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Julius Caesar, Royal Shakespeare Company, 2009

Julius Caesar

Summary of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Julius Caesar is warned of the ides of March, ignores it, and dies; plebeians are way too easily swayed; all the conspirators die too.

The tribunes of Rome, Marullus and Flavius, break up a gathering of citizens who seek to celebrate Julius Caesar's triumphant return from war. The victory is marked by public games in which Caesar's protégé, Mark Antony, takes part. On his way to the arena Caesar is stopped by a stranger who warns that the great general and statesman should 'Beware the Ides [15th] of March.'

Julius Caesar at Her Majesty's Theatre, 1908
Julius Caesar at Her Majesty's Theatre, 1908

Fellow senators, Caius Cassius and Marcus Brutus, are suspicious of Caesar's reactions to the power he holds in the Republic. They fear he will accept offers to become Emperor. He has been gaining a lot of power recently and people treat him like a god. Cassius, a successful general himself, is jealous, while Brutus has a more balanced view of the political position. Casca enters and tells Brutus of a ceremony held by the plebeians: they offered Caesar a crown three times and he refused it every time; but they (the conspirators) are still wary of his aspirations. After planting false documents in order to manipulate him to join their cause, Cassius, Casca, and their allies visit Brutus at night in his home to persuade him of their views, and there they plan Caesar's death. Brutus is troubled but refuses to confide in his devoted wife, Portia.

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

— Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2

On 15th March, Caesar is urged not to go to the Senate by his wife, Calpurnia, who has had visionary dreams, and fears the portents of the overnight storms. He is nevertheless persuaded by flattery to go to the Capitol and is stabbed by each conspirator in turn; as Brutus gives the final blow, Caesar utters the famous phrase:

Et tu, Brute?

— Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene 1
The Death of Caesar, a 19th century engraving
The Death of Caesar, a 19th century engraving

Against Cassius's advice, Brutus allows Mark Antony to speak a funeral oration in the market place, but only after Brutus has addressed the people of Rome to explain the conspirators' reasons and their fears for Caesar's ambition. After Brutus speaks, the crowd becomes calm and supports his cause. However, Antony's speech questions the motives of the conspirators and reminds the crowd of Caesar's benevolent actions and of his refusal to accept the crown. He also reads them Caesar's will, in which he leaves money to each Roman citizen and public land. Antony's speech stirs the crowd into a murderous riot and the conspirators are forced to flee from the city.

Uncovering Caesar's Body, London News, 1881
Uncovering Caesar's Body, London News, 1881

Brutus and Cassius gather an army in Northern Greece and prepare to fight the forces led by Mark Antony, who has joined with Caesar's great-nephew, Octavius, and with a man called Lepidus. Away from Rome, Brutus and Cassius are filled with doubts about the future, and they quarrel bitterly over funds for their soldiers' pay. After making amends, and despite Cassius' misgivings over the chosen site, they prepare to engage Antony's army at Philippi. Brutus stoically receives news of his wife's suicide in Rome, and sees Caesar's ghost as he tries to rest, unable to sleep on the eve of the conflict.

Men at some time are masters of their fates.

— Julius Caesar, Act 1 Scene 2

In the battle, the Republicans (led by Brutus) appear to be winning at first, but when Cassius' messenger's horse seems to be overtaken by the enemy, he fears the worst and gets his servant to help him to a quick death. Brutus, finding Cassius's body, commits suicide as he believes this to be the only honourable option left to him. Antony, triumphant on the battlefield, praises Brutus as 'the noblest Roman of them all' and orders a formal funeral before he and Octavius return to rule in Rome.

Greg Wyatt sculpture of Julius Caesar in the gardens at Shakespeare's New Place.
Greg Wyatt sculpture of Julius Caesar in the gardens at Shakespeare's New Place.

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