I’ve never considered ambition to be a fault. I view the ambitious as innovators who defy expectations. On this, Shakespeare and I seem to disagree. In many of his well-known works, such as Macbeth, Shakespeare tends to vilify ambitious characters. However, he breaks from this trend in Julius Caesar.
This Roman tragedy was the Shakespearean “book of the year” in grade ten English. At that point in my life, I didn’t care much for Shakespeare. For me, Othello and Romeo and Juliet were too emotional to take seriously, and Twelfth Night was, at the most, just okay. As a long-time fan of political dramas, I found that Julius Caesar checked all my boxes.
The story begins with a victorious Julius Caesar returning from war, more powerful and popular than ever—much to the senate’s dismay. As political tension rises due to Caesar’s return, Senator Marcus Brutus, the play’s tragic hero, becomes involved in Senator Cassius’ scheme to assassinate Caesar. Yet, the beliefs of the two men clash—while Cassius is hungry for power, Brutus is motivated by his morals. What unfolds is a tale of political intrigue, betrayal, action, an assassination plot, and a hint of the supernatural. Consider Julius Caesar a forerunner to House of Cards, but without Kevin Spacey.
In Julius Caesar, the morality behind the characters’ ambition is more complex than the black-and-white way ambition is portrayed in other Shakespearean plays. While characters such as Brutus are influenced by their moral compass, political motivation trumps the desire to remain a good person.
The triumphant and self-assured Julius Caesar is by far my favourite character. Confident to a fault, this is Caesar at his prime. Somehow, Caesar’s unwavering self-confidence invokes respect, almost inspiration in the reader. The essence of Shakespeare’s Caesar can be captured in this line: “Danger knows full well/That Caesar is more dangerous than he:/ We are two lions littered in one day,/And I the elder and more terrible.” More dangerous than danger? Enough said.
Julius Caesar is a play for anyone feeling withdrawal from Game of Thrones. With engaging characters, quotable lines, and political drama in a classic setting, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar extends beyond your grade ten classroom.