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Historical Context

Written in 1599, Julius Caesar tells the story of an extremely powerful general who substantially increased the size of Rome's territorial possessions yet was assassinated because he wanted to rule Rome by himself. In his death, he left no children and although he named his grand nephew Octavius as his heir, there was no clear successor, and a devastating civil war ensued. Likewise, Queen Elizabeth was an extremely effective monarch who brought England to its golden age of prosperity. By 1599, however, Elizabeth was sixty-six and she had no children to succeed her. Since she hadn't named an heir and her reign was clearly coming to an end very soon, England worried whether her passing would be followed by chaotic civil war - the same kind that brought turmoil to Rome more than sixteen hundred years before. 1599 was also the year that the Globe Theater was built by Shakespeare's successful theater company. It is believed that Julius Caesar was the first play performed in the Globe, which is somehow appropriate because the ambition to rule the world is central to this play.
Shakespeare takes certain liberties with his historical sources - the lives of Caesar and Brutus in Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans - in order to condense the events of several years into seemingly just a few weeks. Historically, Caesar's triumphal ceremony over Pompey occurs months before his assassination in March, and Brutus and Cassius wait in Rome for a year after Caesar's funeral before amassing their armies to fight Antony and Octavius on the plains of Philippi. In Shakespeare's play, however, Caesar marches into Rome in triumph on the Lupercalia, which is in February, and he is assassinated in the middle of March. Also, Brutus and Cassius are driven out of Rome immediately after Antony's stirring speech at Caesar's funeral. In addition to increasing the dramatic intensity of the action, Shakespeare suggests that the decisions the characters make - Caesar ignoring the warning of the soothsayer or Brutus allowing Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral - have huge and immediate consequences.

Browse all book notes

Historical Context
Main Characters
Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Plot Summary
Scene 1.1
Scene 1.2
Scene 1.3
Scene 2.1
Scenes 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4
Scene 3.1
Scenes 3.2 and 3.3
Scene 4.1
Scene 4.2
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scene 5.3
Scenes 5.4 and 5.5



 






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