Anachronism in Julius Caesar

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.

Whether they are mistakes or used purposely, items in a story that don't belong to the time can be fascinating to study. In this lesson, we will look at several examples of anachronisms from William Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar''.

Imagine looking at a photograph from the 1920's. The black and white grain shows all the light and darkness of the day. As your eyes scan the photo, you see something bizarre. A man dressed in a black suit is sitting on bench with a laptop opened and is seemingly typing away. An anachronism is something that appears to be in the wrong time. Whether an author uses anachronisms as a tool or simply as a mistake is a matter of debate. In Julius Caesar there are several interesting anachronisms.

The Clock

Clocks that could move like the one mentioned in Act 2, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar had not been invented. Cassius tells the other conspirators that the clock struck three. Since clocks that could move and 'strike' were not yet invented, this reference is out of place. This anachronism may may have been intentionally included as humor or even as reference to striking as an attack. People in Caesar's day told time by measuring the amount of water dropped into a bowl by a rotating wheel. Measuring droplets of water is far less dramatic then a clock striking. While there is no way to know if it was on purpose, choosing to include this anachronism in the play enhances the dramatic effect of the scene.


Another example of an anachronism in Julius Caesar comes in Act 1, Scene 2. In this scene, Caesar is interacting with the common people. His friend, Mark Antony, offers him a crown as a symbol of the people's wish for him to become king. Caesar refuses to take the crown, and Mark Antony offers it a total of three times. Every time that Caesar refuses to take the crown, the common people cheer and are excited. When he sees how happy the crowd is, Shakespeare writes that Caesar opens his 'doublet' and asks the crowd to cut his throat open if they did not love him. A doublet was a type of shirt worn by men during Shakespeare's time. The men of Caesar's day did not have doublets; they wore robes. The character who played Caesar would have worn a doublet, and, if included on purpose, this anachronism would make the costumes easier to create and work into the play.

In the same scene as the doublet anachronism, we find another one related to clothing. The men in the crowd who were cheering for Caesar threw their nightcaps into the air to show their excitement and support for Caesar. Since nightcaps were not worn in ancient Rome, this is out of place and not accurate to the time.

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