Theme in Shakepeare's Julius Caesar

By: Inaara Jiwani

William Shakespeare's tragedy Julius Caesar attempts to show the reader the idea of fate versus free will through the use of the literary elements of foreshadowing and irony. Even though Cassius says that men are in control of their own destinies, the fulfillment of prophesies in Julius Caesar suggests that the fates of men are predetermined. Cassius states that, "Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings," (Act I, scene ii, 138-140). That's what Cassius says to Brutus as the two think about removing Caesar from power. Although Cassius claims that men are "masters of their fates" as a way to motivate the conspirators to move against Caesar, there's a lot of evidence to suggest he's wrong. Flavius states that "These growing feathers plucked from Caesar's wing, will make him fly an ordinary pitch, who else would soar above the view of men and keep us all in servile fearfulness" (Act I, scene i, 77-80). Even as early as the first scene of the play, we get a sense that some Romans foresee that no good can come out of Caesar's increasing power. They use their free will to decide to kill Caesar, but they can't control the terrible fate of their decision to assassinate him, which is a civil war. The play is full of predictions that come true, which goes against the idea that characters can exercise free will and control the outcomes of their lives. With these many prophesies coming true, this exemplifies the use of foreshadowing. It is also known that Julius Caesar dramatizes historical events that have already happened. As characters struggle with questions of fate vs. free will, the audience already knows what their futures hold, which creates dramatic irony.