Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Women and Wives

While one could try to analyze Calpurnia and Portia as full characters in their own right, they function primarily not as sympathetic personalities or sources of insight or poetry but rather as symbols for the private, domestic realm. Both women plead with their husbands to be more aware of their private needs and feelings (Portia in Act II, scene i; Calpurnia in Act III, scene ii). Caesar and Brutus rebuff the pleas of their respective wives, however; they not only prioritize public matters but also actively disregard their private emotions and intuitions. As such, Calpurnia and Portia are powerless figures, willing though unable to help and comfort Caesar and Brutus.

The Crown

The crown represents absolute power. When Antony offers Caesar the crown in Act I, the conspirators’ worst fears are seemingly confirmed: Caesar is on the brink of wielding absolute power and thus becoming a dictator. That Caesar refuses the crown three times only serves to bolster Cassius and Brutus’s fears. In their view, Caesar is refusing the crown (and therefore the dictatorship) to appear humble; this bit of theater is a precursor to what they assume will be his eventual acceptance. Furthering their suspicions is Casca’s insistence that Caesar hesitated before refusing, thereby characterizing his actions not as humble and reluctant but as ambitious and manipulative. Brutus and Cassius’s alarm upon hearing what happened at the procession indicates an acknowledgment of the crown’s symbolic value, as does Caesar’s exaggerated refusal to wear it. A mere headpiece would not merit such a response, but a crown signifying the wearer’s ascent to dictator of Rome is obviously far more significant. 

The Ghost of Caesar

Caesar’s Ghost foreshadows Brutus’s fate at the end of the play, but its appearance in Act IV also serves as a manifestation of Brutus’s guilt. Though he has justified his actions repeatedly, Brutus still struggles with the burden of having been complicit in the assassination, and he clearly feels haunted by the memory of betraying Caesar’s trust. The Ghost identifies itself to Brutus as “thy evil spirit,” perhaps meaning that only Brutus can see the Ghost, or else that the Ghost represents an evil inherent in Brutus himself. Either way, the phantom symbolizes Brutus’s inner conflict and the knowledge that his commitment to Rome won out over his friendship with a man who trusted him. Following a second sighting of the Ghost at Philippi, Brutus accepts his fate, and his final words speak to the war that has been raging within him from the moment he agreed to kill Caesar right up until the moment he died for it: “I killed not thee with half so good a will.”