Figurative Language 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.

Figurative language is a broad term that includes many writing techniques. In this lesson we will examine several examples of figurative language in William Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar''.

What Is Figurative Language?

Figurative language is when a writer uses words that appeal to the senses or that are not meant to be taken literally. Most good writers take advantage of figurative language, and William Shakespeare was no exception. In his tragedy Julius Caesar we can find many examples of figurative language.


Onomatopoeia is a strange and difficult word to spell. Fortunately, the complications end there. An onomatopoeia is simply a word that imitates a sound. For example, 'woof' is an an onomatopoeia. In Act 2 Scene 1, Brutus receives a letter at night and opens it up to read it. There is a meteor shower, and Brutus notes that the meteors 'whizzing' by are so bright that he can read by them. The letter implores Brutus to take action against Casear. In it, the word 'whizzing' is an onomatopoeia since it imitates the sound an object might make if it was speeding past someone at a fast rate. The meteor shower and the storm are important to this play because they signify the danger and drama to come with Caesar's assassination.


Another type of figurative language is called an apostrophe. You may think you already know all about apostrophes. This is not the same apostrophe as the punctuation you find in words like: don't, isn't, and wasn't. When thinking in terms of figurative language, an apostrophe is when a character speaks to one group of people and then abruptly addresses another group, usually one that is dead or absent. In Act 3 Scene 2, Mark Antony speaks to a crowd of people about Caesar's murder. He says 'For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel. Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!' In the first sentence, Mark Antony reminds the common people that Brutus and Caesar were close friends. In the second sentence, he reminds the gods of how much Caesar loved the man who killed him. This abrupt shift in address adds to the intensity of the scene and is an example of apostrophe.


Personification is another example of figurative language in Julius Caesar. This is when a non-human object is given human characteristics. In Act 3 Scene 4, Cassius and Brutus are drinking together in Brutus's tent. Eventually they realize that it is getting late, and Brutus says 'The deep of night is crept upon our talk.' He portrays the night as something that consciously chooses to sneak up on the two men. Since he lends the concept of night human characteristics, he speaks figuratively and uses personification.

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