Julius Caesar


William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar: Style 1 key example

Read our modern English translation.
Act 1, scene 2
Explanation and Analysis:

Shakespeare displays enormous versatility of style in Julius Caesar, combining a keen awareness of the tenets of classical rhetoric with a typically Shakespearean penchant for irony, idiom, and constant wordplay. 

Because a major theme in Julius Caesar is the power of language, Shakespeare uses each line of his characters' many speeches and soliloquies to explore how language can varyingly cause conflict, bring unity, affect political change, and twist people's morality. Early on, he sets up the classical opposition of logos and pathos, rhetorical devices that appeal to reason and emotion, respectively, as a means to distinguish two very different styles of speech that run throughout the play. This stylistic divide is most clear during the addresses to the plebeians given by Brutus (who relies on logos) and Antony (who relies on pathos) in Act 3, Scene 2. 

Shakespeare loads his characters' speeches up with simile and metaphor, a stylistic choice that ensures relatability between the classical cast of characters and an Elizabethan audience—and even today's modern audience. Famous phrases like "let loose the dogs of war" and "I am as constant as the Northern star" originate in Julius Caesar, a testament to Shakespeare's ability to weave this ancient tale with all the immediacy and urgency of a modern drama. 

In addition to invoking classical schools of rhetoric, Shakespeare shows a keen awareness of Ancient Roman literature. On a few occasions, he mirrors the style of epic poetry to make multi-line epic similes—also called Homeric similes—such as when Cassius compares himself to Aeneas in Act 1, Scene 2: 

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.

Through his careful attention to the stylistic traits of epic poetry, Shakespeare connects his own work to the masterpieces of classical antiquity like the IliadOdyssey, and Aeneid that would have been foundational to Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome's cultural identities.