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Personification 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.

Personification is a tool writers use to apply human qualities to nonhuman objects or concepts. In this lesson we will examine several instances of personification in William Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar''.

We've All Done it

I tossed my old shoes in the trash and thought, 'I guess this is goodbye, buddies. We had a good run.' If you have ever had conversation like this with an old T-shirt or old pair of shoes, you may have been personifying the item. Even though you know that your shoes are not alive, the personification affects the way you see them. When writers personify nonhumans, they increase the audience's interest and emotional connection to the story. Personification is when a writer gives human characteristics to nonhuman objects or ideas.

Shout Until Her Shores Tremble

The first example of personification in Julius Caesar occurs in Act I Scene ii. In this scene, two Roman officials are scolding a crowd of men. The officials ask the men why they are out in the street and not in their shops working. The men explain that they are out celebrating Julius Caesar's defeat over Pompey. The officials are upset because these same commoners used to climb onto their roofs and balconies to see Pompey. When they saw him, they would shout until the 'Tiber (river) trembled underneath her banks' and the sound was heard at her shores. In this exchange, the officials personify the ocean as a woman by calling it 'her.' One effect of personifying the river as 'her' is that it sends a message that even the river is emotionally affected by the commoners' actions.

Caesar's Star

Another example of personification in Julius Caesar comes just before Caesar's death. He is in a meeting when the other members ask him to have mercy and pardon a man who was recently exiled. Caesar's response is to say that he cannot be moved to mercy because he is constant - like the stars. He further explains that he shares qualities with one particular star. Caesar tells the other men that there are many stars in the sky, but there is only one star that is strong enough to hold its place forever. This star, continues Caesar, is not moved by emotion and does not change its course. By portraying the star like a human, Caesar strengthens his argument that he has much more in common with the star then he does with other people.

Hurricane Casca

In Act 1 scene iii, another example of personification occurs when Casca describes a storm. He tells his friend that the 'ambitious oceans well and rage and foam.' He also says that the wind is scolding. Casca is terrified of the bad weather and by personifying it, he successfully shares that fear with the audience. By giving emotions to the ocean and the wind, Casca paints a more dangerous picture of the storm. It is not simply a body of water with rough waves, it is a raging and ambitious creature looking to destroy.

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