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What Type of Play is 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.

William Shakespeare's ~'Julius Caesar~' is a tragedy. There are many characteristics of tragic literature, including a well-known protagonist who is flawed in a way that causes his downfall; and a protagonist who is pressured from outside forces into making a deadly decision. This lesson will explore how Julius Caesar contains the essential elements of tragic literature.

Shakespearean Tragedies

Shakespeare's special style of tragedy includes a character whose poor choices cause his social downfall and eventually result in his own death. Julius Caesar fits this description as Brutus's decision to murder Caesar results in his fall from social grace and his suicide. Other important elements for a tragedy include catharsis (a release and purging of emotions), supernatural elements like ghosts, Gods and magic, and comedic relief. While all these elements are important in a tragedy, we will talk about the three most visible and identifiable tragic elements in Julius Caesar.

Character Who is High on the Social Ladder

Julius Caesar is a successful Roman general who the play is named after. Brutus and Caesar are friends and Brutus looks up to and respects Caesar. One common element of tragedy is that often focuses on the structure and ranks of nobility. Brutus has a good reputation in the Senate and is a high-ranking nobleman. He is known for being honest and loyal. We get a glimpse of his honesty and loyalty in Act I scene ii when Cassius and Brutus are watching a celebration with Caesar. Cassius flatters Brutus and tries to convince him that Caesar is not as great as he seems. Brutus defends Caesar multiple times and refuses the flattery. Cassius approaches Brutus because he knows that if he can win over the noble and popular Brutus, he can win over anyone. Because he is a ranking and well-known nobleman, Brutus' character fulfils the first requirement of a tragedy.

Character Who has a Tragic Flaw

To be considered a tragedy, the noble character must have a flaw that is considered tragic. This means that it causes the death and downfall of the noble character. In Julius Caesar, Brutus's flaw is his undying loyalty and investment in Rome. A fatal flaw is not always black and white or good versus evil. The real flaw is not the fact that Brutus loved his country; but it is that he is blindly dedicated to Rome and therefore puts this dedication above reason, intellect, and morality. In Act II scene i, Brutus tragically agrees to murder his friend because he is believes it will help save Rome. After he kills Caesar, Brutus is so horrified with himself that he commits suicide. Because Brutus's loyalty to Rome results in his death and the death of Caesar, he is flawed in a tragic way.

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