External Conflict 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.

External conflict helps make a story more interesting and also describes the action. In this lesson we will take a look external conflict in William Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar''.

External Conflict is Action

If you have ever watched an action film, you already know a little about conflict. Conflict is any sort of struggle between two forces or more forces. External conflict is a struggle between a person and outside forces. X-Men pits mutants against society and villains, Star Wars pits Jedi knights against the Empire, James Bond pits 007 against his enemies.

This kind of struggle can exist in plays and books too, like in Williams Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Let's take a look at some examples.

The Tribunes

One of the first examples of conflict comes in the very first scene of Julius Caesar. Flavius and Murellus (two Roman officials who are also called tribunes) enter the scene of an unusually crowded street. The two men ask why the crowd has gathered. It is clear from the beginning that there is conflict brewing.

Flavius opens the play by saying 'Hence! Home, you idle creatures get you home!' This sets up an immediate conflict between the commoners and the officials. The men harass the people by asking what their jobs are and why they are not working in their shops. One man in particular responds to the harassment by making jokes and telling the officials that he can 'mend' their souls as well as their shoes.

The strife between the commoners and the officials is one of the first examples of external conflict in the play. While the situation is a single event, it also serves to mimic the general attitude toward authority during Caesar's time.


Another example of external conflict is Cassius's plot to kill Caesar. Cassius is the mastermind behind the plot to kill Caesar. While many people in the play are worried about Caesar coming to power, Cassius is the one who moves forward with a plan to assassinate him.

Cassius first speaks with Brutus and convinces him to think about what would happen if Caesar became king. This example shows that conflict is not always aggressive or violent. Cassius manipulates Brutus in a calm, friendly way. He plays on Brutus's love for Rome through convincing dialogue and entertaining stories about how weak Caesar is.

Cassius can not succeed in his plan with only Brutus's help. He must have more men on his side. So Cassius goes after another character named Casca. Casca is portrayed throughout the play as being dumb. At one point, Cassius even calls Casca 'dull.' While a storm is raging outside, Casca overreacts and draws his sword in self defense. Cassius sees this as way to gain support for his cause. Because he has to to overcome an obstacle involving people, this is an example of external conflict. Cassius convinces Casca that Caesar is just as dangerous as this storm, and that something must be done. Casca agrees and Cassius moves forward with his scheme.

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