When authors refer to other great works, people, and events, it’s usually not accidental. Put on your super-sleuth hat and figure out why.
Shakespeare got much of the historical background for Julius Caesar from Sir Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives, which covered famous Romans, including Brutus, Caesar, and Antony. By the time Shakespeare got the text, it had been translated many times and filtered through a lot of linguistic lenses. Adding to that Shakespeare's own literary changes, the play doesn't rely too heavily on historical accuracy for its power. Still, there are many historical characters incorporated throughout the story:
- Julius Caesar, a member of the first Roman triumvirate, was assassinated in the Roman Senate
- Mark Antony, a politician and member of the second Roman triumvirate
- Octavius, a member of the second Roman triumvirate, was tenuously connected to Caesar in real life: Octavius' grandmother was Julius Caesar's sister, and Caesar adopted Octavius in his will. Octavius would become Augustus Caesar, the first (and arguably most influential) emperor of Rome.
- Brutus, a Roman politician
- Cassius, a Roman politician
- Cicero, the greatest Roman orator. After Caesar's death, Cicero was an ardent critic of Antony, and was (not surprisingly) put to death in the rule of the second triumvirate.
- Pompey, a member of the first triumvirate. In the play, Caesar's return to Rome is a celebration of his defeat of Pompey the Great. Pompey, or Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, if you'd like a mouthful, was a member of Rome's first triumvirate, alongside Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus. After Crassus's death, Pompey and Caesar quarreled, especially when Pompey was named sole Consul of Rome (Rome's highest political office). Caesar and Pompey were given different provinces, and Caesar's decisive grab for power came when he chose to "cross the Rubicon," the small stream that divided Cisalpine Gaul (now France) from Italy. This was tantamount to a declaration of war, and indeed touched off the civil war that frames Caesar's triumphant return at the beginning of the play. Having defeated Pompey, Caesar was the last surviving member of the triumvirate and the sole, unquestioned ruler of Rome.