By Ken Adelman
Making plans is one thing, but making plans happen is quite another. Julius Caesar is a drama about turning intentions into results. It’s a play which is all business and little play. There’s no characteristic Shakespearean scene of love or humor.
Instead, the main characters are organization men who posture much of the time and are acutely aware of their roles in the establishment. They are ambitious men who build teams and judge each other carefully. They’re leaders who strive to instill trust, organize their teams and implement plans under treacherous conditions.
They constantly gauge public opinion, and communicate their message with considerable spin and varying success. And, as they hold meetings and make decisions, they accept individual responsibility. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves” (1.2.146 147; all references to line numbers are from The Folger Library General Reader's Shakespeare: Julius Caesar. Louis B. Wright [New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1959]), as Cassius says. They use their reasoning powers but fully appreciate how fate and luck heavily affect results. Responding to teammates and opponents alike, they worry over their place in the corporate structure, as well as their ultimate success.
Their concerns are real, for problems constantly arise. Most are addressed and some even redressed. And, as always in Shakespeare, failures are a big part of the package. Each character is torn by choices while coping with practical situations as best he can. Each one makes more than a few mistakes and suffers more than a few business reversals.
In short, Julius Caesar is full of real-life characters who work hard to succeed. From their experiences contemporary leaders can find answers to that all-important question, “How can I get the job done?”
When the play opens, Rome is poised for a bull market of economic and imperialistic expansion as far as the forecasters can see. Consequently, common citizens adore their maximum leader, Julius Caesar. Yet some uncommon nobles, like Cassius, do not. It is not that he minds what Caesar does, since he succeeds at everything he takes on. Rather, it is what he is, which is great and haughty. Cassius, tough and shrewd on the outside, is fragile within. He complains that “Caesar doth bear me hard” (1.2.318), and measures most people by how they treat him.
Cassius faces an even tougher challenge than do hard-pressed modern executives. His enterprise—to rid Rome of Julius Caesar—demands great speed, stealth, and certitude. Attaining 90 percent of the goal cannot be deemed mission success. One should never wound the king.
Cassius’s skills are suited to organizing a conspiracy. He has boundless energy, cunning, and the type of courage Caesar himself admires when saying that “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” (2.2.33). More of an entrepreneur than a corporate type, Cassius requires the assistance of specialists because this project is complex, and a wise manager recognizes when he cannot do the job alone.
Shakespeare scribed a dozen plays on “divine right” kings, virtually none of them godlike leaders. Here, however, he portrays a self-made man who made himself quasi-divine. Though he appears in only three scenes, utters only 150 lines, and dies in the middle of the play, Julius Caesar dominates the drama. He deserved to hold the title to the play.