|The Death of Caesar at the Hands of the Senators by Vincenzo Camuccini, 1798|
As Shakespeare dramatizes the over two-thousand-year-old assassination of Roman general Julius Caesar, he raises a number of timeless questions about the problematic nature of success. Late rap music great Christopher Wallace, The Notorious B.I.G., famously hinted at the heart of the problem when he said that “The more money you make, the more problems you get.” Whether the bar is set by money, power, position, or even virtue, the rise of any individual to some substantial level of greatness always seems to simultaneously give rise to envy, criticism, and even hatred. Haters will want to see a great man brought down. Unfortunately for Caesar, back in 44 BC, haters weren’t just going to hate; they were going to stab you thirty-three times in the chest.
Julius Caesar opens with Caesar definitively on top, but the marquee-level problems aren’t exclusive to him. In fact, with Caesar getting the ultimate raw deal halfway through, the number one Julius Caesar question seems to be “whose play is it?” Caesar does have the title page, and the main “pride then fall” component of classical tragedy, but he doesn’t have a lot of stage time, or a lot of lines. Caesar is perhaps more central to the play as an idea than he is as an actual character. The “noble” Brutus, on the other hand, is very much the central character of the play, and a tragic figure in his own right. First, a troubled Brutus is persuaded to conspire against Caesar, then he Et tus his way through the assassination, and he is finally left to deal with the aftermath. Also in the mix for the spotlight is Mark Antony, who heroically seeks to avenge the death of Julius Caesar, his friend and mentor.
Regardless of which character is the main event, greatness has its consequences for them all. The same strength and leadership that have led Caesar to so much success on the battlefield have bred ill-will as they gained him political advantage. As the play opens,
seems poised to name Caesar its king; however, the conspirators, led by the manipulative Cassius, are determined not to be ruled by any one man. These shady characters are willing to do anything to bring Caesar down, even though they are swimming against the tide of public opinion which is in his favor. Brutus himself, who ultimately joins the conspiracy, is also made the target of envious men. Brutus is known for his great righteousness; Rome even refers to Brutus at one point as “the noblest Roman of them all.” It was because of Brutus’s nobility that the conspirators make it such a priority to win him to their side; they’re banking on a sort of innocence by association. If the virtuous Brutus would kill Caesar, then he must have had a really good reason. Antony
Brutus is convinced that he does have a good reason; the problem is that he’s been heavily manipulated by Cassius. Caesar knows that Cassius can’t be trusted from the get-go, and warns
|Michael Emerson as Ben Linus|
So with Caesar and Brutus as tragic figures, and Cassius as a definitive villain, Julius Caesar seems to look to Mark Antony as a sort of conventional hero. The conspirators recognize the great potential in
B.I.G. went on to say of envy that “it’s just negative energy” and Shakespeare shows in Julius Caesar that great men would do well to be wary of this dark force. Here, envy proves as dangerous in the form of a dishonest word as it does in the form of a blade. Topping the charts in any category seems a surefire way to put a target on your back, and trust that the haters will take aim with one weapon or another. But there is bad news for all the Shady McGradys out there: if Cassius and Ben Linus are any indication, misery may indeed love company, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be any better off when company arrives.
|Sorry, Ben. Kinda is your bad though.|