The Tragedy Of Julius Caesar As A Tragedy Play: Pros And Cons
Julius Caesar is said to be a tragedy play as there are many characteristics of tragic literature. However, if it’s a standard tragedy, then Julius Caesar should be our standard tragedy figure – but in fact he is gone by Act 3. There is some discussion in this play of to what extent are the characters fated to do what they do, and to what degree are they, political operators.
Political power can be dependent on the language in Julius Caesar is evident even from the opening lines in Act 1 Scene 1 where Flavius says;
“Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home!
Is this a holiday? What, know you not,
Being mechanical, you ought not to walk
Upon a labouring day without the sign
Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?”
“This scene opens as most tragic plays do, with a humorous look at events off to the side.” (Matthew Martin online lecture 1) However, Flavius emphasises his political and wealthy status by condemning the public for being so fickle and welcoming of Caesar’s return who did not bring home any slaves or countries from his conquest, just as they once cheered for Caesar’s enemy, Pompey. Flavius’ use of the words “Idle creatures” Idle meaning “lazy” and creatures meaning “animal, as distinct from a human being or person considered to be under the complete control of another” again emphasises his status, implying that the commoners have not only no political power, but no form of power or authority at all.
Flavius also brings up the point that “Upon a labouring day without the sign,” referring to the lack of work uniforms that commoners should be wearing. Flavius commands them to “Speak, what trade art thou?” speaking of their profession again reinforcing his political power through is sharp, cold language. Shakespeare’s close attention to the particular word “Speak” shows a very serious tone being depicted, as in the Elizabethan age, there were concerns about the position that people held in society. This was taken so seriously that there was even laws passed called “Sumptuary laws” meaning that commoners could not dress as a lord or lady if they were not. It can also be argued that this particular scene reflects Hamlet when Francisco demands Bernardo to “Unfold yourself” (Act 1 Scene 1 Line 2) which may suggest that Shakespeare had a certain theme amongst his writings to show a hierarchy of power.
‘You block, your stone, you worse than senseless things!’ – (1.1.35)
Here Marullus is really putting the common people in their place. Asking the commoners Are they so fickle that can they really turn on their leader. It is clear that Marullus is once again using harsh language which portrays his political and overall power over the people. His words therefore create a very stern and hostile tone in this part of the play, going on to ask the commoners
“Have you just completely forgotten yourselves?”
“Knew you not Pompey?” Act 1 Scene 1 Line 37
Marullus use of rhetorical question is an example of his power and engaging with the commoners in all the wrong ways. Here he is getting the people to reflect on their actions, feel bad for their actions and show remorse for their actions.
“Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude” Act 1 Scene 1 Line 52
Marullus is clearly looking down on the commoners in spite and suggest that this kind of fickle behaviour means you’re just asking for the Gods to curse you, therefore using his language to convey not only power, but speaking on behalf of the Gods. As there is a clear snobbishness looking down on the common people, the idea of political power thickens especially due to the fact that people can be swayed one way one day and then the next another day.
Politics can be argued as being made up of language that motivates people to follow you. This political power is again evident in Act 2 Scene 1 when Cassius plants a letter for Brutus implying that he needs to take action for the people of Rome.
“Brutus, thou sleep’st
Awake, and see thyself
Shall Rome, etc
Speak, Strike, Redress!”
Here, Cassius creates the voice of the people, urging Brutus to take political control. He refers to Brutus as being asleep and not being fully aware of what he is capable of and not being self aware or recognising of his own greatness. Using persuasive language such as “Speak, Strike, Redress” allows Cassius to easily get into the mind of Brutus. Shakespeare carefully chooses these three words in order to try and manipulate Brutus to speak to the Roman public, Strike against Caesar and Redress everything that is wrong within the roman society and political system. This use of persuasive language works in gaining Brutus political power after him being so hestitant, shown in his use of the words ‘etc.’ showing that Brutus is leaving someone else to finish the sentence in the way that he wanted to.
It is clear that throughout Julius Caesar there is an anxious tone whenever it comes to people being in power or seizing power. Julius Caesar can be described as not only a tragedy largely about the ways in which political power can be dependent on language, but it can also be described as a tradedy about the ways in which political power can be dependent through appearance. We have already seen the impact appearance has in Act 1 Scene 1 with regards to the commoners, but here in Act 2 Scene 1 we see first hand how easily manipulated Casca, Cinna and Metellus Cimber are over the appearance of Cicero.
“O, let us have him, for his silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion
And buy men’s voices to commend our deeds:
It shall be said, his judgement ruled our hands;
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear
But all be buried in his gravity.” (1.2.150-155)
Metellus Cimber is using descriptive language to portray Cicero as a man of wisdom, who will “purchase us a good opinion” again only trying to accelerate their power through him. The use of the word “purchase” can also refer to the fact that he thinks of him as something that can be bought, not a human with emotions. This, therefore, backs up the argument that they are constantly trying to buy more power through their actions.