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Adjectives to Describe the Characters in Julius Caesar

In spite of Shakespeare's close adherence to Plutarch for his material, his genius is seen in the character portrayal. Human nature was paramount with Shakespeare, and the facts of history have been subordinated in his plays wherever they interfered with his conception of character.

Julius Caesar

This tendency to place character conception before historic truth is best illustrated in Julius Caesar by the portrayal of Caesar himself. Shakespeare insists, despite history, that he is a tyrant, weak in body and mind, easily flattered, vain, superstitious.

1. Physically weak.
a. Subject to epileptic fits. Act I, sc. 2, 1. 256.
"He hath the falling sickness."
b. Deaf. I, 2, 1. 213.
"Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf."

2. Susceptible to flattery. II, 2, 1. 91.
"And this way have you well expounded it."

3. Superstitious.
a. "Forget not, in your speed, Antonius, To touch Calpurnia." I, 2, 1. 6.
b. Influenced by Calpurnia's dream and augurers' warnings. II, 2.
c. "He is superstitious grown of late," II, i, 1. 195.

4. Vain.
a. "Danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he." II, 2, 1. 44.
b. "These crouchings and these lowly curtesies
Might fire the blood of ordinary men." III, 1, 1. 36.
c. "I am constant as the northern star ..." III, I, 1. 60-73.

5. Arrogant.
"If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him
I spurn thee like a cur out of my way." III, i, 1.45.

Yet, although Caesar's weakness is thus emphasized, he rules throughout the play, especially after his death. The chief conspirators must at length fall before Caesar's spirit. Cassius's last words are "Caesar, thou art revenged," and Brutus ends his life with
. . . "Caesar, now be still;
I killed not thee with half so good a will."

Brutus

The second half of the play, roughly speaking, is the tragedy of Brutus. He is the idealist, the dreamer, so universally respected that the conspirators seek him to give prestige to their cause. Love of country, of liberty, of honor, are his guiding principles.

1. Patriotic and liberty loving.
a. "If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honor in one eye and death i' the other
And I will look on both indifferently." I. 2, I. 85-89.
b. "Oh, Rome, I make thee promise
If the redress will follow, thou receivest
Thy full petition at the hands of Brutus." II, I, 1. 56-58.
c. Not that I love Caesar less but that I loved Rome more." III, 2, 1. 23.

2. Honorable.
a. "I love
The name of honor more than I fear death." I, 2, 1. 88.
b. "Oh he sits high in all the people's hearts."
(to end of speech). I, 3, 1. 157-160.

3. Idealistic.
"No, not an oath!" (to end of speech. 1. 1 14-140). Romans need no other bond than their pledged word.

4. Self controlled and stoical.
"Why, farewell, Portia. We must die, Messala ..." IV, 3, 1. 190-192.

As the play progresses, we retain all our respect for Brutus's high moral character and disinterestedness, but cannot fail to see that, though forced to act, he is not qualified for action. His public life is only a series of mistakes.

5. Unpractical.
a. Refuses to have Antony killed. II, i, 1. 162-183.
b. Gives Antony permission to speak at Caesar's funeral. Ill, i, 1. 231 ; 235-242.
c. Insists on marching to Philippi. IV, 3, 1. 203- 212.

Himself the soul of honor, scorning to do anything unworthy of a Roman, acting only for his country's welfare, he is incapable of imputing less honorable motives to those with whom he is associated. Mark Antony, his political enemy, fitly pronounces him "the noblest Roman of them all."

Portia

Portia, Brutus's wife, is also his counterpart. As he, actuated by the principles of honor and love of country, forces himself to perform deeds against his nature, so Portia, exercising the self-restraint and noble dignity suited to a woman "so fathered and so husbanded," holds rigidly in check all the deep feeling, tenderness, and anxiety that are aroused in her by her husband's and her country's plight. (Act II, Sc. i, and II, 4.) When finally her suppressed grief and suspense can no longer be endured, her mind gives way and in a fit of madness she takes her own life.

Cassius

Cassius is the foil to Brutus. He has all the practical gifts, the insight into character, the tact in dealing with men which Brutus lacks, but he has not Brutus's disinterested love of country and high ideals.

1. Tactful.
a. "I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus ..." I, 2, 1. 90-99; 140- 161.
b. Casca drawn into the conspiracy. I, 3, 1. iii-130.

2. Scheming and unscrupulous.
a. Throws letters into Brutus's window. I, 3, l. 144; II, I, 1.46-58.
b. "Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see
Thy honorable metal may be wrought
From that it is disposed." I, 2, 1. 312-326.

3. Practical and shrewd.
a. "I think it is not meet
Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,
Should outlive Caesar." II, i, 1. 155-161.
b. "Do not consent
That Antony speak in his funeral." III, i, 1. 232-235.
c. "'Tis better that the enemy seek us." IV, 3, 1. 198-202.

But Brutus's moral power is so great that it overpowers Cassius's practical judgment, to the failure of their cause.

At the outset, Shakespeare accents Cassius's unlovely traits, his ambition opposing itself to Caesar's, his unscrupulous methods of drawing Brutus into the conspiracy. As the action progresses, however, we gain insight into Cassius's nobler side: his generosity in the reconciliation; (Act IV, Sc. 3) his sincere sympathy for his friend's grief; (Act IV, Sc. 3) his deep affection for Brutus, "I cannot drink too much of Brutus's love"; and finally, his fortitude in meeting a self-inflicted death.

Antony

Antony, like Cassius, is a foil to Brutus. Like Cassius, he is an astute, practical man of the world, but unlike Cassius, he is fond of pleasure and adventure. Like Cassius again, he is bound by ties of affection and admiration to a finer nature. His love for Caesar is sincere, but he is shrewd and selfish enough to use it for his own ends.

1. Pleasure-loving.
a. "He loves no plays as thou dost, Antony."
(Caesar.) I, 2, 1. 203.
b. "he is given
To sports, to wildness, and much company."
(Brutus.) II, I, 1. 187.
c. "A peevish schoolboy, worthless of such honor.
Joined to a masker and a reveller!" (Cassius.) V, I, 1. 61-2.

2. Devoted to Caesar.
a. "Yet I fear him,
For in the ingrafted love he bears to Caesar -
(Cassius.) II, I, 1. 183.
b. "That I did love thee, Caesar, oh 't is true!"
III, I, 1., 194-210.

3. Shrewd and astute.
a. Speech of conciliation to Brutus.
"Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest."
III, I, 1. 123-137.
b. Gains permission to speak at funeral. III, i, 1. 227-230.
c. Plays on mob's curiosity and greed in his speech.
"Let but the commons hear this testiment."
III, 2, 1. 135;
and
"It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you." 1. 146.

Presented first merely as the gaiety-loving adventurer, Antony reveals after Caesar's death an extraordinary insight into character, from Brutus' noble, unsuspicious nature to the easily-swayed emotions of the mob.

In the opening scene of Act IV, more than nineteen months after Caesar's assassination, we see Antony in session with the other two triumvirs, and there is shown still another phase of his character: cold-hearted cruelty and selfish double-dealing. Lepidus, the third triumvir, is "a slight, unmeritable man, meet to be sent on errands," but having done his part in easing Antony "of divers slanderous loads," he is to be sent off "like to the empty ass, to shake his ears." In making out the proscriptions, he does not hesitate to add the names of any he suspects may work him some injury, though his sister's son is among them.

But however practical and unscrupulous his own nature, he was able to recognize and admire nobility of character in another, as is shown in his frank appreciation of Brutus:
"This was the noblest Roman of them all."


How to cite this article:

Roth, Helen M. Julius Caesar (Shakespeare). Shakespeare Online. 20 Nov. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliuscaesaradj.html >.
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