Julius Caesar


William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar: Similes 6 key examples

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Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Act 1, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Anaeas and Anchises:

In Act 1, Scene 2, Cassius tells stories of Caesar's supposed weakness in order to pit Brutus against him. At one moment, Cassius describes a time in which he saved Caesar from drowning. He makes his point through simile and an allusion to the story of the epic hero, Aeneas:

Caesar cried “Help me, Cassius, or I sink!”
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder
The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber
Did I the tired Caesar.

Aeneas and his father, Anchises, are two legendary figures in Greco-Roman myth. Homer mentions Aeneas in the Iliad, but the hero eventually gets an epic of his own in Virgil’s Aeneid. The poem tells the story of Aeneas’s escape from Troy in the aftermath of the Trojan war, and his journey across the Mediterranean to the Italian peninsula where he eventually founds Rome. Shakespeare’s allusion mirrors the structure of epic poetry, as well: Cassius makes this comparison in the form of the very sort of epic simile (a multi-line simile with the general structure of “as… so…”) that might be found in the Iliad, the Odyssey or the Aeneid.

Shakespeare’s allusion to the stories of the Aeneid would appear to be an anachronism, as Virgil wrote the poem decades after Caesar’s death. This may have been deliberate, however, as there is a complex interrelation between the Julius Caesar, Virgil’s motivation for writing the Aeneid, and the circumstances surrounding Shakespeare’s composition of his own version of events in Julius Caesar.

Historically, the assassination of Julius Caesar (depicted in Julius Caesar) led to a series of political upheavals in Rome that dissolved the Roman Republic and transformed it into the Roman Empire. The first Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus (the character Octavian in the play), is Julius Caesar’s great-nephew. Virgil writes the Aeneid during Augustus’s reign and weaves references and critiques of his regime into the fabric of the epic poem.

In much the same manner, Shakespeare writes Julius Caesar during the Elizabethan period to offer a critique of the state of England at the time. By alluding to the Aeneid in Julius Caesar, Shakespeare therefore makes a self-conscious reference to literature’s ability to speak truth to power. Never one to miss a chance for irony, however, Shakespeare gives this allusion to Cassius: in casting his criticism of Caesar in terms of Aeneas and Anchises, Cassius anachronistically references the literary world of the Roman Empire that will come about as a result of his impending assassination of Caesar. Even as he claims to preserve the Roman Republic by killing Caesar, he hastens its descent into empire.

Explanation and Analysis—Big Caesar, Big Problems:

In Act 1, Scene 2, Cassius shows his disdain for Caesar as Brutus and he remark on the crowd's ecstatic reception of Caesar's victory over Pompey. He makes an allusion alludes to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, to describe Caesar's perceived stature over his peers:

I do believe that these applauses are
For some new honors that are heaped on Caesar.

Why, man, he doth bestrie the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.

The Colossus of Rhodes was a massive statue, thought in Shakespeare's time to have once stood straddling the opening of the harbor of the Greek island of Rhodes. Caesar has become a Colossus, Cassius argues, and everyone else must pass underneath him like "petty men"—poor mortals left to scamper about and clean up in the wake of Caesar's destruction.

By painting Caesar as a Colossus, who makes the rest of Rome's political class look small and weak, Cassius casts Caesar as a threat to his fellow politicians' manhood if he continues to amass power. As Shakespeare explores the power of speech to affect political sentiment, Cassius's ability to appeal to the insecurities and doubts of his peers—and to the importance of manhood and honor as prime virtues—stands out as a particularly effective mode of persuasion.

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Act 2, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Doctor Death:

In Act 2, Scene 1, Brutus attempts to recruit Licarius to the conspiracy against Caesar. Though Ligarious is ill, he feels eager to join the cause. He goes so far as to compare, using simile, Brutus's recruitment efforts to the work of a spiritual healer:

Brave son, derived from honorable loins,
Thou like an exorcist hast conjured up
My mortified spirit. Now bid me run,
And I will strive with things impossible,
Yea, get the better of them. What’s to do?

A piece of work that will make sick men whole.

Ligarius feels that Brutus's invigoration of his political sentiments is like the work of an exorcist reviving an ailing soul. Picking up on Ligarius's own simile, Brutus then extends it into a metaphor for the entire plot against Caesar: it is a work of healing in itself,  to "make sick men whole."

Throughout Julius Caesar, Shakespeare conveys the urgency of Rome’s political scheming—and the depth of passion felt by all sides—in the language of life (and healing) and death (and dying). Brutus articulates the work at hand, to assassinate Caesar, in terms of a pun on the notion of a "body politic." Caesar threatens Rome like disease threatens a body, and to stop Caesar is to heal Rome of its sickness. Conflating on the intimate matter of bodily health with the public affair of political struggle, Brutus transforms his cause into a mortal effort to save Rome itself.

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Explanation and Analysis—The Serpent's Egg:

In Act 2, Scene 1, during Brutus's soliloquy, he ponders the threat that Caesar may pose to the Roman Republic if he seeks to become a monarch. Using a simile, he compares Caesar to a snake egg:

And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow
And kill him in the shell.

By this simile, the time to strike is sooner rather than later—to kill Caesar now, while still “in the shell,” renders him harmless and mitigates any damage he might stand to inflict on Rome. This is one of two sequences in Julius Caesar in which Brutus describes Caesar as a snake, a symbol of malevolent trickery found throughout Shakespeare's plays.

A constant question in Julius Caesar is whether people have agency in the course of their own lives, or if fate predetermines their path. Brutus's observation that Caesar is as a snake still in its egg would imply that Caesar is guaranteed to become a tyrannical ruler if left alive, with no alternative: if a snake egg hatches, a snake will emerge. Rather than wait and see, Brutus convinces himself in this soliloquy that the only course of action is to preemptively assassinate Caesar. 

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Act 4, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Hollow Handy Horses:

In Act 4, Scene 2, Lucilius confides in Brutus that Cassius's behavior is becoming untrustworthy. Brutus suspects his shifting loyalty as well, and uses simile and alliteration to articulate his suspicions:

Thou hast described
A hot friend cooling. Ever note, Lucilius,
It useth an enforcèd ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith;
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their

Brutus makes a simile comparison between his “hollow,” or insincere, men and over-eager horses that are difficult to handle when first mounted. His point is that Cassius (the "hot friend cooling") lacks sincerity; the force of his simile is powered by the connection of alliterated /h/ sounds across Brutus's dialogue: /h/ast... /h/ot... /h/ollow men, like /h/orses /h/ot at /h/and.

Shakespeare is a legendary wordsmith, and he crafts his sentences for their sonic effect just as much as for their meaning. This passage is a prime example of how he layers literary devices to render them more vivid for the audience. Julius Caesar presents a lengthy investigation into the power of language in speech to affect political change and sentiments, and every line of dialogue presents a point of departure for this exploration.

Over the course of the play, authenticity emerges as crucial character trait for anyone hoping to emerge as honorable—even as various political players in Rome prefer to cling to a destructive sense of masculinity. As Cassius reveals himself to be a particularly duplicitous character, his inauthenticity comes into conflict with Brutus's sense of honor.

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Act 5, scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Beasts of Betrayal:

In Act 5, Scene 1, Antony viciously rebukes the conspirators who assassinated Caesar for their brutality. He uses a set of similes to compare their attack to the work of wild animals and enslaved people:

Villains, you did not so when your vile daggers
Hacked one another in the sides of Caesar.
You showed your teeth like apes, and fawned like hounds,
And bowed like bondmen, kissing Caesar’s feet,
While damnèd Casca, like a cur, behind
Struck Caesar on the neck.

Though Brutus earlier warned against descending into violent "butchery," Antony asserts that the conspirators have done just that: they have behaved without any shred of honor, distracting Caesar by showing their teeth like beasts and showering him with mock devotion like enslaved people ("bondsmen") while Casca positioned himself to attack from behind. Painted in this light, the attack on Caesar no longer feels like a noble sacrifice for the betterment of Rome—as Brutus had hoped—and more like senseless political violence.

In so condemning the senators, Antony effectively accuses them of lacking any sense of honor. This is a direct attack on the core of a Roman politician's pride and status, as honor is everything to the characters in Julius Caesar. Ultimately, Antony is correct: only Brutus acted against Caesar out of a genuine effort to save Rome, and the other conspirators struck out of insecurity and jealousy for Caesar's status and success. In Shakespeare's portrayal of Rome, the senators' virtue is determined entirely by the sanctity of their manhood and honor.

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