Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar
William Shakespeare
4 book marks

I finished reading Julius Caesar today and once I got past the initial discomfort of learning difficult names and reading verse, I enjoyed this play about power, envy, betrayal and the fight to avenge Caesar’s death.

I was surprised at how many lines I remembered from reading it years ago. These lines are repeated so often in our modern world, they often work themselves into common conversation. Here are just a few of the familiar ones:

“Beware the ides of March.”

If the Soothsayer tells you to beware, you might want to listen! Photo: caristech.com

“…but, for mine own part, it was Greek to me.”

“Et tu, Brute!”

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”

I was also surprised at how much easier the plot was to follow than I remembered. If you’ve never read the play, here’s a brief synopsis:

Julius Caesar returns to Rome in triumph after defeating the sons of his archrival, Pompey. The word on the street is that Caesar is about to be named king, which means the end of Rome’s republic government. A lot of people are afraid of this. Some think Caesar is too ambitious, others, like Brutus worry that the common man will not be protected if Caesar becomes king.

Meanwhile, Caesar warns his closest friend, Mark Antony that Cassius is a dangerous man, but Antony tells him not to worry. Cassius assembles a group who conspire to kill Caesar and they trick Brutus, one of Caesar’s closest friends, into joining the conspiracy.

Are spoiler alerts required for a play that was written in the 1600s? I’m not sure, so to stay safe, I’ll keep it brief. What follows is a bloody stabbing, a famous funeral speech and then a battle to avenge Caesar’s death. A lot of the key players react wildly to the developments on the battle field and there’s a great deal of running with and into swords. Shakespeare packs a lot of action into the last few scenes, so be ready to read them a couple times to keep things straight.

I’m giving Julius Caesar four bookmarks because I found it surprisingly entertaining and fairly easy to understand, once I got going. I may try another Shakespeare play. Who has a suggestion?

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7 thoughts on “Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

  1. When I was in seventh grade at Madison Junior School, a girl named Liz gave a speech for student council president that began, ” Friends, Romans and countrymen, lend me your ears…” i thought this was enormously clever, and I’ve remembered it ever since. As for other Shakespeare plays, it’s hard to beat Macbeth though I like Richard Ii and the Henry plays.

    1. I remember a lot of the Macbeth quotes, thanks to you! “Out, damn spot!” I use that one to entertain myself when I’m doing laundry.

      I also think I remember a Little Rascals episode where Spanky holds a meeting and starts it with “Friends, Romans and Countrymen…” Those quotes show up everywhere!

  2. Oh dear, I’m back again! From JC, as I recall, Mark Anthony gets all the best lines: “Oh world, thou wast the forest to this hart, and this indeed, the heart of thee” and “When but the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.” Forgive inaccuracies, I quote from very distant memory. “Oh, no Brutus! NOT YOU?” Other plays? For me, Hamlet was always the best by a street, but the unmentionable Scottish Play is very good and extremely atmospheric.

  3. Macbeth and Richard III are my favorites from his tragedies and histories respectively, but I think after Caesar you need something light and still incredibly clever. I love A Midsummer Night’s Dream and As You Like It.
    I completely agree that once you get into his world, language and all, his stories are not that difficult to follow. People give up too soon when trying Shakespeare. I think the who’s who is always challenging because they are plays, written to be performed.

    All plays are tough to sort out if you’re reading them alone.

    Great review, as always. 🙂

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