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Close Reading of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Act two of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar begins the detailed planning of Caesar’s assassination, which follows soon after in the third act. One particular passage of interest during this act is found in scene one. This particular passage deals with the conspirator’s justification of their motives for wanting to kill Caesar, as well as the fine-tuning of their machination. As is consistent throughout Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s verse here differs much from his usual, flowery, beautifully poetic, and complicated verse that can be found in plays as Macbeth. The verse in Caesar is simple.

This change in Shakespeare’s style has been attributed to his desire to imitate Roman society in this work, as to give the audience or the reader some context through which to receive the play, and to accurately portray his Roman characters. While discussing Shakespeare’s language, his verse should also be studied in greater depth. Shakespeare has chosen to compose this play using pentameter linesthat is lines that contain five sets of iambic feet, or one stressed and one unstressed syllable.

An example of iambic pentameter line is: “So let high-sighted tyranny range on/” (2. 117). However, some lines also contain an extra stressed or unstressed syllable, as can be seen with this example: “The sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse” (2. 1. 114). In this case the second “the” is an unstressed syllable just as “souls” before it. When lines occur in this manner, the double stressed or unstressed syllables are called spondees. The sustained use of pentameter lines is also a reflection of Shakespeare’s goal of imitation Roman society or Classicism, which reflected balance in all aspects of life.

Shakespeare has also incorporated several literary devices into this passage. Consider these lines: “Old feeble carrions, and such suffering souls/That welcome wrongs” (2. 1. 128-129). The words in bold all being with the same consonant sounds of the word that precedes or follows it. This device is called alliteration and is effective in emphasizing the words that are being alliterated. Another literary device Shakespeare incorporates into this passage is the pun, which can be defined as a “play on words”. In line 133 of the aforementioned act and scene appears in the word “mettle”.

The definition of this word is “courage”; however, in the context in which it is used, “th’insuppressive mettle of our spirits”, the definition of its homophone, metal, is also appropriate, suggesting the strength or will behind their spirits. While on the subject of words, Shakespeare also seems to choose words in this passage that indicate the changing state of something, or words that have the ability to change the state of something. Examples of said words are “kindle”, “melting”, “fire”, and “steel” (verb).

One possible explanation for the use of these words is that they reflect the changing status of Rome, which, once a great place, is now plagued with omens of bad things to come. As mentioned, the particular passage this essay deals with revolves around the justification and plotting of Caesar’s death. Thus, these lines are effective in demonstrating to the reader or the audience the motives, agendas, and opinions of certain character. The majority of the lines within this passage are dedicated to Brutus, whom we all know supposedly has justifiable motives for the assassination of CaesarCaesar must be purged for the good of Roman society.

Brutus declares at line 114 that “The sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse/If these be motives weak, break off betimes,/and every man hence to his idle bed. ” This statement from Brutus is consistent with his motive for killing Caesar throughout the entire play and his actions and words lead the reader or audience to believe that he truly believes what he said and that he does not want to kill Caesar out of malice or jealousy. Another good example that helps to prove this point is when the other conspirators ponder whether they should kill Antony along with Caesar.

Holding true to his original motives and purposes, Brutus maintains that if they were to kill others in addition to Caesar “Our course will seem too bloody” (2. 1. 161). Brutus clearly and simply wants to put Caesar to death to save Romenot to cause a massacre. On the contrary, however, Cassius paints a different picture. From the beginning of the play, it is Cassius who seems to develop an overbearing desire to kill Caesar out of malice and jealously. Cassius is also effective in polluting the mind of Brutus, by suggesting to him that he is an equal to Caesar and by having false letters of praise from citizens placed in his home.

As his negative behavior applies to the current passage, Cassius offers the idea of seeking the aid of Cicero in order to improve their scheme. What Cassius seeks is not a humble assassination of Caesar, but rather a bloody murder. He cultivates this desire when he also suggests that perhaps the conspirators should also kill Antony, offering that “[he] think[s] it is not meet/Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,/should outlive Caesar. We shall find of him/a shrewd contriver. And you know his means/If he improve them may well stretch so far/As to annoy us all” (2. 154-159).

What is also evident here is Cassius’ fear of another power suppressing his, or that of his co-conspirators, which is another reason he probably wanted to include Cicero in their plans in the aforementioned lines. In conclusion, this passage showcases many aspects of Shakespeare’s style. While this play is actually a shift from his normal rhetorical style in that is displays simple prose or poetry, as opposed to his usually complicated and flowery style, Shakespeare’s use of pun is characterizing of his traditional work.

Shakespeare shift in style can be attributed to his desire to authentically imitate and portray Roman life, as to make his play more effective. Shakespeare’s maintenance of iambic pentameter meter throughout this passage is also consistent with Roman or Classical society in that it symbolizes, or seeks to achieve balance. The passage also reveals or maintains many things about some of Julius Caesar’s characters. For examples, Brutus’ initial motive for wanting to assassinate Caesarthat it is for the overall good of Rome, and Cassius’ malicious motives.

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