et tu, Bruté? — Then fall, Caesar!
Related Characters: Julius Caesar (speaker), Marcus Brutus
Related Symbols: Body, Blood, & Pain, Rome
Page Number: 3.1.85
Explanation and Analysis:

The conspirators have surrounded Caesar, each kneeling before him, pretending to plea for the reversal of Publius's banishment. Despite their pleas, Caesar refuses to change his mind, remaining "constant as the Northern Star." Beginning with Casca and ending with Brutus, the conspirators then rise one by one and stab Caesar. Supposedly, Caesar stopped defending himself when he realized that Brutus was in on the plot. Caesar then utters the beginning of this line in Latin, shocked at the betrayal of his dear friend Brutus. The Latin translates to "and you, Brutus?" or "You too, Brutus?" Caesar's final living sentence is the dramatic proclamation of his fall. He dies after speaking this line.

Though Antony will ultimately defend Brutus at the end of the play, this deep betrayal of Caesar is the reason that Dante puts Brutus in the deepest circle of hell in his famous poem Inferno. The conspirators justify the murder by reason and logic, seeing it as political necessity for the public good, but Caesar's last line suggests that he felt it instead as a private betrayal. This "rational" murder is also extremely bloody. After the conspirators stab Caesar in excess, they literally bathe in his blood, smearing it all over their arms and their swords to take ownership of the assassination.

The scene is also extremely meta-theatrical, meaning that it shows awareness of itself as theatre. The quote, Caesar's final line, is dramatized by the use of Latin and the climatic final sentence. While the conspirators are bathing in Caesar's blood, Cassius says "How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown!" The line calls out attention to the fact that it is being spoken in a scene in a play. At the same time, it also shows how the characters felt during the historical events, reinforcing the idea they lived in the public stage of Rome, and that their actions would be recorded and remembered as history.

Finally, note that even though the play is named for Caesar, he dies at around the halfway point. The remainder of the play must work out tragic deaths for the conspirators.

Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war.
Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker)
Related Symbols: Body, Blood, & Pain, Rome
Page Number: 3.1.299
Explanation and Analysis:

Anthony has entered and seen Caesar's dead body. He his overcome with emotion, offering his life to the conspirators, but he is also calm and strategic. Antony shakes hands with the (literally) bloody conspirators, pretending to make peace, and asks only to speak at Caesar's funeral. Cassius, who wanted to kill Antony from the beginning, thinks it is a bad idea, but Brutus, who is convinced that the assassination was for the good of Rome, agrees to let Antony speak on the condition that he does not speak badly about the conspirators.

After the conspirators leave, Antony gives a soliloquy revealing his true intentions. He shows that he only acted civil with the "butchers" to allow for revenge. He predicts that war will break out because of the murder, and even suggests that Caesar's spirit will return to "Cry havoc" and unleash war so that his foul murder will be avenged. Antony is ultimately right about the return of Caesar's ghost and the war that will soon begin. He will soon harness his raw emotions in a public oration that will incite the very war he here predicts.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, —
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men, —
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.
Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus
Related Symbols: Body, Blood, & Pain, Rome
Page Number: 3.2.82-96
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is excerpted from one of the most famous speeches in Shakespeare. Brutus has already spoken to the public, beginning with "Romans, countrymen, and lovers." Brutus says that he loved and honored Caesar, but killed him because he loved Rome more. The public responds well, even to the point of wanting to crown Brutus. But Brutus makes the crucial mistake of leaving before Antony speaks. Antony, a powerful orator, makes an incredibly skillful speech in which he appeals to emotion, and turns the public against Brutus and the conspirators.

He begins by referring to the public as his friends, stressing immediately his difference from Brutus. Antony then goes on to "bury Caesar," seeming to respect the wishes of the conspirators but actually reminding the public of their love for Caesar while simultaneously casting doubt on "Brutus and the rest." Antony repeats Brutus's name many times, and ironically suggests that Brutus is "honorable." By using his skill with language and making public displays of his private emotions—at one point he pauses in his speech theatrically because he is overcome with emotion and tears—Antony is able to refute Brutus and turn the populace against him, beginning the civil war he predicted in his soliloquy. He carefully reveals Caesar's will and describes the murder with gruesome detail, even displaying Caesar's bloodied body, until the people are so riled up that they begin to riot. All the while, Antony maintains a show of innocence, claiming that he is a bad speaker and doesn't want to cause a commotion.

Act 5, scene 5 Quotes
This was the noblest Roman of all
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought,
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle; and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man."
Related Characters: Mark Antony (speaker), Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus
Related Symbols: Body, Blood, & Pain, Rome
Page Number: 5.5.74-81
Explanation and Analysis:

Cassius is dead, and the conspirators' armies are defeated. Believing that he deserves to die, Brutus runs on his sword and commits suicide. He justifies his death saying that it is not to avoid capture, but is rather honorable and a just punishment for his crimes. In the quote, Antony speaks having discovered Brutus's corpse. Antony claims that Brutus was the only conspirator who truly believed he was acting with honor and for the good of Rome, saying that the others only envied Caesar.

While he previously referred to Brutus as honorable ironically, here Antony is being genuine, and Brutus is given an honorable death rite. These lines make a good case that this play can be seen not as the tragedy of Julius Caesar, but rather as the tragedy of Brutus, as his death and failure are in ironic contrast to his virtuous character. Antony praises Brutus, saying that the elements were mixed in him especially well. By elements, Antony refers to the Renaissance belief in bodily "humors"—substances that governed one's temperament and character. His final sentence, attributed to nature, is enigmatic: "This is a man." Brutus is not a great man, or a much beloved one like Caesar, but nor is he described as evil. In the end, Brutus is characterized as simply a man. Recalling his desire to be a dog over a dishonorable Roman, Antony's characterization of Brutus as an honest man leaves Brutus's virtue and philosophy in tact, though his army has fallen and his life over.

Act 4, scene 3 Quotes
Remember March, the ides of March remember:
Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
What villain touch'd his body, that did stab,
And not for justice? What, shall one of us
That struck the foremost man of all this world
But for supporting robbers, shall we now
Contaminate our fingers with base bribes,
And sell the mighty space of our large honours
For so much trash as may be grasped thus?
I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon,
Than such a Roman.
Related Characters: Marcus Brutus (speaker), Julius Caesar
Related Symbols: Omens, Body, Blood, & Pain, Rome
Page Number: 4.3.19-29
Explanation and Analysis:

The two sides are preparing their armies, Octavius and Antony against Brutus and Cassius. But Cassius and Brutus are losing trust and getting frustrated with each other. In this quote, Brutus and Cassius are speaking in private: Cassius is mad at Brutus for punishing one of their officers for a small offense, and Brutus is accusing Cassius of taking bribes. Here he evokes the prophesy of the ideas of March and the ideals for which they murdered Caesar: justice, honor, and the good of Rome. Brutus claims that they assassinated Caesar for being corrupt, and that it would be extremely hypocritical for them to be corrupt in turn. A man of honor and principles, especially Roman principles, Brutus claims he would rather be a dog than a hypocritical man.

Like Caesar, who died in part because of his unwillingness to change his principles or sacrifice his self image of invulnerability, Brutus begins to hurt himself by sticking so firmly to his principles. His insistence on being honorable and his firm belief that the killing was purely logical and justifiable is the reason that Antony was allowed to live, despite Cassius's objections. Now Antony has turned the people against the conspirators, and Brutus and Cassius are fighting amongst themselves because of Brutus's stubborn honor.