Ambition Quotes in Julius Caesar: Meaning & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Ambition
  • 0:31 Cassius' Notes Mention…
  • 1:36 Brutus Reacts to the Notes
  • 2:24 The Cost of Ambition Is Death
  • 3:22 Mark Antony Makes His Point
  • 4:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

If you're reading William Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar,' you might have noticed that the concept of ambition is often discussed. In this lesson, through the words of the characters, we'll talk about just what they mean when they talk about ambition.


Being called ambitious is usually a compliment. An ambitious person wants to succeed, and they manage to do so because they work hard. In Caesar's time, however, ''ambition'' took on a whole different meaning. William Shakespeare used his play Julius Caesar to make it perfectly clear that ambition was not a positive trait for Caesar. In the play, ''ambition'' really has more to do with a lust for power and success.

Cassius' Notes Mention Ambition

The first time ambition is mentioned in reference to Caesar is right after Cassius speaks to Brutus about joining the plot to kill Caesar. Cassius knows that if he can get Brutus on board, the assassination will be successful. Cassius convinces Brutus to consider joining the conspirators and when he walks away, Cassius says to himself that he will write a few letters and throw them through Brutus' window.

These letters will be written so that they seemed to come from many different citizens who believe Brutus is better than Caesar. In these letters, ''Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at: And after this let Caesar seat him sure; For we will shake him, or worse days endure.'' In other words, the letters will also mention Caesar's ambition. The fact that Caesar's ambition could be used to persuade Brutus to kill him is important here. The line that follows, suggesting that they have to get rid of Caesar immediately, also makes it clear that Caesar's ambition will be his downfall. If they do not ''shake'' him, the citizens will suffer even worse than now.

Brutus Reacts to the Notes

After Brutus receives Cassius' notes, he begins to think about whether Caesar's ambition is something to be concerned about. He walks through his garden trying to sort out his feelings. He eventually decides that the only option is to kill Caesar. He states the following:

''But 'tis a common proof,That lowliness is young ambition's ladder, Whereto the climber-upward turns his face; But when he once attains the upmost round. He then unto the ladder turns his back, Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees By which he did ascend.''

This is a long quote, but stick with me. Brutus is saying that people often pretend to be humble to get ahead in life. Then when they achieve their ambitions (aw snap!), they ignore and forget the people who helped them succeed.

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