‘Words before blows’: Civil and military in 'Julius Caesar'

Anthony Miller


Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar concludes with a sequence of battle scenes that occupy most of Act Five. Before these climactic battles, there occurs a confrontation between the opposing generals: Antony and Octavius on the Caesarian side, Brutus and Cassius on the republican. The exchange of threats between the generals makes a fulcrum between two parts of the play, the first in which the action takes place in the civic realm and the second in which it takes place on the battlefield. That division is not of course absolute. On the one hand, violence has already erupted with the murder of Caesar—which takes place in the Senate, the heart of Rome’s civic polity—and with the riot that Antony provokes afterwards. On the other hand, the battles of Act Five involve surprisingly little staged martial action, and much observation, report, and surmise. This very blurring of the boundaries is characteristic of Julius Caesar. The play shows an acute political awareness of the ways in which military violence and civil persuasion are interrelated forces, readily transforming into one another.

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