nderstand PlayHaving a good background and knowledge of the history of Rome is veryhelpful to understand Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. The setting of thisplay took place hundreds of years ago, so if one knows a little bit of Romanhistory, it would help very much in understanding what is going on in the play.
It is important to know about the connection, or relationship that thereonce was between Caesar and Pompey. When Crassus died, Pompey and Caesar wereleft as twin rulers of Rome.
As one could imagine, each wanted to be the onlyruler, so a struggle broke out between them. Caesar defeated Pompey and his armyin an important battle, and went on later to defeat Pompey’s two sons. It isafter that fifth and last triumph, at the time they are celebrating, when theplay opens. To understand the play even better, one should be aware of Brutus'(one of the conspirators against Caesar) ancestors, the Tarquins. Nearly fivehundred years before Caesar was even born, a cruel, unscrupulous leading familyhad seized the riens of power and had set themselves up as kings.
From thatpoint on, the people of Rome hated kings, and they bounded themselves togetherby a solemn oath never to tolerate a monarch, and it was formally enacted intolaw that if any man wish that the monarchy should be restored, he was to bedeclared a public enemy and be put to death.
Brutus and the rest of the conspirators had killed Caesar, but they madean error, which was letting Mark Antony, one of Caesar’s friends live. Antonylater united with Bepidus and Octavius, to go against Brutus, Cassius, and theother conspirators. At the battle of Philippi, in Thrace, Brutus and Cassiustook their own lives when their army was destroyed. Just as Caesar and Pompeyhad struggled for the world when Cassus died, so now when Bepidus died, Antonyand Octavius were left confronting each other. Octavius held Rome and Europe;Antony held the East. Antony allied with Cleopatra and were planning to rule theworld from Alexandria, Cleopatra’s capital. Their navies met Octavius’ off theshore of Actium, in Greece. Octavius conquered decisively, and both Antony andCleopatra, even as Brutus and Cassius had done eleven years before, took theirown lives rather than grace a Roman triumph. Again the blood of Caesar hadconquered.
All this information is very important for the true understanding of theplay. Without knowing some of this information, it is almost impossible to knowwhy all this is happening, and what all this means. That’s why before readingthis play, one should first have a little background information about thesetting, plot, and have read a short summary of the play.
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