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Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare
Main Ideas

Point of View

Main Ideas Point of View

As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, the perspectives of certain characters in Julius Caesar are privileged over others through the use of asides and soliloquies. These techniques allow these characters to stand out, as the play offers an exclusive preview into their motives and decisions. In Julius Caesar, the audience is given special insight into Cassius, Brutus, and Antony. In decisive moments, the POV aligns itself closely with the characters whose actions determine the play’s narrative trajectory. The POV shifts among the characters whose choices are most consequential: at first, Cassius, as he works to organize the conspiracy to unseat Caesar; later (and throughout most of the play) Brutus, as he makes the crucial decision to join Cassius in the plot; and finally, Antony, as he swears revenge against Brutus and the conspirators. The effect of this shared POV is that the audience understands the three main characters’ motivations equally.

Throughout the first act of the play, the emphasis is mostly on Cassius. In Act I scene ii, when the crowd offers Caesar a crown, we don’t see the action. Instead, we witness it through Brutus and Cassius’s reaction to the crowd’s shouts, which cause Cassius to complain that Caesar “doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus.” We might expect to see this significant scene take place onstage, but instead, we witness it third-hand, through Cassius and Brutus’s interpretation of what is taking place offstage. The emphasis on Cassius’s experience over Caesar’s experience establishes that Cassius’s POV is the most important. His soliloquy in Act I, Scene ii gives the audience a confidential insight into his intentions: “Well Brutus, though art noble. Yet I see/ thy honorable mettle may be wrought” (I.ii). Here, Cassius tells us directly what he wishes to do: forge a letter, seemingly written by plebeians, that will finally persuade Brutus to take part in the conspiracy: “And after this let Caesar seat him sure,/ For we will shake him, or worse days endure” (I.ii). At this phase of the play, he is the key instigator of the plot and so his perspective is given precedence.

In Act II, the POV shifts to favor Brutus, the tragic hero of the play, and will remain with him, with a few detours, until the play’s conclusion. The first scene in his private garden, where Brutus delivers several soliloquies, gives the audience a peek into his personal views of Caesar’s rise and his internal back and forth on what action he ought to take: “It must be by his death. And for my part,/ I know no personal cause to spurn at him” (II.ii). Later, when Brutus begins to read the letter that Cassius has forged, the audience is able to closely observe the thought process that leads him to take the plunge and partake in the conspiracy: “Am I entreated/ To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise:/ If the redress will follow, thou receivest/ Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus” (II.i). From this point forward, Brutus’s thoughts and decisions will dominate the play, and the audience will remain closely aligned with his point of view. Since we have seen that his motivations are selfless even when he’s alone, he remains sympathetic throughout the play.

The two notable POV shifts emphasize Antony’s perspective, explaining his virulent opposition to the Brutus-Cassius camp. His soliloquy at the end of Act III, scene i is the first time the audience is allowed to glimpse Antony’s real motivations. Despite telling Brutus that he will not blame the conspirators while speaking at Caesar’s funeral, Antony turns to the audience and confesses that he will in fact seek vengeance: “A curse shall light upon the limbs of men” (III.i). Not only does this shift in POV help define the conflict of the play, but it also establishes Antony’s independence and ability to make decisions on his own: from now on, he will serve as a fierce antagonist to Brutus. Similarly, in the first scene of Act IV, while sitting at the table with Octavius, Antony reveals that he sees Lepidus as a mere tool for his tactical aims, comparing Lepidus to a horse and saying “He must be taught and trained and bid go forth” (IV.i.) This glimpse into Antony’s utilitarian view of politics contrasts with Brutus’ rigid adherence to ethics and honor.