Julius Caesar

by: William Shakespeare

Tone

The tone of Julius Caesar is serious and elevated, suggesting the audience should view the events of the play as having lasting, wide-ranging significance. The play contains little humor or moments of levity, and the characters take themselves very seriously, to the point of being willing to die for their ideals. Brutus’s calm, rational explanations for his actions maintain the tone of stately dignity even at moments of intense crisis, as when he faces death. In Act IV Scene i he says, “But it sufficeth that the day will end, / And then the end is known.” This line sums up much of the tone of the play – the characters all understand that they will die eventually, but that their actions in life will reverberate after they’re gone. Although the play ends bloodily, with many characters dead at their own hands, the characters never become hysterical or overly emotional, maintaining the sense that their choices are political rather than personal.

Departures from the overall high-stakes tone come across in scenes with Calpurnia and Portia. The discussions between Brutus and Portia, or Calpurnia and Caesar, have little to do with the sweeping course of history: “Y’have urgently, Brutus,/ Stole from my bed. And yesternight at supper/ You suddenly arose, and walked,/ Musing and sighing, with your arms a-cross”(II.i). Here, Portia’s concerned and intimate tone reveals Brutus’s conflicted inner life. His emotional anxiety is something Portia has noticed, and wants to fully understand. Similarly, Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay home with an equally candid air: “Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,/Yet now they fright me”(II.ii) Through these tonal shifts, the play highlights the mistakes of its heroes, who feel compelled to sacrifice their interior, private lives for what they believe to be higher ideals.