The Murder of Julius Caesar, 1865 painting by Karl Theodor von Piloty.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar (usually referred to simply as Julius Caesar) is a historical tragedy play by William Shakespeare. The play is believed to have first been performed in 1599 but did not appear in print until 1623, when it was published in the First Folio, the first printed collection of the complete works of Shakespeare.

The play is based on historical events. However, for purposes of dramatic effect, events which, according to Roman historians, took place over several months are depicted as happening within days or hous of each other. The play deals with the plot, led by Brutus and Cassius to murder Julius Caesar on March 15, 44 BCE. Caesar is a Roman general and politician who is very popular with the common people. However, the conspirators fear that Caesar is becoming too powerful and that he may threaten the future of the cherished Roman Republic by making himself king. The play follows Caesar's assassination, the subsequent civil war between the conspirators and forces led by Mark Antony and Caesar's nephew Octavius and the final defeat of the conspirators at the Battle of Philippi.

Although the play is called Julius Caesar, the character of Caesar appears in only three scenes and is killed at the beginning of Act III. The play's true protagonist is Brutus, who has four times as many lines as Caesar. Much of the emotional strength of the play comes from Brutus' struggle between love of his country and love of his friend. Even though Brutus is a close friend of Caesar's, he is persuaded to join the conspiracy to murder him because he believes that it is the only way to save the Roman Republic.


Act I

Marullus and Flavius, two Roman Tribunes, scold a crowd of common Roman people for their blind hero-worship of Julius Caesar. They remove cloth decorations that the people have placed on statues of Caesar, an action for which they are later punished.

1892 depiction of Julius Caesar by Clara Grosch.

Julius Caesar leads a triumphant procession through the streets of Rome. A Soothsayer gets his attention and tells him to "beware the ides of March" (March 15). Caesar dismisses the warning of a "dreamer".

Cassius is plotting a conspiracy against the increasingly powerful Caesar. Although Brutus is a good friend of Caesar's, Cassius begins to attempt to persuade him to join the conspiracy, telling him that Caesar is taking too much power for himself. Brutus does not entirely trust Cassius' motives but tells him that he will think it over.

Cassius convinces Casca to join the plot. He persuades him that the many strange things which have happened recently are omens, warning of the danger that Caesar poses.

In a further attempt to get Brutus to join the conspiracy, Cassius forges several letters in different handwriting which urge him to act in the best interests of Rome. He asks Cinna, another conspirator, to leave them in a place where Brutus will find them. Cinna agrees that Brutus' good name will help their cause.

Act II

Brutus is unable to sleep because he is concerned that Caesar is growing too powerful. One of Cassius' forged letters is brought to him. Brutus reads it and becomes convinced that he has to take action against Caesar in the best interests of the Roman Republic.

Cassius and all of the conspirators arrive at Brutus' house and discuss their plans to assassinate Caesar. Some of the conspirators believe that Caesar's close associate Mark Antony should be killed as well but Brutus argues against it.

James Mason as Brutus and Deborah Kerr as Portia in the 1953 movie version of Julius Caesar.

After the conspirators have left, Brutus' wife Portia comes to speak to him. She is deeply concerned about what is troubling her husband and suspects that he is plotting something. She tries, unsuccessfully, to find out about the plot in which Brutus is involved.

Caesar's wife Calpurnia awakes from a troubled sleep. She has had terrible nightmares which she thinks predict her husband's murder. With considerable difficulty, she eventually manages to persuade her husband that he is in danger and that he should not go to the Senate.

One of the conspirators arrives at Caesar's house. He manages to flatter Caesar into showing his bravery by agreeing to go to the Senate after all.

Portia continues to worry for her husband Brutus but hopes that his "enterprise" will succeed.

Artemidorus has a letter warning Julius Caesar of the conspiracy against him. He waits in the street, hoping to save Caesar's life by informing him of the plot to kill him. The Soothsayer is also waiting to see Caesar again and warn him of the danger that he is in.


Caesar sees the Soothsayer and, believing that the man's prediction has failed, says that today is the ides of March. The Soothsayer reminds him that the day is not yet over.

Artemidorus attempts to warn Caesar. The conspirators prevent him from doing so but become worried that Caesar may already know.

15th century German woodcut which shows Portia speaking to Brutus, Cassius and Brutus killing Julius Caesar and Portia's subsequent suicide.

One of the conspirators, Metellus Cimber, tries to persuade Caesar to allow his brother to return from exile. Caesar insists that he will never change his mind and the conspirators begin to stab him.

Mark Antony tries to persuade Caesar's murderers that he bears them no ill will, although he reveals his true hatred for them later. He asks to be permitted to speak at Caesar's funeral. Cassius thinks that this is dangerous but Brutus allows it.

At Caesar's funeral, Brutus wins the crowd's support with his explanation of why he killed Caesar. He explains that Caesar was his friend and had many admirable qualities but his ambition threatened the freedom of everybody in Rome and, for that reason, he had to die. He tells the crowd that he has given Mark Antony permission to speak at the funeral and asks the crowd to listen attentively.

Mark Antony's speech wins the crowd over to his side. He shows them Caesar's bloodied clothes and his body with its many stab wounds, winning the crowd's sympathy. He also tells them that Caesar has left some of his property to the public and left every citizen of Rome some money in his will. Convinced that Caesar was a great man who did not deserve to be killed, the crowd becomes an angry mob which rises up against Brutus, Cassius and the other conspirators.

In their anger, the mob murder a poet called Cinna, unrelated to the conspirator, merely because they share the same name.

Act IV

Charlton Heston as Mark Antony in the 1950 movie version of Julius Caesar.

Mark Antony and his allies Lepidus and Octavius (Julius Caesar's nephew) decide which of the conspirators should live and which should die. Mark Antony assures Octavius that Lepidus will never have any real power and the two plan their attack on the armies of Brutus and Cassius.

Cassius arrives at Brutus' camp and the two speak privately in Brutus' tent. Brutus berates Cassius for associating with people who take bribes and for his own dishonesty. However, Brutus decides to forgive Cassius and continue to collaborate with him.

It is revealed that over a hundred senators have been put to death by Mark Antony, Lepidus and Octavius, a large army is approaching Brutus' position and Brutus' wife Portia has killed herself by swallowing hot coals from a fire.

At night, Brutus sees a vision of Caesar's ghost. The ghost tells Brutus that they will see each other again the following day at the Battle of Philippi.

Act V

Sculpture of Brutus by Isaac Graham in the gardens of Anne Hathaway's Cottage, the birthplace of William Shakespeare's wife, in Shottery, Warwickshire, England.

The forces of Mark Antony and Octavius and those of Brutus and Cassius face each other and insult each other on the Plains of Philippi.

Knowing that they are probably both going to die in the battle, Cassius and Brutus say good-bye to each other for the last time.

Although Brutus' forces are winning against those of Mark Antony, those of Cassius are losing ground. Cassius mistakenly believes that Brutus has been defeated and commits suicide.

The battle continues. Mark Antony gives orders for Brutus to be taken dead or alive.

Brutus takes shelter with his few remaining followers. He asks three of his followers to kill him but each one refuses. He eventually commits suicide by falling on his sword.

Mark Antony's forces discover Brutus' body. Mark Antony pays tribute to Brutus, "the noblest Roman of them all", saying that he was the only one of the conspirators who killed Caesar not out of jealousy but because he genuinely believed that he was doing the best thing for his country.

Octavius indicates that the battle is over by telling his troops to stand down.

External links