Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar Study Guide

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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

William Shakespeare was the son of a prosperous leatherworker, John Shakespeare, and a prominent farmer’s daughter, Mary Arden. Shakespeare received no more than a grammar school education. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582, and they had three children together: Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith. Shakespeare 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, where he died three years later. Shakespeare left behind a legacy of 39 plays and over 150 poems, and remains the most well-known and celebrated writer of the English language to this day.
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Historical Context of Julius Caesar

The historical Gaius Julius Caesar lived from 100 B.C.E. to March 15, 44 B.C.E. In 60 B.C.E., Caesar formed a political alliance with Crassus and Pompey called the First Triumvirate. Caesar led many wars, which expanded Rome’s territory as far as Britain, and subsequently touched off a civil war; his victory led to his being proclaimed a dictator for life, which in turn led to his assassination and the rise of the Roman Empire. In Shakespeare’s time, due to government censorship, writers 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 for Julius Caesar was Thomas North's translation of Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans, by the famous historian Plutarch. Other Shakespeare plays based on events from Roman history include Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra. Being a historical play, Julius Caesar draws on real-life events and references. It takes place just after Caesar’s defeat of Pompey, a struggle that is chronicled by Caesar himself in The Civil War.  Beyond Caesar’s exploits, Brutus’s beliefs and behavior are rooted in the philosophy of Stoicism, a Greek school of thought that came about in the 3rd century B.C.E. Popular Stoic works include Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Letters from a Stoic by Seneca, and the writings of Epictetus.
Key Facts about Julius Caesar
  • Full Title: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
  • When Written: 1599
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1623
  • Literary Period: Renaissance
  • Genre: Tragic drama; history play
  • Setting: Rome and environs, 44 B.C.E.
  • Climax: Brutus’s suicide
  • Antagonist: Cassius
  • Point of View: Dramatic

Extra Credit for Julius Caesar

Time Warp. 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. For example, the time between Caesar's triumphal march with Pompey's sons and the defeat of Cassius and Brutus was around two years in real life, but Shakespeare compresses it into two months. And at one point a mechanical clock strikes the time, yet such clocks wouldn’t be invented for over 1,000 years after the play takes place!

Et tu, Bruté? Despite the title of Julius Caesar, one could argue that this play could just as easily be titled the Tragedy of Brutus. Caesar dies less than halfway through the play and has fewer lines than several other major characters. The story of the noble Brutus being undone by his dispassionate logic and his trust in Cassius conforms much more closely to the literary model of tragedy.