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Is Julius Caesar A Tyrant? Essay

1848 words - 8 pages

Does Shakespeare depict Julius Caesar as a tyrant who deserved to be deposed because of his unconstitutional usurpation of power? 

William Shakespeare’s well-renowned play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, has led to centuries of controversial debate on the validity of tyrannicide based on his depiction of Julius Caesar. Some scholars have argued that Shakespeare intended to portray Caesar as a tyrant, while others believe he is acting as a just King. On one hand, it is difficult to assume that Shakespeare plainly viewed Caesar as a tyrant, especially since Shakespeare deliberately left Caesar’s actions and intentions ambiguous, making him into a less obvious tyrannical figure compared to ...view middle of the document...

Furthermore, I will briefly compare Shakespeare’s Caesar to Plutarch’s Caesar and argue that Shakespeare’s ambiguity of Caesar’s character and reputation actually portrays Caesar as far more tyrannical than Plutarch’s character. Finally, I will argue that the deposition of Caesar was justified.
Shakespeare often wrote works that were politically charged and representative of the political atmosphere at the time. His representation of rebellion in classical Rome also resonated with the political turmoil in England during the 1500s. From 1558 to 1603, Queen Elizabeth I, was seen as a grossly unjust and tyrannical ruler. By Shakespeare’s day, “tyrant” was applicable to “any usurper of power by force as well as to any lawful ruler who governed viciously.” Elizabeth was an unlawful ruler who governed viciously, while Caesar was a usurper of power by force. Elizabeth thwarted numerous attempts to depose her and install Mary, Queen of Scots, as the ruler of England and she oversaw the “execution of scores of Catholic—the banishment of hundreds of others for religion, and the expropriation, imprisonment and ruin of Catholic men, women, and children, in thousands, for the evident purpose of utterly extirpating their religion in England.” Caesar was not yet fully launched as a tyrannical King, like Elizabeth was as Queen. However, the two certainly shared similarities that further position Caesar as a tyrant. For example, when it came time to discuss Elizabeth’s succession, she forbade any deliberation of it. When Peter Wentworth tried to bring up the question of succession in 1593, he was jailed and left to die by the will of the Queen. Similarly, Caesar “imperiously refuses to repeal the decree banishing Cimber’s brother” referring back to his will as ruler. Moreover, Elizabeth “craved the flattery that Caesar was said to love. She was said to have spoken of as a living goddess, as if immortal—flattery of a kind derided by Cassius: “this man [Caesar] is not become a god”, “immortal Caesar.” Continuing with the argument that Caesar clearly displays traits that are tyrannical, Miola points out that:

Shakespeare's Caesar has some of the salient characteristics of the tyrant in practice. He fears plots and conspiracies, twice observing early in the play that such men as Cassius are "dangerous" (I. ii. 195- 210). Despite stirring denunciations of fear, Caesar orders a sacrifice in response to the unnatural portents of the storm. Calphurnia persuades him of the threat to himself and he fashions an excuse for staying home, "Mark Antony shall say I am not well" (II. ii. 55). He shows superbia, arrogant pride, another distinguishing characteristic of the tyrant. Shakespeare's Caesar considers himself a special creation, far superior to ordinary mortals.

This shows an excellent display of archetypal tyrannical traits possessed by Caesar as portrayed by Shakespeare. From a classical perspective, his fear of plots and conspiracies can be interpreted to...

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