When Was Julius Caesar Written?

Instructor: Sarah Bostock
This lesson explores the writing of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. After reading this lesson, you will understand the historical context and background information of the play, as well as a little about the playwright's use of vocabulary.

A Long Short Story

Elizabethan playwright, William Shakespeare
Portrait of William Shakespeare

Imagine a writing assignment in which you have to write a minimum of 1,000 words. For a student who doesn't like writing, trying to meet that kind word length can be difficult. William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is often called the most simplistic plays because it is one of his shortest works; but even this 'short' play contains approximately 21,800 words!

Shakespeare the Playwright

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, somewhere around April 23, 1564. He lived during the time period known as the Elizabethan Age (1558-1603), when Queen Elizabeth I reigned in England. At age four or five, he likely began his education at the King's New School, but he didn't continue his education at the university level. Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway when he was 18, and they had three children: Susanna and twins, Judith and Hamnet. Sometime after the birth of his twins, Shakespeare left his family to pursue acting in London.

Scholars believe that by 1592, Shakespeare had already established himself as a playwright, presenting his play Henry VI onstage. He joined an acting troupe called The Lord Chamberlain's Men, working as a playwright, actor, and eventually a partner in the company. In 1599, Shakespeare's troupe opened a new theater: The Globe, where they performed The Tragedy of Julius Caesar for the first time. The Globe helped Shakespeare to become financially successful.

William Shakespeare died on his believed birthday: April 23, 1616, when he was 52 years of age. By the time of his death, Shakespeare had written 38 plays and 150 poems. Four centuries have passed since Shakespeare died, and his works are still popular today.

When Was Julius Caesar Written?

Replica of the Globe Theater
The Globe Theater

Scholars are certain that Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar before September 1599. In fact, the play is thought to have opened on September 21 of that year. Shakespeare may have written the play specifically to open up his new theater, The Globe.

Some scholars believe he wrote the play partially to express his worry that Queen Elizabeth I's impending death could bring about civil war to their country. She never married, nor had any children. In fact, she was known as the Virgin Queen. Elizabeth had been on the throne for 41 years and had not named an heir to succeed her.

In Julius Caesar, the character of Julius Caesar parallels the story of the Queen. Neither of them had an heir, and in the event of a sudden death chaos may ensue; Shakespeare's worry is reflected when Caesar is assassinated and war breaks out in Rome.

Source Information

William Shakespeare's plays are generally classified into three categories: tragedies, histories, and comedies. Julius Caesar is grouped with his tragedies, although some scholars list it as a history due to its historical content.

Shakespeare used Plutarch's The Lives of the Greeks and Romans for his background information. Plutarch's work consisted of biographies of notable people from Greece and Rome, including two chapters which Shakespeare used primarily: The Life of Julius Caesar and The Life of Marcus Brutus. Thomas North had translated Plutarch's work to English in 1579.

Shakespeare used Plutarch for historical context, but he focused in his play on the public and private relationships of historical characters. For example, Shakespeare shows us a domestic scene between Julius Caesar and his wife, Calpurnia. In the scene, Caesar is wearing his nightgown. The scene shows that even great and important people, such as Caesar and Queen Elizabeth I, were still people as everyone else.

Publication

Engraving of Shakespeare, First Folio, 1623
Engraving of William Shakespeare

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