Julius Caesar ‘Blood Imagery’

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William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” is about betrayal. In Maurice Charney’s article “Shakespeare’s Use of Blood Imagery in the Play”, Charney takes an in depth look at the different representations of blood according to the conspirators and the supporters of Caesar. For Brutus, the head of the conspirators, blood represents sacrifice and revival; however, for Caesar’s biggest supporter, Antony, blood represents murder and vengeance. The animosity toward Caesar is first revealed in the opening scene of Shakespeare’s play. Marullus and Flavius enter town where a group of commoners are rejoicing Caesar’s triumph over Pompey.

Marullus goes into a rant and says “And do you now strew flowers in his way / That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood? ” (1. 1. 50). Obviously he is angry because the same people, who once cheered and supported Pompey, are now celebrating his death, or blood. This is a portrayal of the commoners being easily swayed and possibly weak-minded, which benefits Brutus and Antony by allowing them to persuade the commoners to either support or disagree with the murder of Caesar. Brutus’ main conflict is within himself because he knows that Caesar’s murder is best for Rome, but he is concerned with the betrayal and feelings of guilt.

According to Charney, “The tragedy of Brutus springs from his complete sincerity in preferring duty to Rome to his personal friendship with Caesar” (156). These feelings of Brutus show that he is not the biggest supporter of murders unless given good reasoning. For example; at the meeting of the conspirators, Cassius says that Antony should not outlive Caesar because he could be a cunning and dangerous schemer. In which of course Brutus replies “Our course will seem to bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off and hack the limbs, / Like wrath in death and envy afterwards; For Antony is but limb of Caesar” (2. 1. 162). It’s clear that Brutus feels no threat from Antony, which is why he ignores the warning given by Cassius. Brutus is unaware that his downfall and Antony’s rise will stem from his underestimation of Antony’s character. Of course, a major factor in Brutus’ downfall would be his absolute confidence that he will gain the support of the commoners because he a trustworthy person. That is why he doesn’t feel the need to take an oath to swear his allegiance to the cause: “To think that or our cause or our performance / Did need an oath; when very drop of blood / That every Roman bears, and nobly bears, / Is guilty of a several bastardy” (2. 1. 135). Brutus believes that the faction is no worse than the commoners, if not better, because they are supposedly helping the greater good. He is so sure of his reasoning that he cannot imagine a different outcome of the situation rather than what he’s expecting, which is why he is willing to allow Antony to speak. After the murder of Caesar, when Antony discovers the body, he says “…who else must be let blood, who else is rank. If I myself there is no hour so fit / As Caesar’s death’s hour, nor no instrument of half that worth as those your swords, made rich / with the most noble blood of all this world” (3. 1. 152). Antony is known to be a good friend of Caesar’s, which is proven by his statement. He thinks that Caesar is the most noble man of Rome and that if he is next to die, he should be killed in the same hour and with the same weapon as Caesar. It is ironic because Cassius, the conspirator that suggested Antony’s murder, is actually the one killed with the same weapon and with the same hand as Caesar.

After the murder of Caesar, Antony immediately does his best to insure that the conspirators believe he has no ill feelings towards them by shaking their hands and saying “That I did love thee, Caesar, O, ‘tis true! / If then thy spirit look upon us now, / Shall it not grieve thee dearer than thy death / To see thy Antony making his peace, / Shaking the bloody fingers of thy foes…” (3. 1. 194). Brutus and the others are unaware that Antony has begun his plan of revenge and will accomplish his ultimate goal in an indirect and cunning way. By sharing in Caesar’s blood he [Antony] has seemed to condone the murder, but behind this mask vengeance for Caesar is being prepared” (Charney 161) Before Antony’s oration, he is told by Brutus to prepare the body for showing and while doing so, he talks to the body of Caesar and says “Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood! ” (3. 3. 259). This is the clearest sign of all that Antony is putting on an act for the conspirators in order to enact his revenge. Antony is cursing the conspirators, which acts as a method foreshadowing because in the end, the conspirators each commit suicide.

This is an idea of an eye for an eye, or in this case, blood for blood. Shakespeare does a great job of portraying the different representations of blood like vengeance, murder, revival, and sacrifice. The play goes through a series of emotions involving Brutus, in which he decides that committing the murder is reasonable because it is a noble act benefiting the greater good of Rome. Antony also supports the greater good of Rome, but unlike Brutus, he believes that Caesar is the best ruler for Rome. In the end, Brutus and Antony both accomplish their goals in terms of revival and revenge.