Julius Caesar Setting

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby

Kaitlin has a BA in political science and experience teaching.

This lesson discusses the setting, Rome, for William Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar.' We'll explore how the unique setting and political climate of the time led to the events that happened within the play. Read the lesson, and test yourself with the quiz!

Rome Above All

In order to really understand what is going on in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, it's necessary to have some understanding of the world of first century BC Rome. Above all else, Rome at that time was a superpower without parallel.

In the opening of the play, Rome greets its most famous general, Julius Caesar, fresh from having defeated a traitor to the cause of Rome, Pompey. Caesar was a brilliant general and had made his reputation as one of the Republic's greatest generals in his exploits in Gaul, or modern-day France.

Rome had a deep appreciation of great generals. After all, it was a general that had ensured Roman security by defeating the Republic's greatest rival, Carthage. However, the biggest conflict in Rome at this time was going on not between Rome and some external threat, but instead between factions within the city itself.

Map of Rome
map of Rome

A Rotten Core

The Roman Republic definitely had a unique backstory. Having rejected kings centuries before, power was balanced between wealthy Patricians in the Senate and the masses of plebeians through their Tribunes. However, Senators had the advantage of being wealthy, and a gifted Senator could convince the mob to follow him. Needless to say, that was something that other Senators worried about.

In the years before the play takes place, Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus had themselves attempted to make the best use of each other's talents to essentially rule Rome. Known as the First Triumvirate, the three definitely had their own internal conflicts. That's where we join the play.

Unluckily for the other two in the Triumvirate, it was Caesar who held the allegiances of the masses. And Rome had plenty of masses to get behind Caesar -- the city had hundreds of thousands of residents by this point, with some historical estimates reaching nearly one million people. So Caesar was not only a wealthy ruler (he came from one of the oldest families in Rome), but he also had the love of the common people. And it was the latter that made him so dangerous.

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