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Analysis

What’s Up With the Title?

When we see a title like The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, we tend to think the play is going to be all about, well, Julius Caesar (the Roman political leader who got stabbed in the back by his so-called friends). But the thing about Shakespeare's play is this: Caesar only appears a few times before he's assassinated in the third act, and he doesn't have a lot of lines. So, what's up with that?

Some critics argue that Brutus, not Caesar, is the play's tragic hero, so Shakespeare should have named the play something like The Tragedy of Brutus. Seems like an interesting idea to us, but, to be fair, we think we should also tell you about the major counterarguments to this argument so you can make up your own mind:

Argument 1: Even if you think Julius Caesar isn't about Caesar's personal tragedy, you could still say it's about the national tragedy of Rome that revolves around Caesar. If we think of the play as being about a struggle between the ideals of the Roman Republic and the threat of tyranny as epitomized by the historical figure of Caesar, then the play's title makes a lot of sense.

Argument 2: Even though Caesar doesn't have a lot of lines, and he's taken down in Act 3, his spirit seems present throughout the play, especially when the conspirators attribute their downfall to Caesar's ghost: "O Julius Caesar," declares Brutus, "thou art mighty yet! / Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails" (5.3.3). In other words, Caesar may be dead, but his spirit lives on – throughout Shakespeare's play and the course of history.

Argument 3: Even if Brutus is the tragic hero of the play, that doesn't mean Shakespeare should have named the play after him. Willy Shakes, after all, does have a track record of naming plays after major political leaders, regardless of their dramatic roles. For example, the plays Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 aren't really about Henry IV (who dies in the middle of Part 2); they're about his son, Prince Hal. Nevertheless, the titles of these plays reflect the reign during which they take place.

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