The Nature Of Man Explored In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

1862 words - 7 pages

Much speculation has arisen over why Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar. Some say he was he was
predicting what would happen should civil war break out in England. Shakespeare lived from 1564 to
1616 in the Elizabethan era. Julius Caesar was written in 1599, near the end of the Queen’s reign.
Elizabeth was growing old and still had no heir; the future ruler of England lay in question. Undoubtedly,
multiple candidates would strive for the throne, but the people would ultimately choose who would
succeed through their support. However, could people, who were motivated by such base things, be
trusted to make the right decision? This is one of the questions Shakespeare attempts to answer in Julius
Caesar. Taking place after the Roman Civil War, the plot revolves not around the title character, but the
conspirators who wish to kill him, Brutus and Cassius. They fear Caesar will make himself king and the
Roman Republic will fall; to prevent this, they assassinate him. They announce to the people that they
did it for the good of Rome. Unfortunately, the Roman people are persuaded by Mark Antony that
Caesar was virtuous and the conspirators are traitors, resulting in another civil war between the
triumvirs – Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus – and the conspirators. Brutus and Cassius lose this war, and
the Republic dies with them. The Roman mob plays an important role, as their support is necessary for
each side to succeed. Both factions attempt to manipulate them, but the triumvirs are victorious
because they appeal to the mob’s basic nature instead of trying to reason with them. This scathing view
of the nature of man raises a larger question: if people are so base, can they be trusted to govern
themselves? Is democracy doomed to fail? Shakespeare, though he had never experienced it, wisely
distrusted democracy because he knew man was inherently evil.
Colloquially, the term “democracy” is used to refer to any government in which the people have a
say in how they are governed. However, the true definition is much narrower; a “pure” democracy
constitutes direct government by the people in which the majority rules. It is, in effect, merely tyranny
of a different form – the minority has no power or guarantee of its rights. The 51% makes the decisions,
and the 49% has to accept them. This form of government dates back to ancient Mesopotamia, but was
popularized by the Greeks. Greek city-states, such as Athens, were self-governed by councils of equal
men. Citizens would meet in a public forum to discuss an issue, both sides would present their case, and
then the council would vote. Whichever side received the majority of votes prevailed. Later in history,
this model was abandoned because of the obvious issue of tyranny-by-majority and was replaced with
representational democracy. This new form of government, more practical and better able to protect
the rights of its citizens, rose to prominence in Europe after the 10th century,...

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