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Shakespeare's Julius Caesar


Shakespeare wrote The Tragedy of Julius Caesar in 1599. Like Romeo and Juliet, this play is a tragedy. You do not feel pity for the death of Caesar like you do for the two lovers, though. Caesar isn’t an innocent man and his power has become corrupt. The play still captures human interest, but it is not for the sentimental romance of Romeo and Juliet. It is because the issues that the characters face are so applicable today. Julius Caesar deals with corrupt governments, one’s conscience, doing what will be good for everyone rather than thinking about one’s self, and the ability to change the populace’s minds. It also reaches into the area of grandness and becoming too ambitious.

The title is a bit misleading because the play’s focus is not really Caesar. Caesar is killed about halfway through the play. Most people will agree that Brutus is the true hero in Julius Caesar. The play is about the internal conflict in Brutus over whether or not he should kill a friend for the good of the Roman people. Brutus is someone who remains good from the beginning to the end of the play. In the final scene, Mark Antony even says, "This was the noblest Roman of them all," when looking down at Brutus.

Julius Caesar may seem a little slow and not as interesting as Romeo and Juliet, since it is not about teenagers or love. But Julius Caesar is considered one of the greatest tragedies, and you will realize that it is very moving in a different way. It would be wise to make a character list because there are many different people in the play. The play opens in Rome, 44 B.C. Caesar is at the height of his career, ruler of most of the known world.

[For some background on Julius Caesar, see this page on the history of Rome or a page on Caesar’s life, Hero or Villain?


Assassination, war, ghosts, and (of course) suicide. What more can you want from a play? Those are the basics of Julius Caesar, believe it or not. The play opens in Rome, at a parade for the great Caesar who has defeated the enemies in battle. Two working men are interrupted by Marullus (tribune), who scolds them for celebrating Caesar, a man who has killed Pompey’s sons. This is the first symbol that some of the populace is unhappy with Caesar.

While Caesar is parading through the streets, a soothsayer warns him, "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar dismisses this warning. Caesar is offered the crown three times (he is dictator for life not king), refusing it to the applause of the people. Meanwhile, Cassius is plotting to assassinate Caesar out of fear that Caesar is becoming to powerful.

Casca, Cinna, Decius Brutus, Trebonius, and Metellus Cimber join Cassius in his plot. Cassius wishes to convince Marcus Brutus to join the conspirators because Brutus is a well-respected man. Brutus does not want to because he thinks that Caesar is a good man and friend. However, his conscience keeps him awake during the night and forged letters from the conspirators urging him to join the plot finally convince Brutus that killing Caesar would be best for the people.

The next day, Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife) urges Caesar not to go to the Capitol because she has had bad dreams. The priests also suggest that Caesar remain home because they did not find a heart in the beast. When Caesar finally agrees to remain at home, Decius Brutus reinterprets the dreams and tells Caesar to go. Caesar leaves for the Capitol with his "friends."

The soothsayer warns Caesar again that the Ides of March (March 15) has come. Caesar almost receives a warning about the conspiracy from Artemidorus, but Caesar refuses to read it. Setting up a fake plea, the conspirators kill Caesar. (This is the assassination part.) Cassius stabs him first and Brutus last. Caesar, seeing his friend Brutus among the conspirators, says his famous words, "Et tu, Brute?" This means "And you, Brutus?" He can’t believe that even his good friend betrayed him.

Freedom is what the conspirators wanted. Freedom is not what they got. Mark Antony, Caesar’s faithful friend, was not killed under Brutus’ orders ("Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius"). Pretending to be the conspirators’ friend, Antony is even allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus delivers the first speech at the funeral. He is honest and wins the peoples’ hearts and voices quickly. In a matter of minutes, the populace has forgotten their devotion to Caesar. They now exalt Brutus as their leader.

And then Antony speaks. Almost everyone knows at least the beginning of Antony’s famous speech. "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." In his speech, he stirs the people up to love Caesar once again and hate the conspirators. The people rise up in mutiny, causing civil war in Rome. (This is the war part.) They go through the streets looking to murder the conspirators, even killing a poor poet who happened to have the same name as Cinna the conspirator. Brutus and Cassius flee Rome. Octavius and Lepidus join Antony to form the Second Triumvirate. They make a list of people that they must kill.

While Brutus and Cassius are forming armies to fight those of Antony and Octavius, Brutus learns that his wife has committed suicide. (Suicide #1) Being a Stoic, he does not show much emotion. Brutus and Cassius also get into a few fights. During the night, Brutus has a difficult time falling asleep. He encounters Caesar’s ghost who says that he is "thy evil spirit." (The ghost part.)

Insults and fighting between Brutus/Cassius and Antony/Octavius. Since Brutus’ forces defeated Octavius’ forces, Brutus’ servant Titinius is sent off. Cassius’ servant mistakenly takes Titinius’ celebration as capture by the enemy. Cassius makes his servant stab him. (Suicide #2) Titinius arrives at Cassius’ place to tell him the good news and finds him dead. So, Titinius commits suicide. (Suicide #3)

Next, some of Brutus’ friends are killed. Brutus believes that he is to die soon since Caesar’s ghost appeared to him again. He tries to get his servants to kill him, but they refuse. As the enemies approach, Strato agrees to hold Brutus’ sword out. Brutus runs into the sword and dies, but not before addressing Caesar one last time. His last words are "Caesar, now be still." (Suicide #4)

Antony and his men find the dead Brutus. Antony looks at him and believes that Brutus was truly a man. Unlike the others, he did not kill Caesar out of envy. "This was the noblest Roman of them all…"



Julius Caesar: emperor of Rome, very ambitious, and ruler of most of the known world. Assassinated about halfway through the play, his spirit later returns to haunt Brutus.

Octavius Caesar: adopted son of Caesar, forms the second triumvirate along with Antony and Lepidus. With Antony, he defeats the armies of Brutus and Cassius at Phillipi.

Marcus Antonius: AKA Mark Antony, he is Caesar’s faithful follower. Though he has a reputation for fooling around and enjoying life, Antony is really a powerful orator, and he wins the people’s adoration in his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech. He is also one of the members of the second triumvirate.

Aemilius Lepidus: Also a member of the second triumvirate, he basically does Antony’s tasks.

Cicero: Senator of Rome, he is calm as opposed to the excited Casca. Later put to death by the second triumvirate.

Publius: Senator of Rome, tells people that assassinations are over after the fall of Caesar.

Popilius Lena: Senator of Rome, seems to know about the plot to kill Caesar. Adds suspense to the assassination of Caesar by making people wary that the plan might have leaked out.

Marcus Brutus: Friend of Caesar, who betrays him for the good of the Roman people. He is a noble person who is respected by many. He is a Stoic who believes in idealism; he commits suicide as the enemies approach.

Cassius: A very tempered person who plans a conspiracy to assassinate Caesar out of fear that Caesar is becoming too powerful. He is more practical than Brutus, but he goes through with some of Brutus’ decisions (eg. allowing Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral). He commits suicide because he thinks that Brutus is defeated.

Trebonius: One of the conspirators, only one that does not stab Caesar. Leads Antony out of the Senate house so that the assassination can take place.

Ligarius: One of the conspirators, respects Brutus and follows his wishes.

Decius Brutus: One of the conspirators, reinterprets Calpurnia’s dream in a flattering way so that Caeser attends the Senate on the day of the assassination.

Metellus Cimber: One of the conspirators, he brings up a false request that his brother’s banishment should be repealed so that the conspirators can assassinate Caesar.

Flavius: One of the tribunes in the beginning of the play who scolds the people for honoring Caesar. He wishes to remove the decorations for Caesar.

Marullus: One of the tribunes in the beginning of the play, he is unsure whether to assist Flavius because it is the feast of the Lupercal.

Artemidorus of Cnidos: Writes a letter to Caesar warning him about the assassination plot, Caesar however fails to read the letter and pays with his life.

The Soothsayer: A fortune teller, warns Caesar to beware the Ides of March. He warns Caesar again on the Ides of March, but both times he is ignored by Caesar.

Cinna: One of the conspirators, throws forged letters into Brutus’ window so that Brutus will join the conspiracy.

Cinna the poet: He is killed by the angry mob because they mistake him for Cinna the conspirator. However, when they discover that he is a poet they kill him anyway because of his bad verses.

Lucilius: Noble friend of Brutus, who pretends to be Brutus and is captured by Antony’s soldiers.

Titinius: Brutus’ servant who goes for a joy ride after their victory. However, Cassius thinks that Titinius has been captured and Cassius commits suicide. When Titinius discovers dead Cassius he also commits suicide.

Messala: Soldier of Brutus and Cassius, he tells Brutus that his wife is dead.

Young Cato: Soldier of Brutus and Cassius, he is killed during the second battle at Phillipi.

Volumnius: Soldier of Brutus, will not respect Brutus’ request to kill him.

Varro: Servant of Brutus, does not see the ghost of Caesar.

Clitus: Servant of Brutus, will not respect Brutus’ request to kill him.

Claudius: Servant of Brutus, does not see the ghost of Caesar.

Strato: Servant of Brutus, agrees to hold the sword that Brutus runs into.

Lucius: Servant of Brutus, who is treated with kindness and toleration.

Dardanius: Servant of Brutus, will not respect Brutus’ request to kill him.

Pindarus: Servant of Cassius, mistakenly tells Cassius that Titinius is captured which leads Cassius to commit suicide.

Calpurnia: Julius Caesar’s wife, has a dream of something terrible happening to Caesar so she begs him to stay home. Caesar agrees but is later talked out of it by Decius Brutus.

Portia: Brutus’ wife, she is concerned about Brutus, commits suicide because she realizes Brutus’ misfortunes.

Senators, Citizens, Guards, Attendants, etc.


Applications and Essays
Straight to the

How does Julius Caesar apply to us today? First of all, many of the lines from the play are famous now. For example, "It was Greek to me" comes from Julius Caesar (Act 1, scene 2). Caesar’s famous line "Et tu, Brute!" (Act 3, scene 1) is known by almost everyone. Who hasn’t heard of Antony’s "Friends, Romans, countrymen" (Act 3, scene 2) speech? But even more important for us are the themes that come from the play.


So many of Shakespeare’s plays deal with the topic of suicide. In Julius Caesar, so many characters take their life (or have others take their life for them). Is this really right? Let’s consider each case separately.

Portia: She commits suicide when she learns the fate of Brutus. Portia is a loyal wife, but it seems that she has no will of her own. Why should she kill herself if her husband is doomed? She is still a person.

Cassius: He had his servant kill him because he mistakenly thought that Brutus’ armies were defeated. Don’t you think that he should have checked to make sure his servant was correct? Taking one’s life is a very serious matter and Cassius seemed to give up so easily. What does Shakespeare tell us about people here? People commit suicide because they are misinformed. So many young people today take their own precious lives because they don’t think that people care about them. Like Cassius, they are misinformed!

Titinius: He finds Cassius dead, so he commits suicide out of shame. This is an interesting scenario. I don’t particularly understand this, but I presume it was a custom for that time.

Brutus: Brutus takes his life (runs into a servant’s sword) when he discovers that he is defeated. He is described as "noble" by Antony. Is taking one’s life really noble? Again, this could just be one of those cultural things at the time. But, personally, I find that to be "chickening out." Accept defeat; don’t run from it.

Politics and the People

Politics. Julius Caesar was a politician who was becoming too powerful, yet he was not a tyrant. He wasn’t all good but he wasn’t all bad either. Did he deserve to be removed from his position? The conspirators believed so. This is an important issue today. How many countries have been through assassinations of rulers? Do people have a right to assassin their ruler if the ruler is corrupt?

What does Shakespeare tell us about people? Well, basically the people were just like sheep. They could be led in any direction and their minds were changed in an instant. The reaction of the people to Brutus’ speech and Antony’s speech illustrates this point. Shakespeare is saying that the common people don’t have a mind of their own. They just follow what seems right at the moment. Shakespeare also showed that the people were a powerful force. The war could not have started without the people’s support. How furious the people could get! Shakespeare illustrates this in the story of Cinna the poet. The mob killed him for no reason; they were just in a fury. Is Shakespeare right in his perception of the people? Scary as it is, in at least some regards, he is correct.

Inner Struggles

Brutus had to deal with a great inner struggle. Should he kill his friend out of duty to the people or was his friendship with Caesar more important? His conflict was difficult because neither choice was completely right. Everyone has to struggle with conflicts within themselves. They might not be as grand as Brutus’ struggle, but there will be conflicts that will keep you up during the night. Brutus’ conscience, as well as urging from his friends, led him to make his decision. He would do what was better for the people even if it meant killing a friend. Brutus was selfless in his decision, not thinking about what would be better for himself. Brutus was truly "noble." The way Brutus solved his problem is a wonderful example for us. Humble yourself and think about the people that the problem affects instead of focusing on what’s best for "me." You can also turn to your friends for advice; but in Brutus’ case, they forged letters so that he would join their cause. Nice friends, right?

Was Brutus right, though? Should he have killed Caesar? The latter half of the play shows the consequence of Brutus’ decision. Looking at that, Brutus was incorrect in his decision. Hmm…

Essay Topics:

  1. Explain the role that fate played in Julius Caesar, supporting it with specific examples.
  2. Compare and contrast the personalities of Brutus and Cassius?
  3. Do you feel that Caesar deserved to die? Support your answer with examples from the play.
  4. Describe the role of the common people in the play (e.g. Act III, Scene II).
  5. Choose three symbols that Shakespeare uses throughout the play and describe how they contribute to it.
  6. Choose a less significant character (not Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Antony) and describe his/her role in the play.
  7. What does Shakespeare tell us about government and the common people in Julius Caesar?
  8. Was Brutus’ decision to assassinate Caesar right? Support your answer.
  9. Some people believe that the title of the play should have been The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus. Support or refute this argument.
  10. If you had written the play, name three things you would have changed and why? If you wouldn’t change anything, why not?

Here’s some creative writing questions from Shakespeare Alive.



These are only some of the vocabulary words that you may not be familiar with. As you read the play, the MIT version of Julius Caesar provides a helpful glossary. Just take it slow. Reading aloud and with other people helps. Language of Shakespeare and The Shakespeare Glossary are also useful sites on Shakespearean vocabulary. You can also look at the vocabulary from Romeo and Juliet and Macbeth.

an- if 
awl- sharp, pointed tool for making holes in wood or leather 
concave shores- carved out banks of the river 
disrobe- take of the decorations 
exeunt- all exit 
intermit- hold back 
neat’s leather- cattle’s hide

replication- echo, copy 
thou- you 
trade- profession 
tributaries- captives 
wherefore- why 
withal- nevertheless


Quizzes and Games and other Fun Things

  • Anagram game (see below)

An anagram is a word that is formed when another word is scrambled. For example, in Silence of the Lambs, Anthony Hopkins uses anagrams. He gives the name Louis Friend, which really is Iron Sulfide (fool’s gold). Here is an anagram of one of Shakespeare’s poems. Now we have prepared for you some easy and challenging Shakespearean anagrams for you to solve. Good luck!

  1. Races A
  2. Tub R Us
  3. No, nay Kmart
  4. Yo! he roasts
  5. u r pal can I
  6. Send fries to my man, Ron Runc,

Click here for the answers


Julius Caesar in Film 

1950: Julius Caesar. Charlton Heston stars in this movie, as well as the latter one in 1970.

1953: Julius Caesar. Cast as Mark Antony, Marlon Brando plays the part fantastically. This movie received five Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture and Best Actor. 122 min.

1970: Julius Caesar. Charlton Heston plays Julius Caesar in this version. Click here for a film review. 116 min.

1986: Julius Caesar. This is a muscial, starring Theo Adam, Celestina Casapietra, Eberhard Buchner, and Annelies Burmeister. 122 min.


Audio Readings

Audio readings of some of the better known passages in Julius Caesar. To hear these files RealPlayer is required. If you use Windows 98, this software is built into media player.  If not you have to download the free Real Player from the Real Networks Homepage.


Useful Links

 Julius Caesar Page. Words of the play with helpful notes on the side. A plus is the "Notes About the Play" section, filled with themes and famous quotes. There is also a body count.

Julius Caesar. Here’s a page with lots of good things, but it is not really a study guide.