Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Vs. Plutarch’s Julius Caesar

1561 words - 6 pages

"He doth bestride the narrow world like a colossus"(Julius Caesar 1.2.142-43).These words were spoken by Cassius, a character in Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.He is speaking about Julius Caesar and Caesar's arrogance and overconfidence. This quote also shows how Shakespeare perceived Julius Caesar as a prominent and influential man of his time. However, this view is not shared by all of the biographers that chose to write about Julius Caesar. In fact a famous ancient writer named Plutarch depicted Julius Caesar as a power-hungry and arrogant man in his biography The Life of Caesar. Plutarch was one of the world's first modern biographers and his work is still used today. Even Shakespeare used him as a historical reference in his play on Caesar.Although this is the case, Plutarch and Shakespeare's portrayals of Caesar and the events that encompass his life are quite different. But who's to say which one is correct? That is where the work of Suetonius comes in. Suetonius was another ancient writer that lived over one hundred years after the assassination of Caesar yet Suetonius had access to important archival records and literary sources that are now lost. Therefore, it can be assumed that his account of the life of Caesar in The Lives of the Twelve Caesars is fairly accurate. So when Shakespeare and Plutarch's biographies are compared with Suetonius' work, Plutarch comes out the winner in validity. Although Shakespeare and Plutarch's descriptions of the events surrounding the life and death of Caesar are somewhat similar, the differences outweigh the parallelism by far. Some of the most obvious differences include: the way Caesar was viewed by the people, the fact that the conspiracy was known about, and the detail and lack of detail regarding Caesar's assassination. Equally important are the differences in the character and personality of Julius Caesar himself.Plutarch describes Caesar as ambitious and self-centered, whereas Shakespeare makes Caesar out to be a national hero, all about the people, and not zealous at all.In Plutarch's version of Caesar's life it is made clear that Caesar had an uncovered longing to become king and that the people resented that. "What made Caesar most openly and mortally hated was his passion to be made king. It was this which made the common people hate him for the first time, and it served as a most useful pretext for those others who had long hated him but had up to now disguised their feelings" (The Life of Caesar 231). The Romans of this time period had a new way of governing themselves: actually governing themselves instead of being governed by one man.Plutarch states that the last of the kings was driven out by Brutus' ancestors and that the people never wanted another monarchy (The Life of Caesar 232-33). This is the reason they hated Caesar. Although this animosity is very evident in Plutarch's work it is not even mentioned in Shakespeare's play. However, Shakespeare does lead the reader to believe...

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