The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s most famous and frequently performed plays, though it is rarely given its full title.
It is believed to have been written in early 1599, partly because it is mentioned by a diarist in September of that year, and also because it shares textual and metrical similarities with other works more certainly placed around that time. It was first published in the First Folio in an excellent text, and indeed is regarded as the most correctly printed of all Shakespeare’s plays. The source for this well-known historical narrative was Sir Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives, but Shakespeare’s genius quickly moves beyond factual detail into the realm of character and destiny, human psychology and historical inevitability, and the potency and fickleness of crowds. The majesty of the poetic language in Julius Caesar gives it as noble a stature as its greater tragic companions in the Folio, and it may be that the power of this peculiarly memorable drama rests largely on its moving depiction of that other tragedy in the play – the story of its chief protagonist, Marcus Brutus, who finds himself torn between the emotional and political demands of personal loyalties and patriotism, which leads to a terrible journey of private anguish and public opprobrium. From the famous warning about the Ides of March to the assassination of Caesar and his agonised cry of “Et tu, Brute?”, the action rolls out across the Imperial stage in many memorable theatrical scenes, none more so than when Marc Antony delivers his stunning funeral oration, beginning with those famous lines:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
Many more pictures relating to Shakespeare and his plays can be found at the Look and Learn picture library.