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Conflicting Perspectives in Julius Caesar

Conflict is the essence of drama and Shakespeare is able to exploit conflict to create tension through images, symbols and language that is dialectical, polemical; language of extreme opposites or antithesis.  Many of the characters are foils or contrasts of other characters revealing the conflicts evident in the play by their actions and words Shakespeare chooses for them.

The fickleness of the Mob is first referred to by Marullus when he points out that the adulation they once demonstrated for Pompey’s triumphs are now being lavished on Caesar, for a civil war, shedding Pompey’s son’s blood.  Later, the easily distracted multitudes are referred to as “rabblement” by Casca on Caesar being offered the crown.

 the rabblement hooted and clapped their
chapped hands and threw up their sweaty night-caps
and uttered such a deal of stinking breath

His derision is conveyed by the pejorative adjectives: “chapped, sweaty, and stinking”.

The fact that Brutus can easily sway the crowd to approve of the assassination of Caesar and then they swing back following Antony’s oration, illustrates how easily they can be manipulated by conflicting perspectives of language.  Politicians, advertisers and other propagandists appreciate the mass persuasive techniques to radically change perception and manipulate public opinion.

For Contrasting the Orations of Brutus and Anthony check the sidebar menu.

Conflicts within characters:

Caesar can be seen from differing perspectives as well.  The fact that he owes his popularity and power to a successful military career and not from the aristocracy makes his position precarious.  While the general population see his public spirited generosity, the vested powerful senators fear the erosion of their position and power.  Cassius has private envious motives while Brutus professes more civic and patriotic ones.

Use the sidebar menu to see the conflicting views of the main characters.

Conflicts between Anthony and Octavius

 

Anthony and Octavius have secured complete control of the city and we instantaneously see the corruption of power in the cold, cruel, unscrupulous natures of these two men. Antony’s dismissive and derisive treatment of Lepidus, his callous manner of executing suspects and subversion Caesar’s will, all undermine the warmth, charisma and high principled impression he conveyed during the oration scene. We can assume that Anthony even then was thinking chiefly of his own interest. 

It warns us of the coming battle and foretells the fate of Lepidus. 

The following scene succinctly reveals the character of Octavius by showing how easily he spars for dominance:  ACT V Scene 1 ll. 15 – 20.

ANTONY

Octavius, lead your battle softly on,
Upon the left hand of the even field.

OCTAVIUS

Upon the right hand I; keep thou the left.

ANTONY

Why do you cross me in this exigent?

OCTAVIUS

I do not cross you; but I will do so.

The right hand side equates with strength, while the left represents the weaker or subordinate side so when Antony, a seasoned soldier , though of dubious reputation, offers young Octavius the left, he asserts himself imperiously insisting on taking the right side, identifying and symbolising him as the commander-in-chief.  He denies “crossing” Antony but simply threatens he will if opposed.

Cassius and Brutus

 

There are many opposing points of view expressed throughout the play.  In both camps, the conspirators and in Antony and Octavius’s camp there is rivalry and dissension on the best strategy.  Generally it is a power struggle for control.  First we look at the tension in the camp of the conspirators in Act IV sc. 2 & 3. Again Shakespeare reveals both admirable and negative qualities in his characters by dramatisation, interaction and language.

Scene 2

This scene takes place at Sardis in Asia Minor in the camp of Brutus and Cassius. Brutus is awaiting the arrival of Cassius and his forces. Brutus is angry because of the way Cassius has been raising money.

The linguistic features of the conflict:

Cassius enters and at once peevishly accuses Brutus of wronging him.  Cassius begins with an accusatory tone and his first peevish words and impetuous actions begin the quarrel.

 

Most noble brother, you have done me wrong.

 At the beginning of the quarrel Brutus calmly has the presence of mind to realise how their dispute is unseemly so on the suggestion of Brutus they retire to their tent to continue their quarrel out of hearing of the army.

Brutus, this sober form of yours hides wrongs;

Later Brutus becomes more heated and Cassius gives way.

On the other hand, 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.

Scene 3

This is the famous “Quarrel Scene”. Brutus and Cassius quarrel bitterly. Brutus accuses Cassius of raising money for the campaign by dishonourable means--by accepting bribes from the Sardians and by selling offices in the army and government. Cassius says Brutus has disregarded his prayers in behalf of Lucius Pella. Finally Cassius offers his life to Brutus and Brutus is softened and forgives him. They become reconciled. Then Brutus tells Cassius of the death of Portia. Titinius and Messala enter and the four discuss plans for operations against Anthony and Octavius. Cassius wishes to stay where they are and let the enemy come to them but Brutus over-rules him. It is decided that they shall march at once against Anthony and Octavius and offer battle at Philippi. Brutus, left alone, reads in his tent. The ghost of Caesar appears and warns Brutus that he shall see it again at Philippi.

 

The fight becomes nasty as both continue to hurl accusatory insults:

 

BRUTUS

 ..... Cassius, you yourself
Are much condemn'd to have an itching palm;

CASSIUS

I an itching palm!
You know that you are Brutus that speak this,
Or, by the gods, this speech were else your last.

BRUTUS

Away, slight man!

Cassius makes a claim of superiority over Brutus and they quibble over words:

CASSIUS

I am a soldier, I,
Older in practise, abler than yourself
To make conditions.

BRUTUS

You shall digest the venom of your spleen,
Though it do split you; for, from this day forth,
I'll use you for my mirth, yea, for my laughter,
When you are waspish.

CASSIUS

Is it come to this?

BRUTUS

You say you are a better soldier:
Let it appear so; make your vaunting true,
And it shall please me well: for mine own part,
I shall be glad to learn of noble men.

CASSIUS

You wrong me every way; you wrong me, Brutus;
I said, an elder soldier, not a better:
Did I say 'better'?

Brutus asserts his views in a domineering manner and  Cassius’s defers to Brutus. Because of his seniority Brutus’s view prevails over that of Cassius whose expertise in military strategy should have carried greater weight.


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