Situational Irony 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.

Have you ever gone into a situation expecting one outcome, and instead got a different one? Read about situational irony and how William Shakespeare uses the literary device to bring about unexpected results in 'Julius Caesar'.

A Battle Story

Two men march toward one another on a battlefield, with weapons aimed to kill. As they draw closer to each other, they begin to see something familiar in the other's steps. The closer they come, the lower their weapons fall. Within feet from one another, they realize they are brothers. They drop their weapons and embrace as bullets whiz around them.

Two brothers meeting on opposite sides of a battlefield is unexpected, and is an example of situational irony. Situational irony is when a situation turns out differently than expected. This technique surprises the audience and makes a story more entertaining, and is used to great effect in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

War, Peace and Irony

One example of situational irony is that the group of conspirators, especially Brutus, believe that assassinating Caesar will save Rome from declining into civil war. Brutus believes that if Caesar takes power as king, he will abuse his glory and become a tyrant. Brutus even compares Julius Caesar to a snake egg: The egg itself is not dangerous, but once it hatches, it becomes just as deadly as any other poisonous snake, Brutus explains.

Brutus's own expectations of the future lead him to kill Caesar. Instead of saving Rome, however, Caesar's assassination ultimately brings about war, not the peace the conspirators expected.

He Should Have Listened to His Wife

On the morning of his murder, Caesar is initially hesitant to leave his house because a psychic had told him to be aware of this particular day -- the 15th of March. His wife also tries to convince him to stay home after she has a dream in which a statue of Caesar is stabbed, and then bleeds while people smile and wash their hands in the blood.

Decius, who is plotting Caesar's death, convinces Caesar that the dream is actually a sign that Caesar's kinghood will improve Rome. He tells Caesar that the senate plans to crown him as king, but the senators might change their minds if he stays home. Caesar's ambition and his deceitful friend get the best of him and he continues to the meeting. Rather than being crowned the king, however, Caesar is stabbed to death.

The Handshake

After the conspirators kill Caesar, Mark Antony later finds them standing over Caesar's dead body. Antony, one of Caesar's closest friends, had offered Caesar a crown in the beginning of the play. We might expect Caesar's friend to immediately seek vengeance, but he does not. Antony runs away when Caesar is stabbed, and sends his servant to ask the men if they plan to kill him. When they say that they will let him live, Antony comes back and shakes the hand of each murderer. He explains that he loves them all and that each man is his friend.

Antony becomes as cunning as the murderers and beats them at their own game. He even tells the men that he will only speak well of them, if they will allow him to give Caesar a proper burial and deliver a speech at Caesar's funeral. The men agree under the condition that Antony only speak in support of the assassination of Caesar.

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