Welcome to Nebo Literature.

The Characters - Julius Caesar

Development of Character

Shakespeare’s dramatic achievement comes to the fore in creating and depicting distinctive and credible characters who reveal themselves through consistent actions and dialogue. 

We must remember that character creation is a construct; an artefact and central ones do not necessarily represent the author.  Characters are either portrayed sympathetically or unsympathetically.  The former are called protagonists, heroes or good guys while the latter are antagonists, villains or bad guys.  Sometimes main characters are picaresque – likeable but harmless rogues, larrikins or scoundrels –“loveable rogues”.

Homer animates--Shakespeare animates--in its poor way much literature I think at best awakens a pleasing melancholy." But what men want is "something to animate and ennoble them

Martin Amis points out that over two millennia humans first told stories of Gods, then Kings, then Epic Heroes, then ordinary people , then anti-heroes, then villains, then demons and finally themselves.

In determining the qualities of any character, the following points should be observed:

1. Note what others say of this person.

2. Note what he says and does himself.

3. Be sure that he is expressing his real character and sentiments. He may be acting a part, e.g. if in disguise.

4. Look for contrasts. This is a favourite method of portraying characters with Shakespeare. e.g. note the marked contrast between Brutus and Anthony.  Characters act as foils to the main character.

5. Watch for growth or change of character as the play progresses.

How to Write a Character Sketch

1. A character sketch is not just an account of what the person did. It should show what they are and not what they did. Their actions should be referred only to show that they had certain qualities.

2. A character sketch is not just a list of qualities. It should be written in paragraph form with enough detail and reference to the story to prove that the character has the qualities mentioned. There need not be a separate paragraph for each quality; if certain qualities are related put them in one paragraph.

3. Make definite references to the words and actions of the character to prove your point. If possible, quote the exact words. It is not necessary to give the number of act and scene.

Conflicting Perspectives

Each of the characters can be seen in opposing lights or differing perspectives.  You can look at how each can be seen positively or negatively.

As Antony tells the murderers:

My credit now stands on such slippery ground,
That one of two bad ways you must conceit me,
Either a coward or a flatterer.    
3.1. 191 - 3

MAJOR CHARACTERS:

Caesar; Brutus; Cassius; Anthony; Octavius. Portia and Calpurnia

Caesar

Caesar’s eponymous name has become synonymous with the power of an absolute ruler in various languages; in Russia its title became Tsar or Czar, in Germany, Kaiser.  He was all powerful.

It is believed that his mother endured agonising surgery in order to extract him at birth. This belief gave rise to the term "Caesarean birth" 

Shakespeare gives us a fairly balanced account of most of the characters which can lead to an ambivalent response from us.  There are two sides to each character.

 

Positive

His military greatness — 1,1, line 53; 2,2, line 66;

3,1, line 149. One of Rome’s most famous Generals who conquests include Gaul (France) and England.

 

His power in Rome — 1,2, line 10; 1,2, line 135.

Why, man, he doth bestrid the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.

His popularity

 

BRUTUS

It must be by his death: and for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:

ANTONY

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times. 
3.1 224 - 8

 

 Good judge of men — Cassius — Anthony.

Negative

 His arrogance – pride, boastfulness, megalomaniac?

BRUTUS

So let high-sighted tyranny range on,
Till each man drop by lottery.

 

His last words – hubris – Pride goeth before the fall:

Caesar:

But I am constant as the northern star…

And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank

Unshak’d of motion; and that I am he…

III.i. 60-70

 

11,2, line 10; 3,1, line 58.

 His fear of being thought afraid — 2.,2, 100.

 His love of flattery — 11,1, line 207.

 His ambition.

 He wants an heir to succeed him as king.

 He shows his longing for the crown.

 His physical weakness

 he has fits

he is deaf in one ear, etc.

 

Superstition — 2,1, lines 195—198.


For an Historical account of Caesar Click here  

BRUTUS

One critic has said in a quotation that, “He was a good man in the worst sense of the word”. He was essentially noble of soul but his very virtues made him a failure.

Positive

He was a devoted patriot. Cassius appeals to his patriotism in 1, 2, Line 159. Ligarious calls him “Soul of Rome”. He takes as his motto, “Peace, Freedom & Liberty” (3, 1, Line 110).

CASSIUS

Yes, every man of them, and no man here
But honours you; and every one doth wish
You had but that opinion of yourself
Which every noble Roman bears of you.

2.1. 90 - 93

He expresses it to the people, “Not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more”.

 

Servant  of Mark Antony

Thus did bid me fall down;
And, being prostrate, thus he bade me say:
Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest;

Finally Antony admits it in his final speech over the dead body of Brutus.

 

His gentleness is perhaps his most beautiful trait. This is shown in his scene with Portia and more particularly in his two scenes with Lucius.

 

 He is no match for Anthony in cleverness, nor for Cassius in the administration of affairs, but he towers above them both in moral goodness.

 

He is an idealist, but becomes a victim of his own idealism as he cannot entertain using pragmatic means to achieve his ends.  He attempts to turn the murder of Caesar a ritualistic event to make it appear a sacrifice to the gods –

 

Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds: 
(Act II, Scene I 173 - 5).

 

BRUTUS


“There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
For I am arm'd so strong in honesty
That they pass by me as the idle wind,
Which I respect not. I did send to you
For certain sums of gold, which you denied me:
For I can raise no money by vile means:
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart,
And drop my blood for drachmas, than to wring
From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
By any indirection

 

There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.    IV 3 217 - 220

 

While he is noble in his private life, he is hopeless in public life.

Negative

He was not at all practical. He was a philosopher rather than a man of action. There are many references t o his bookishness, notably his reading when the ghost appears, to him. He was an impractical politician.

He was a theorist in government. He could not compromise. He believed in the republican form of government and could not see that the people wanted a monarchy.

He was an absolute failure as a leader in the war because he would not raise money by any questionable means when it could be raised by no honourable means. Note his charges against Lucius Pella and Cassius in Act 4, Scene 3. He cannot make the best of things as they are and consequently cannot get on with other men.

 

He is a vain man, deeply conscious of his own rectitude. See 1,2, Lines 85—89, “If it be aught--death.  So too in the quarrel scene with Cassius he rather flaunts his own incorruptibility. His vanity is shown in another way where he is willing to let Antony speak at Caesar’s funeral. He is sure that Antony can do no harm after he, Brutus, has spoken. Moreover, it is his vanity which makes him susceptible to Cassius’ solicitations to enter the conspiracy.

 

He misreads the characters of all with whom he comes in contact. He failed to see that Caesar was the one man who could save Rome. He under valued Antony’s power and ability. He was surprised to find Cassius taking bribes. Note also how little he understood the mob when he delivered his oration.

 

He is a very poor general and makes the great mistake which results in their defeat at Philippi. On the other hand he has personal bravery to a very high degree as witness his bearing on the battlefield and the coolness with which he addressed Caesar’s ghost. He was a stoic as he reminds us on several occasions but went against the stoic belief when he committed suicide rather than face capture. Thus his pride and fear of shame were stronger than his philosophy.

 

 
For more on Brutus Click here.

CASSIUS

 

The main conspirator, his self-serving expediency and wilful manipulation of others creates an atmosphere of intrigue, subterfuge and backroom faceless men’s machinations in the eternal struggle for power and influence.

Positive

Keen judge of men — understands Casca, Anthony and Brutus — 1,1, line 202.

The wily Caius Cassius that poisons Brutus’ mind.  It’s this insidious cleverness that makes Cassius such a compelling character.

He intuits Brutus’ vulnerability to moral corruption from the first and locks onto it as a means to getting the job done. This self-serving and self-righteous but, evil expediency lends impetus and vitality.

 

 Great practical ability in guiding the conspiracy in his play for Philippi.

 Devoted to Brutus — gives way to him — 2,1, line 141; 2,1, line 161.

 

 

The loyalty of Pindarus to Cassius, and the fact that Cassius is loved by all the soldiers indicates that he must have been an excellent general.

 

Tenderness and sympathy — on hearing of Portia’s death.

Negative

 Envious -  lines 115’-119; line 194; 1,2, line 208  It drips with jealousy, resentment and bitterness because Cassius' boyhood friend (i.e., Caesar) is now at the acme of the civilized world "

And this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.
(1.2.117-18).

unscrupulous as to methods — 1,2, line 307; 

CAESAR

So soon as that spare Cassius. He reads much;
He is a great observer and he looks
Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
......

Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.

The bribes expose his lack of principles

Hasty and hot tempered — the quarrel scene.

 


 

 

ANTONY

Positive

A lover of pleasure — 1,2, lines 28 and 29;

BRUTUS

for he is given
To sports, to wildness and much company.

                                                  line 189.

CAESAR

See! Antony, that revels long o' nights,
Is notwithstanding up. Good morrow, Antony.

                                                             2,2, 116,

Devoted to Caesar — Sycophantic?

ANTONY

When Caesar says 'do this,' it is perform'd.1.2.10

CASSIUS

Yet I fear him;
For in the ingrafted love he bears to Caesar--

2,1 , line 184;

 

Tactfulness and cunning — in dealing with the conspirators after Caesar’s death.

His oration.

He manages to turn an angry mob around by clever rhetorical skills.

His cleverness

- his oration.

-his battle strategy

 

Negative

CASSIUS

                              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: which to prevent,
Let Antony and Caesar fall together.

2.1.155 – 160.

 

Cavalier in condemning people to death and manipulates the Will.

 

ANTONY

He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him.
But, Lepidus, go you to Caesar's house;
Fetch the will hither, and we shall determine
How to cut off some charge in legacies.

Condescending and uses people:

ANTONY

Octavius, I have seen more days than you:
And though we lay these honours on this man,
To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads,
He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold,

 

Unscrupulousness and cruelty Act 4. Sc. 1.

 Thinks only of the present.

 

OCTAVIUS

Positive

Cautious.

Cool and Calculating.

Prompt in action.

Strong—willed. 5,1, line 16.

Negative

Very young – about 18 when he first arrives in Rome after Caesar’s death.

 

Not at all talkative.

 

CASCA

Positive

A flatterer of Caesar — 1,2, line 2.

Pretends to a blunt honesty — 1,2, lines 215—295.

Bold and courageous — is the first to stab Caesar.

Negative

Sharp—witted — 1,2, line 301.

Sarcastic and humourous — 1,2, lines 234—276

Superstitious — 1,3, lines 11—14.

Cynical and mocking.

 

PORTIA

Positive

 

Proud of her ancestry and her position

A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
 2,1, lines 292—298.

A Stoic — 2,1, lines 299—303.

Great depth of feeling — her scene with Brutus.

Dignity — 2,1.

True conception of a wife position — 2,1.

BRUTUS

You are my true and honourable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart

Negative

 

BRUTUS

Portia, .... wherefore rise you now?
It is not for your health thus to commit
Your weak condition to the raw cold morning.

 

Does violence to her own womanly nature and breaks down.

BRUTUS

Impatient of my absence,
--for with her death
That tidings came;--with this she fell distract,
And, her attendants absent, swallow'd fire.

 

CALPURNIA

Positive

 

Love for Caesar.

Devoted to him, concerned about his welfare. Protective and tries to save him from his fate.

 

 

 

 

Negative

A weak character.

Superstitious.

Break up the senate till another time,
When Caesar's wife shall meet with better dreams.'
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

 

Tactless in dealing with Caesar.

 

Does not share Caesar’s confidence.


[Go Back A Page] [Top Of Page]