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Who’s Got the Power?
Julius Caesar is a play about power; who wants it, who has it, and how does it work?
The subject matter of the play is the most significant transfer of power in the whole of Western history: the advent of the Roman Empire under the Emperor Augustus. Augustus inherited his power from his great-uncle Julius. But is this the only kind of power that was at play in this illustrative historical moment?
Shakespeare thinks something else. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar presents all of the players of this ancient power struggle in all of their conflicted grandeur.
Brutus possesses the power of nobility. He is ethical to a fault, and deeply concerned with honoring the credibility he has inherited from his storied lineage.
Cassius possesses the power of political savvy, orchestrating the ultimate conspiracy in all of history. He is shrewd and calculating, manipulating the emotions of the various characters in the play in order to consolidate the power in Rome.
Mark Antony possesses the power of rhetoric. He speech at Caesar’s funeral turns the tide of public opinion against the conspirators and establishes the meaning of Caesar’s assassination for the rest of history.
Caesar, both Julius and Octavius, possess the power of military strength. They have the largest armies, the most devoted followers, and the resolve of genuine experience on the field of battle.
Calphurnia and Portia offer a different vision of power, the female modes of power as they were understood in both the ancient world of Rome and Shakespeare’s world of Renaissance England.
Calphurnia is the calm and sagacious wife of Caesar, who urges him to take care of his own safety by staying home from the Senate on the fateful morning of his assassination. She possesses the power of restraint.
Portia is the fiery and histrionic wife of Brutus, who begs her husband to confide his troubles in her, fearing for his and her own safety. She possesses the power of emotional intensity.
In a well-written essay, compare two of these characters/modes of power. The best essays will reference the play in both quotes and analyses of the play’s action.