Julius Caesar

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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.
Public vs. Private Theme Icon

All the major characters of Julius Caesar are public figures—some are even like celebrities—and are conscious of the fact that they live their lives and make their decisions before the audience of the Roman people, who may or may not be receptive. They are also careful about the personae they project in front of one another. Caesar is careful to always present himself as fearless and steadfast, even in front of trusted friends like Antony, and walks half-knowingly into his murder because death would not be as bad for his image as making an effort to avoid death. Though privately he is ailing and superstitious, Caesar would not be Caesar if he did not make himself out to be invincible. Cassius makes a show of being honorable, but is privately hypocritical and corrupt. Even Antony, who appears to be a "man of the people" and a loyal friend, plans to cheat the people out of Caesar's legacy, and to betray his partner Lepidus. And Brutus, who would otherwise be straightforward and consistent throughout the play, pretends in front of his troops to be unaffected by his wife's suicide.

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

Below you will find the important quotes in Julius Caesar related to the theme of Public vs. Private.
Act 1, scene 2 Quotes
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.

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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 2, scene 1 Quotes
I grant I am a woman; but withal a woman that Lord Brutus took to wife; I grant I am a woman; but withal a women well reputed, Cato's daughter. Think you I am no stronger than my sex, being so father'd, and so husbanded? Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose'em. I have made a strong proof of my constancy, giving myself a voluntary wound here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience, and not my husband's secrets?
Related Characters: Portia (speaker), Marcus Brutus
Related Symbols: Body, Blood, & Pain
Page Number: 2.1.315-325
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Brutus has decided that Caesar must die, and he and the other conspirators have planned to commit the murder at the Capitol the next morning. Portia (Brutus's wife) notices that her husband has been acting strangely, getting up at all hours of the night and seemingly pacing and musing at random. She sees that he is not physically ill, but rather has some "sick offense within [his] mind." She begs him to open up to her, and to share what is causing him and his many visitors (the other conspirators who have just come and left in the middle of the night) to act so strangely.

Portia tells Brutus that as his wife, she can be trusted with his secrets. In order to prove herself, she gives the men around her as references for her status as a special woman. She concedes the contemporary belief that women are inferior to men, but claims that as the wife to Brutus and daughter to Cato (a famous Roman), she is "stronger than [her] sex." What's more, she stabs herself in the thigh to prove her manliness and her "constancy" (trustworthiness). This self-inflicted wound foreshadows both her suicide and her husband's eventual suicide at the end of the play.

After this display, Brutus consents to share his secrets with her, telling her to go back to bed and that he'll tell her everything soon.

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.
Related Characters: Julius Caesar (speaker)
Related Symbols: Omens, Body, Blood, & Pain
Page Number: 2.2.34-39
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene we see the marriage of Caesar and Calpurnia in contrast with the marriage of Brutus and Portia. Opposing Brutus's secrecy, there is an open dialogue between Caesar and Calpurnia. Calpurnia tries to convince Caesar not to leave the house that day, listing the many omens that have been seen throughout Rome. To that list she adds her own prophetic nightmares in which she foresaw Caesar's death, linking her to the supernatural elements of the play.

In this quote, Caesar says it is far better to die valiantly and honorably than to be a coward, as cowards suffer and "die" constantly. Caesar is trapped by his public persona. He is privately superstitious, and since he believes himself so important, he assumes that the omens are for him—but he cannot act cowardly without bringing about the "death" of the public Caesar and of his self image.

Caesar also reveals his opinion on Fate: death is "a necessary end" that comes to everyone; there is nothing you can do to stop it. For this reason, he argues, death is nothing to be feared. Again, this opinion is paradoxical, because by accepting his death as Fated and refusing to act to prevent it (by staying at home, for example), Caesar allows his 'fated' death to occur. Ultimately, Caesar ignores Calpurnia's warning to save his public image and his self image as fearless and infallible.

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 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.