Though it's titled The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, the man himself appears only in five scenes in the entire play! However, such is his impact on the events that surrounded him that he still remains the central figure in this psychological drama that combines politics, honor, assassination, betrayal, the lust for power, patriotism and friendship. Set in 44 BC in ancient Rome, it is one of William Shakespeare's early Tragedies.
First thought to have been performed in September 1599, William Shakespeare's original text or script have long vanished. What we have today is taken from a prompt script that must have been used by stage managers in Elizabethan times. Shakespeare probably used the historical facts found in Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Life of Brutus and Life of Caesar.
Whatever the source, the play remains a deeply moving, engrossing slice of history. The play opens with a street scene in which two Roman tribunes are depicted arrogantly dealing with the common people of the city. This sets the tone for what is to comethe huge public antipathy to a once celebrated war hero who now nurses ambitions beyond his status. Later scenes depict the agony of Marcus Brutus, the beloved friend of Caesar, who is also a supreme patriot above all the calls of friendship and love. The sinister warning of the soothsayer, the conspiracy scene, the brutal assassination and the events that follow are well known. Mark Antony's famous speech Friends, Romans, Countrymen.... and Brutus' inflexible idealism and his far too measured tribute to the man whom he honored so greatly are the highlights of the play.
Scholars have concluded that the inspiration for writing this play must have been the overwhelming anxiety felt in Elizabethan England regarding the royal succession. There were fears that the elderly Queen would die without naming a successor, leading to the outbreak of civil war, which is depicted in the play after the death of Caesar.
Caesar himself is a charismatic, powerful and intuitive leader, who holds the empire together by sheer dint of his leadership qualities. He has strong premonitions of his own death. Though the crime is committed in full public view, it is sought to be justified as a political necessity. The play is also famous for not having either a real hero or a villain.
Julius Caesar has been adapted extensively for stage, screen and television. Many notable actors have played the roles of Brutus, Mark Antony and Caesar with exceptional brilliance. The play is full of wonderful lines that have entered the realms of English literature over the centuries.
Indeed a riveting read for young and old!