Analysis of Julius Caesar and The Prince

by SC


Read, analyse, and annotate one Julius Caesar and The Prince. This should include: A rich literary analysis, drawing on relevant scholarship. Also include detailed examination of how the text relates to the NSW English Advanced syllabus.

750 words.

Julius Caesar and The Prince are two texts which will be studied in tandem in the English Advanced course, under the comparative study of text and context unit. Both texts explore common themes of leadership, morality and deception versus public perception. A key point in the comparative study of text and context units requires students to examine “how the social, cultural and historical context influences texts” and how different environments will create texts with different meanings.

Teachers should reinforce how texts and their environment are always locked in a circular dance, both parties serving as a reflection of each other. Both Machiavelli and Shakespeare lived and published their works during the Renaissance, a time where Christianity, once above public criticism and debate, was having its dogma questioned. This lead to a shift in the relationship between mankind and God, humans were now more responsible for their actions and worldly events. Resulting in increased debates about leadership and pragmatic mortality in the political arena, as reflected in this module.

Whilst the events which follow Caesar’s assassination, such as the appearance of his ghost, the eventual double suicide of Cassius and Brutus and the burning of Rome at the hands of mob mentality, shows that Shakespeare was heavily in favour for the rule of the monarchy. Shakespeare clearly does not approve of Caesar, often portraying him as a tyrant, too blind by his own arrogance and glory to maintain beneficial relationships with his senators, comically highlighted in his constant use of third person when referring to himself “Then fall, Caesar.” Thus it always feels like his eventual demise has been predetermined by destiny, Octavius in contrast is presented as a suitable candidate to rule Rome because of his heritage and his intelligent persona. Octavius’ interaction with Antony during the war foreshadows his eventual rise to power as Rome’s first true emperor;

Octavius, lead your battle softly on

Upon the left hand of the even field.
Upon the right hand, I; keep thou the left.
Why do you cross me in this exigent?

Brutus’ speech justifying his reasons to become involved in the coup highlights the tyrannical nature of Caesar and how the danger he poses to the foundations of the Roman Republic. The metaphor of Julius Caesar as a “serpent’s egg” is only a small part of Brutus’ speech but it highlights the rich literary analysis one can draw from this Shakespearean play. Throughout the play, Caesar is often described in anthropomorphic terms, ranging from a serpent, a “wolf” who preys on “sheep” (Romans), a lion feasting on the Romans and finally a falcon. This constantly allusion to the savage defines Caesar as a threat whose power will break free from any human restrictions or control. Similarly the egg serves as an accurate symbolism, foreshadowing Caesar’s potential greatness, yet also hinting that since he has not been crowned, he is also at his weakest state. Caesar’s vulnerability almost makes Brutus’ coup against him a moral obligation due the consequences of Caesar rising to the position of emperor and overthrowing the Republic.

Interestingly enough, the aggression and power represented in the anthropomorphism is something which is deemed attractive in The Prince. “The lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognize traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.” The juxtaposition further shows how these two texts approach the idea of ruling, for Machiavelli, unfiltered power was a useful tool which would allow a ruler to enact their influence upon society without worrying about the repercussions. In Shakespeare’s view, Caesar’s unchecked ego combined with his inability to work harmoniously with his peers deems his as a poor leader and thus in an act of atonement, Caesar is assassinated.

Another interesting divergence between Julius Caesar and The Prince is where the two authors stand on the importance of physicality. Machiavelli does not mention much on a ruler’s physic believing this intellect to be a more valuable trait “Outwitting opponents with their cunning”. However Shakespeare’s play constantly references Caesar’s body as a way to attack his legitimacy. Whilst Cassius attempts to “wrough Brutus’ honourable mettle” he questions Caesar’s legitimacy “upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed/ That he is grown so great?” this sentence hints at Caesar’s blood thirsty appetite, hinting that Caesar’s political growth has been sustained by the consumption of his opponents. Likewise this rhetorical question conjures images of supernatural growth and further reinforces Caesar’s savagery and animal instincts. Similarly Caesar’s inability to swim after the Tiber and his infertility all serve as marks against his rule, for Shakespeare, a leader often had to embody the values of a warrior, something which Machiavelli disagrees with.