The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, commonly known just as Julius Caesar, is one of the most famous plays written by English playwright William Shakespeare (1564 – 1616). Based on true events from Roman history, it was probably first performed in 1599. Though named after the famous Roman general and politician Gaius Julius Caesar, the play is more focused on the character of Marcus Brutus who has to face the dilemma of choosing between loyalty to his dear friend Caesar and his patriotism for his country Rome. Julius Caesar contains some of the most famous lines written by Shakespeare in his career. Here are the 10 most famous quotations from the play with their explanation.
#10 “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
– Gaius Cassius (Act I, Scene II)
This line is said by Cassius while he is trying to persuade Brutus that it is in the best interests of Rome to prevent Caesar from acquiring more power. It is apparent from the passage that Cassius is vexed at remaining in the shadows while Caesar rises to glory. The line states that it is not the fault of destiny that it appears that we are underlings, or lower in rank, to Caesar, but it is due to our own weakness in character. It remains a popular quotation from the play which stresses on human action and character as opposed to blaming the stars, or fate, for one’s unfavourable condition.
#9 “This was the noblest Roman of them all.”
– Mark Antony (Act V, Scene 5)
This line is part Antony’s remark on seeing the dead body of Brutus, who has committed suicide by running on his sword. It is said as the play nears its end; and it is one of the most important lines in the play as it conveys that Brutus was the only one among the conspirators who joined in the assassination believing that Caesar’s death was required in order to preserve the Republic of Rome. Thus his intentions to murder Caesar were noble, unlike the other conspirators who acted out of envy and rivalry.
#8 “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”
– Marcus Brutus (Act III, Scene 2)
Perhaps the most famous quotation of Brutus, this line is part of his speech to the public which has gathered to question why their beloved leader Julius Caesar was assassinated. Brutus eloquently justifies the assassination of Caesar by him and the fellow conspirators but ultimately Mark Antony turns the tide through his renowned speech. Brutus says that though he loved Caesar, he loved his country Rome more, and hence he was compelled to act against Caesar. The line is the gist of one of the primary themes of the play, the dilemma that Brutus faces of choosing between a man he loves and admires, and patriotism.
#7 “The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”
– Mark Antony (Act III, Scene 2)
This quotation is one of the most popular lines from the renowned funeral oration for Julius Caesar delivered by his friend Mark Antony. It comes at the beginning of the oration laying the base for Antony’s brilliant rhetoric in which he negates the justification given by Brutus for Caesar’s assassination and reverses the temper of the public to inflame them against the conspirators involved in the murder. Here, Antony states that wrongdoings of people are remembered after their death but the good they have done is often buried with their bones, i.e. forgotten. Antony thus initiates his speech by urging his audience to remember the good in Caesar and not be blinded by Brutus’s speech which focuses on his wrongs.
#6 “Cowards die many times before their deaths.
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.”
– Julius Caesar (Act II, Scene 2)
These words are said by Caesar to his wife Calphurnia after she pleads him to not leave the house today as there have been bad omens. Caesar says that cowards, who fear death, die many times due to that fear before their actual death, while the valiant or brave taste death only once when it actually occurs. He adds that of all the wonders he has heard, nothing puzzles him more than the strange fear in men of death, which being an essential end cannot be avoided and will come when it has to come.
#5 “Beware the Ides of March”
– Soothsayer (Act I, Scene 2)
The Ides was a day in the Roman calendar originally supposed to be determined by the full moon. It fell on the 13th for most months, but on the 15th for March, May, July and October. The Ides of March or 15th March was marked by several religious observances in Rome. This line is said by a soothsayer warning Julius Caesar about his impending assassination, which occurred on the Ides of March, both in the play and in actuality. Caesar brushes off the warning thinking the soothsayer is insane. His refusal to give even a moment of consideration to the soothsayer’s blatant words highlights Caesar’s inflated ego and heightened sense of confidence due to his successes.
#4 “And Caesar’s spirit, raging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war”
– Mark Antony (Act III, Scene 1)
These words are spoken in a monologue by Antony after it has been decided that he will be allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Here Antony invokes the spirit of Caesar which would be seeking revenge, along with Ate, the Greek goddess of ruin and menace. He says that Caesar, with Ate rising from hell to be by his side, will make a war cry in a king’s voice, “Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war” to unleash terror and ruin on the conspirators who have murdered him. The phrase “dogs of war” is one of the most famous of the play and has since been used umpteen times to refer to a wild pack of soldiers wreaking havoc during war. It was also used as the title of the 1974 Frederick Forsyth novel, The Dogs of War.
#3 “But, for mine own part, it was Greek to me”
– Servilius Casca (Act I, Scene 2)
These words are spoken by Casca in reply to Cassius when Cassius asks him what the famous Roman philosopher and orator Cicero said in his speech. The words simply mean, “I don’t know what he said, it was in Greek and I don’t speak Greek.” The expression “It’s Greek to me” has since become popular to express that something is not understandable. It has similar variations in many languages like “C’est du chinois”, the French expression which translates to “It’s Chinese”.
#2 “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”
– Mark Antony (Act III, Scene 2)
This is the first line of Mark Antony’s renowned funeral oration for Julius Caesar. Brutus and the conspirators who have assassinated Caesar allow Antony to make a speech at the funeral only on the condition that he doesn’t blame them for Caesar’s death. Antony, while outwardly justifying the actions of the assassins and sarcastically calling them “honorable men”, brilliantly uses rhetoric to portray Caesar in such a positive light that the crowd is enraged against the conspirators. Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s burial is considered one of the best passages in the play and its first words, which call on the audience to listen to the speaker carefully, are among the most popular in all of Shakespeare’s works.
#1 “Et tu, Bruté?”
– Julius Caesar (Act III, Scene 1)
These are the last words spoken by Julius Caesar in the play, at the time of his assassination. Addressed to his friend Marcus Brutus, the Latin phrase translates to “and you, Brutus?” or “you too, Brutus?” They signify Caesar’s disbelief and sorrow at being betrayed by a friend whom he had dearly loved. The most famous quotation of the play, it is widely used in the English speaking world to signify the utmost unexpected betrayal by a person. Such is the popularity of the phrase that it has led to an incorrect supposition that these words were the actual last words of Julius Caesar. There is much speculation and no concrete evidence on what the last words of Julius Caesar were but, according to one historian, they might have been, “Kai su, teknon?”, a Greek phrase which means “You too, child?”