Explore the different themes within William Shakespeare's tragic play, Julius Caesar. Themes are central to understanding Julius Caesar as a play and identifying Shakespeare's social and political commentary.
Persuasion is a concept at the center of this play. Everyone seems to be trying to convince someone else of something: Caesar tries to create an image in the public's mind of his crowing (an ancient form of spin doctoring); Cassius finds the best way to manipulate each man he seeks to bring to his side; and Brutus, whom the reader hopes will refuse to participate, takes longer than the others to respond to Cassius' manipulations, but eventually does respond and even finishes the job for him by persuading himself (see his soliloquy in Act II, Scene I). This pivotal scene, when Brutus joins the conspirators, is also interesting because Portia, Brutus' wife, serves as the voice of Brutus' conscience.
Shakespeare took the potential for upheaval in Julius Caesar and used it to examine a leadership theme. Concentrating on the responsibilities of the ruling class, he looked at what could happen if that class no longer had a unified vision and hand lost sight of what it meant to be Roman. In fact, the characters of the play lose touch with the tradition, glory, integrity, and stoicism of their past. As you read the play, note the way that Cassius use the memory of that glorious past to persuade men to become conspirators, and the way the actions of the conspirators do or do not return Rome to its golden age.
While gender itself is not a central issue to this play, questions of Masculinity and effeminacy are. Caesar's weakness — his effeminacy — makes him vulnerable. On the other hand, the incorporation of the so-called feminine traits of compassion and love into the friendship between Brutus and Cassius paradoxically allows the men to show greater strength and allows the audience to have greater sympathy for them.