One of William Shakespeare’s most revered Roman plays and a tragedy that has stood alone in its place of magnificence in world literature, Julius Caesar is accredited to have been written in 1599. It portrays the 44 BC conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and the defeat of the conspirators at the battle of Philippi. It is one among several plays written by Shakespeare that were based on true events from Roman history, others being ‘Coriolanus’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’. ‘Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans’, written in the First century A.D. and translated by the Renaissance English writer Thomas North, is the source of these plays on a certain level. Shakespeare seems to have agreed with Plutarch’s philosophy that history is made, written and altered by the actions and beliefs of a few great men, that is to say the rulers, rather than by the public or the people as a whole. He depicted the actions of the leaders of Roman society rather than class conflicts or larger socio-political movements as having determined history. That being said, while Shakespeare focuses on these key political figures in his play, he does not ignore outright the fact that their power rests at least to some extent on the fickle favour of the populace.
It is this facet of his writing that introduces to the play the concept of Classical Republicanism, often also called Civic Republicanism. The idea of Classical Republicanism developed in the Renaissance inspired by the governmental forms and writings of classical antiquity, especially Aristotle, Polybius, and Cicero. Classical Republicanism is built around concepts such as civil society, civic virtue and mixed government. Moreover, the prima facie ideal that this movement sought was a government that heralded the greater good of the people highest above all other matters. It favoured a form of government where civic liberty and equality was preferred over having an outright ruler. The paramount republican value is political liberty, understood as non-domination or independence from arbitrary power. It is this ideal that finds extensive portrayal in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar is immortal in the field of literature, with Shakespeare often hailed as the greatest playwright to have ever lived. The play, though it has many facets, can also be viewed through the lens of the socio-political concept of classical republicanism, with the events portraying its actual position and the ramifications for civic life in general. Julius Caesar is a valiant warrior who holds the position of dictator in the Roman Senate. He is shown to be an unquestioned leader-honest and devoted deeply to the people. He has complete support from the Romans on account of his victories for their homeland and for having thrice refused the crown, showing the highest regards for civic equality, a concept central to the idea of classical republicanism.
However, the play shows a conspiracy by a group of...