Julius Caesar

10 October 2016

If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him, I spurn thee like a cur out of my way. Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause Will he be satisfied. METELLUS CIMBER Is there no voice more worthy than my own To sound more sweetly in great Caesar’s ear For the repealing of my banish’d brother? BRUTUS I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar; Desiring thee that Publius Cimber may Have an immediate freedom of repeal. Caesar What, Brutus! CASSIUS Pardon, Caesar; Caesar, pardon: As low as to thy foot doth Cassius fall, To beg enfranchisement for Publius Cimber. CAESAR I could be well moved, if I were as you:

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If I could pray to move, prayers would move me: But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament. The skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks, They are all fire and every one doth shine, But there’s but one in all doth hold his place: So in the world; ’tis furnish’d well with men, And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive; Yet in the number I do know but one That unassailable holds on his rank, Unshaked of motion: and that I am he, Let me a little show it, even in this; That I was constant Cimber should be banish’d,

And constant do remain to keep him so. CINNA O Caesar,–Caesar Hence! wilt thou lift up Olympus? DECIUS BRUTUS Great Caesar,– CAESAR Doth not Brutus bootless kneel? CASCA Speak, hands for me! CASCA first, then the other Conspirators and BRUTUS stab CAESAR CAESAR Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar. Dies Explore how the above extract is made dramatically significant through the use of irony. This extract is from Act 3 Scene 1 of ‘Julius Caesar’. It is the Ides of March and Caesar has just been warned once again by the soothsayer and encountered a mysterious missive from Artemidorous, who he contemptuously efused to listen to or read his letter. Now, at the Capitol, Caesar is surrounded by the conspirators, who had escorted him all the way from his house to ensure he would attend the Senate. An act crucial to the success of their plans. This extract is laced with irony, even dramatic irony. Perhaps the supreme irony is that while Caesar in his flight of rhetoric compares himself to the immortal gods, his humanity is albeit soon realised. When Metellus petitions Caesar by flattering him ‘Most high, most mighty, and most puissant’, the audience knows that this is but a pretext for the conspirators to move closer to Caesar.

Through the act the conspirators have planned, Caesar will neither be ‘high’ or ‘mighty’ or ‘puissant’. It is very striking to the audience that just when Caesar is being addressed as ‘most puissant’, his position is ironically becoming weaker and weaker, as his would be assassins position themselves ever closer and within striking distance of him. Yet, Caesar, while proclaiming himself unmoved by ‘these couching and these lowly courtesies’ is clearly affected, for he launches himself on a flight of rhetoric breathtaking in arrogance.

He first elevates himself above ‘ordinary men’, asserting that Metellus’s crude petitioning can only ‘fire the blood of ordinary men’, from which he excludes himself, for Caesar does not ‘bear such rebel blood’. He goes beyond just dismissing Metellus’s petition, he chooses to humiliate him, calling his efforts to influence him ‘low-crooked court’sies and base spaniel-fawning’ and finally dismissing him, ‘I spurn thee like a cur out of my way’. Caesar is right in upholding the law and stressing that an emotional approach to individual application of the law would ‘turn pre-ordinance and first decree into the law of children’.

It is ironical that the conspirators want to do away with Caesar under the guise of tyranny, implying that the rule of law would be subverted by the all powerful Caesar, endangering the patricians’ life and property. Yet, here we find the conspirators themselves forcefully petitioning Caesar to subvert the laws that he is supposed to uphold as the ruler of Rome. It is especially ironical that Metellus’s petition is first supported by the great Brutus, who on more than one occasion has taken pride in his stoic nature, of being moved by reason rather than emotion. Here, he chooses to let emotion override reason.

In an act of even greater irony, Shakespeare makes Cassius feign humility ‘As low as to thy foot doth Cassius fall’. We are reminded of Cassius in Act 1 Scene 2, who had proudly asserted his disdain for Caesar’s growing stature ‘and we petty men, walk under his huge legs, and peep about / To find ourselves dishonourable graves’. Here, he voluntarily throws himself at Caesar’s leg, forgetting his earlier expressions of disdain for just such an act. Cassius’s exaggerated act of humility encourages Caesar into an even more egotistical flight. He declares he is ‘constant as the northern star’ and like it the brightest among ‘unnumber’d sparks’.

This metaphorical association with the northern star, finds him claiming that his constancy and position like the star is ‘unassailable’. Yet, the audience can see that Caesar’s constancy has just been influenced by Cassius’ pretensions of humility and his position is no longer ‘unassailable’, as unknown to him, the conspirators are now tightly clustered around him. The irony of this is certainly not lost on the audience, as Caesar himself earlier says, ‘If I could pray to move, prayers would move me’. Quite unaware how hemmed in and precarious his physical position is, something that is quite evident to the audience.

When Cinna joins voice with Brutus and Cassius, Caesar is clearly infuriated and angered, for now he proclaims himself as steadfast as Mt. Olympus itself, the place where the Roman gods rest, ‘Hence! wilt thou lift up Olympus? ’. Soon after Caesar has associated himself with the immortal gods, his humanity is soon realised, for Casca stabs him, ‘Speak, hands for me’. The ultimate irony in Caesar’s death is that earlier in the morning, he had shaken hands with the conspirators, called them ‘Friends’ and offered them his hospitality. Now, he is felled by the very hands he shook just a few hours before.

Caesar declared himself above ordinary humanity, ‘constant as the northern star’, unshakeable as ‘Olympus’, yet is all too human not to realise the false pretensions of the conspirators and their ever tightening knot around him. An even greater irony is that he falls to his death at Pompey’s statue, his blood splatters onto the statue as he does so, and proving true Calpurnia’s ominous dream of a bleeding statue. Finally, the greatest irony of all is that the conspirators killed Caesar in fear of possible tyranny, but in his death, they unleash an actual and far greater tyranny – that of Antony.

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