Julius Caesar Disruption and Justice Essay

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Julius Caesar: Disruption and Justice

The central dilemma of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is the question of the value of republican virtues versus the value of stability. At the beginning of the play, Brutus and Cassius debate the risks of assassinating Caesar, versus Caesar being allowed to become a tyrant. Although Shakespeare’s literary version of Caesar clearly is not a bad man, the crowds who would allow Caesar to become king are all too willing to sacrifice democratic ideals for despotism, and Caesar seems unwilling to stop them. But after Caesar is killed, the government which emerges in his wake is even more tyrannical. The play is ambiguous. Caesar’s not-so-hidden desire to become a king results in the destruction of the republic, but the unlawful means used to stop it do not achieve their desired results. In fact, the unlawful attempt to stop Caesar’s illegitimate attempt at seizing power simply creates more lawlessness. On the other hand, particularly given the base nature of the crowds and the baseness of Caesar’s closest associate Mark Antony, the supposed goodness of Caesar’s eventual tyranny would not necessarily be assured.

The only clear virtue which emerges in the play is the desire to actually do good by the republic, versus serve one’s personal ends. Shakespeare is again ambiguous in his suggestion about the real motivation of the conspirators by creating a contrast between the apparent motivations of the jealous and ambitious Cassius with the noble Brutus. Cassius is primarily envious of Caesar. Brutus has no desire for personal power for himself but is persuaded by Cassius to join the conspiracy against Caesar because Brutus is worried about the future of the republic. The many conspirators clearly show many different types of motivations. All have their own distinct personalities and reasons for participating.

The contrast between the motivations of the two very different men leading the conspiracy is clearly seen in the ways in which Cassius first speaks of Caesar. He mocks Caesar’s physical infirmities, such as when Caesar nearly drowned and he had to save him. Cassius’ implication is that Caesar is no greater than any other man, so why should be king? “I was born free as Caesar; so were you: / We both have fed as well, and we can both/Endure the winter's cold as well as he” (I.2).
Unlike Brutus, Cassius uses dismissive and mocking language to demean Caesar. This, of course, really has very little to do with Caesar’s fitness to rule or not rule but does show his jealousy of the man.

Shakespeare thus implies, by this contrast, that one way to understand and evaluate the goodness of an action is the motivation of the actors, and Cassius’ motivation is not pure, in contrast to Brutus. “Brutus had rather be a villager/ Than to repute himself a son of Rome,” says Brutus of himself (I.2). In contrast to the passionate, fiery Cassius, Brutus is so distanced that he often refers to himself in the third person. Brutus stresses that it is not personal glory but the good of Rome that is at the forefront of his mind when he expresses his fear of Caesar taking more power for himself.

Caesar’s actions are disruptive, because they undo centuries of republican government and values. But assassination unleashes the violence of the mob, who loved Caesar because he gave them money and festivals. Mark Antony easily uses his demagogic capabilities to turn the people of Rome against the conspirators and drive them out. The violence of the mob can be seen in their actions to Cinna the poet. “Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses” (III.3). While Brutus demands that Caesar be slaughtered in what he hopes will be a decorous fashion, Shakespeare makes it clear that political disruption always results in ugliness and brings out the ugliness of other human beings. When someone is assassinated, people’s passions become so whipped up in anger and violence, they do not care if justice is done. Significantly,….....

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Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Shakespeare Homepage. 1599. Web. 23 Jun 2018.
http://shakespeare.mit.edu/julius_caesar/index.html

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