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The protagonist is Marcus Brutus, a scrupulously honest, loyal and patriotic statesman, who is nonetheless drawn by his friend Caius Cassius into a plot to assassinate the increasingly powerful Caesar. Brutus is torn between his love for Julius Caesar and what he believes to be his duty to Rome. He is eventually moved to the act only by his love of the republic; other characters in the conspiracy have less spotless motivations.
Alternately, the protagonist is Marcus Brutus, a self-centered patrician whom Cassius flatters into betraying his former patron Caesar. Take your pick.
In either case, Brutus is intended to be the most sympathetic character in a cast of villains. The title character? An Ambitious Decoy Protagonist. His other closest friend, Mark Antony? Uses his oratory skills to help woo the crowds to handing Caesar power, and when it comes to Avenging the Villain he really gets nasty, all while acting the part of the Faux Affably Evil Villain with Good Publicity. Octavian/Octavius/Augustus Caesar? Just as ambitious as his dear old uncle, but even smarter, smart enough infact to maintain his good publicity throughout the events of the play so that it takes a knowledge of what actually happened afterwords historically (or in Antony and Cleopatra) to realize his villainy. Our actual protagonists other best friend, Cassius? The Resenter to Caesar's power who gets Brutus involved in the conspiracy in the first place by being a Manipulative Bastard, with plans to set himself up as The Man Behind the Man where Brutus is The Man whether he wants the job or not, in fact the less Brutus actually want the job the easier he thinks it will be. The rest of the conspirators all have their own selfish motivations as well. Oh and the rest of Rome? Anyone who isn't just a victim of one of the villains, ends up in the mob formed due to Mark Antony's speech due to their fickle nature.
Following the assassination, Rome is plunged into civil war, and a number of characters from the first several acts of the play die during the conflict, mostly through suicide.
The play was adapted to film several times. The most famous is the 1953 version, which starred Marlon Brando as Mark Antony.
The play factors heavily into the movie Me and Orson Welles.
For the man himself, see Gaius Julius Caesar.
Trope Namer for
- Adaptation Distillation: The plot was taken wholesale from Plutarch's biography of Caesar. Shakespeare wrote some extremely good dialogue for it.
- Ambition Is Evil
Brutus: As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.
- Anachronism Stew: The characters refer to many things that didn't exist in Ancient Rome, but did exist in Elizabethan England.
- Anti-Villain: Brutus -- consider how honorable and idealistic Brutus is in the play; then remember, the widespread idea used in Dante's Inferno which considered him the worst traitor in history along with Cassius and Judas.
- Antagonist in Mourning: After Brutus dies, Antony calls him "the noblest Roman of them all" and says that the others conspired against Caesar out of jealousy, but Brutus did it because he thought it was the right thing. He and Octavian agree to give him a respectful burial.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: Caesar accepts superstition regarding the Lupercalia festival as fact, and then refuses to believe a soothsayer warning him to beware the Ides of March.
- Arc Words: "Beware the Ides of March..."
- Astroturf: Cassius pulls this on Brutus:
I will this night,
In several hands, in at his windows throw,
As if they came from several citizens,
Writings all tending to the great opinion
That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely
Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at
- Based on a True Story: Shakespeare got all his information from Plutarch and didn't deviate much from the facts, making this possibly the most accurate of his histories.
- Better to Die Than Be Killed: Hence the suicides.
- Truth in Television: This was fairly common among patrician Romans.
- A Birthday, Not a Break: Cassius before the battle of Phillipi.
- Blood on the Debate Floor
- Cassandra Truth: The soothsayer's warning.
- Lampshaded by Caesar as he meets the soothsayer on the Ides of March. The soothsayer reminds him the day isn't over yet.
- Chewing the Scenery: Several good scenes for it.
- Caesar, whenever he talks about himself. "Speak! CAESAR is turned to hear."
- Mark Antony: "Cry HAVOC! And let slip the dogs of war!"
- Could Say It, But...: Brutus is an honorable man, so Antony won't.
- Decoy Protagonist: Caesar himself.
- Democracy Is Bad: The citizens are continually shown as highly fickle.
- Disproportionate Retribution: When the angry mob surrounds Cinna the poet, this exchange occurs:
Cinna: Truly, my name is Cinna.
First citizen: Tear him to pieces, he's a conspirator!
Cinna: I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!
First citizen: Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!
- Downer Ending: It's Shakespeare. It's a tragedy. Duh.
- Dramatic Irony: It's very ironic to see Antony as a Magnificent Bastard in the play as well as the seeds of his disagreement with Octavian, as both in history and in Shakespeare's own Antony and Cleopatra, Octavian proved to be the greater Magnificent Bastard of the two.
- Driven to Suicide: Several characters after everything gets worse following the assassination.
- Due to the Dead: Brutus's burial.
- Dumb Is Good: Brutus is portrayed as far-and-away the best-intentioned of the conspirators, but every time he overrules Cassius it's for something mind-bogglingly stupid.
- Empathic Environment: Crazy things happen in Rome during this time of turmoil.
- Et Tu, Brute?: As the assassins attack, Caesar defends himself... but when he sees Brutus, his best friend, among the assassins, he gives up and lets himself be murdered - he didn't care about a bunch of strangers armed with pointy things, but having his buddy stab him is another story entirely. The full quote is: "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar." Marc Antony during Caesar's funeral would say of Brutus's betrayal that his was "the most unkindest cut of all."
- Famous Last Words: See Et Tu, Brute?, above.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Though the trope name comes from elsewhere in Shakespeare, it's in full force in this play. Every conspirator except (maybe) Brutus is motivated by this.
- Guilt by Coincidence: Cinna the Poet gets killed by the Mob because he unfortunately shared a name with one of Caesar's murderers. An added irony which Shakespeare likely didn't know was that the murdered Cinna was a good friend of Caesar.
- Honor Before Reason: Brutus' downfall comes from this, especially in regards to Antony
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: Brutus' philosophy will not let him directly kill himself, so he gets someone to help. Cassius likewise.
- Although, Brutus's suicide is more honorable (in their society's norms) than Cassius's because Brutus has his servant hold his sword while he runs himself on it, while Cassius makes his servant kill him while he looks away.
- Large Ham: Even from just reading the play, it seems like Caesar is intended to be played as one:
Danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he:
We are two lions littered in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible.
Cassius: How many ages hence shall this our lofty scene be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown!
- Manipulative Bastard: Depending on portrayal, Cassius can easily be this. It is left ambiguous whether Cassius is merely jealous of Caesar's new found power even though both Brutus and himself are just as honourable, and has contracted the world's most traitorous form of tall poppy syndrome:
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Caesar—what should be in that “Caesar”?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name.
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well.
Weigh them, it is as heavy.
- Or whether he genuinely fears that Caesar will be crowned king and therefore be a threat to the very anti-monarchy Roman ideology:
Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talked of Rome,
That her wide walks encompassed but one man?
Now is it Rome indeed, and room enough,
When there is in it but one only man.
Oh, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th' eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.
- Murder-Suicide: Arguably Brutus and Cassius, though the suicides happen well after the murder.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero/ Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Brutus decides to let Mark Antony speak on condition he doesn't say anything bad about the conspirators. Antony goes on to prove what a Manipulative Bastard he truly is and gets the people of Rome to riot against them. Good going.
- Not So Harmless: Brutus dismisses Antony as Caesar's harmless little yes-man, which turns out to be one of the biggest mistakes of the play.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Casca pretends to be less intelligent around people he mistrusts.
- Offered the Crown
- One Cinna Limit: Averted, unfortunately for Cinna the poet, who is mistaken for Cinna the conspirator and killed by an angry mob.
- Out, Damned Spot!: Inverted, interestingly, when Brutus suggests:
...Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And waving our red weapons o'er our heads,
Let's all cry Peace, Freedom, and Liberty.
- Poor Communication Kills: Lots of people.
- Dammit, Titinius!
- Portent of Doom: Calpurnia urges Caesar not to go to the Senate because of the various omens she's either witnessed or heard about from reliable sources. Caesar poo-poos it and goes anyway.
- Powder Keg Crowd: They start out angry at the assassination. Within 5 minutes they're cheering Brutus. 15 minutes of Antony later, they're rioting.
- Pride: Caesar is so assured of his invincibility that he ignores numerous unambiguous warnings of death and destruction and walks straight into the conspirators' trap.
- Prophecies Are Always Right
- Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Caesar's wife has a prophetic dream on the night before the Ides of March. He winds up ignoring it.
- The Purge: The Triumvirs' meeting at the beginning of Act 4 is the beginning of the proscriptions.
- Reverse Psychology: Antony's speech to the crowd.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Antony manipulates a city full of clueless shmucks into carrying one out for him.
- Rousing Speech: Mark Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral is one of the greatest examples in literature.
- All while sticking to Brutus' rule of not saying anything bad about the conspirators (even when from the text he clearly gets increasingly sarcastic throughout the speech).
- Sock Puppet: Cassius gets Brutus to join him by forging a bunch of petitions in various writing styles, all criticizing Caesar and praising Brutus.
- Stealth Insult: Marc Antony's funeral speech is full of these.
- Tag-Team Suicide: Cassius, then Brutus.
- Tears of Blood: From a statue of Caesar in his wife's dream.
- Third Person Person: Caesar often refers to himself in third person.
- Truth in Television: Caesar did this in his writing.
- Too Dumb to Live: Brutus' miscalculations lead to his defeat and suicide.
- Tragic Hero: Brutus
- Trouble Entendre: Caesar orders that the two tribunes who criticize him at the beginning of the play be "put to silence". While the actual people were banished, Shakespeare's phrase definitely suggests murder.
- Unaccustomed as I Am to Public Speaking: "I am no orator, as Brutus is..."
- Cassius does this more subtly to Brutus in Act I, Scene II, when he expresses pleasure that his "weak words have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus".
- Vigilante Execution
- With Friends Like These...: Brutus and Cassius are supposedly best friends, but in a lot of scenes, it's hard to see this.