Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Themes
by: Gurman Kaur
Fate vs. Free Will
The main theme in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is about the about the force of fate in life versus the capacity for free will. Cassius refuses to accept Caesar’s rising power and deems a belief in fate to be nothing more than a form of passivity or cowardice. He says to Brutus: “Men at sometime were masters of their fates...The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars... But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (Shakespeare, Act I, Scene ii, 140–142). Cassius impulses a return to a more principled, self-assured defiance toward life, blaming Brutus and his passive stance not on a predetermined plan but on their failure to proclaim themselves. Shakespeare seems to use the literary element, philosophy, in which fate and freedom maintain a delicate coexistence. Thus Caesar declares: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear... Seeing that death, a necessary end... Will come when it will come” (Shakespeare, Act II, Scene ii, 35–37). In other words, Caesar recognizes that certain events lie beyond human control; to crouch in fear of them is to enter a paralysis equal to, if not worse than, death. It is to surrender any capacity for freedom and agency that one might actually possess. Indeed, perhaps to face death head-on, to die bravely and honorably, is Caesar’s best course. Furthermore, Shakespeare also interprets the literary device, Point of View. For example, Brutus interprets his and Cassius’s defeat as the work of Caesar’s ghost—not just his apparition, but also the force of the people’s devotion to him, the strong legacy of a man who refused any fear of fate and, in his disregard of fate, seems to have surpassed it.