Julius Caesar Essay: Loyalty and Justice in Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar Essay: Loyalty and Justice in Julius Caesar
In Shakespeare?s Julius Caesar, one must read the text closely to track the shifting motivations and loyalties of each character as the play progresses. An important factor that must be kept in mind while reading is the degree of loyalty, in other words, the degree to which characters act out of a motivation to help others. Throughout the play, each character?s current degree of loyalty to others is clearly exhibited by words or behavior ? this holds true for the characters of Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Portia, and Calpurnia. The focus on loyalty is critical because before the play ends an even-handed justice is meted out to a number of people who fail to live up to an expected standard of loyalty to others.Mark Antony, for example, begins the play strongly loyal to Caesar, and his actions through the death of Caesar in Act 3 are clearly motivated by his desire to support Caesar?s cause. Something goes wrong somewhere, though, as by 4.1 Antony is engaged in dividing up the spoils, sending people to their deaths, and scheming against his partners for personal gain. One must engage in very close reading of the text to determine the cause and the signs of change. Issues for discussion include whether Antony is carried away by personal power, whether he is driven by desire for vengeance to assuage his personal grief, and whether these things constitute a desire to act for his friend or for himself. Antony?s final speech is essentially a repeat of Brutus? rhetoric following Caesar?s murder, and Antony?s transformation is complete.

Cassius? loyalty line goes the other way. In the beginning he is out to set himself up in a position of power, and through Caesar?s death he continues to act out of self-interest. By the end of the play, however, he has developed a sense of loyalty to Brutus and to Titinius. Brutus?s pattern lies somewhere in between Antony?s and Cassius?s. In the beginning of the play most students feel that Brutus? loyalty is ambiguous. Although he seems loyal to Caesar, he is swayed by flattery to himself. By 2.1, when he makes the decision to participate in the murder, Brutus seems to be acting out of self-interest, though he disguises it in a rationalization of the good of the country. I find that students often engage in a really interesting discussion of the subtle shifts in Brutus? use of language; he shifts, for instance, to the use of the royal ?we.? By the end of the play Brutus, like Cassius, develops a sense of loyalty to his new comrades, and his last words, like Cassius?s, are a self-condemning recognition of guilt. Brutus?s line on the chart will generally begin at the middle, drop to the bottom, then rise to the top. All of these characters pay for their decisions to place self-interest above the good of others; Brutus and Cassius die in ritual self-executions, and Antony, though he survives this play, will pay the price of his greed in the next: his punishment comes around in Antony and Cleopatra.

Interestingly enough, Shakespeare does not leave the theme of loyalty to simplistic cause and effect. His treatment is more complicated than maxims such as: ?if you act out of self-interest, you will suffer for it.? I ask students to look carefully at Calpurnia and Portia. Both women are unceasingly loyal to their husbands, and students will generally portray them on the graph as straight lines across the top. For all their unswerving loyalty to others, though, they pay the same price as their husbands-they too end up dead. Why? Their mistake, perhaps, is not that of egocentrism or but of ill-judgment. By supporting their husbands? folly, they support their husbands? evil deeds.

Shakespeare gives us, in Julius Caesar, a study of the ramifications of a variety of failures to remain true and honorable, and by the end, all are, indeed, punished.

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