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Examining the Text: Julius Caesar

Shakespeare uses many types of figurative language like metaphor, simile, and personification. Recognizing when his characters are speaking figuratively helps to understand what they are saying. Both Antony and Brutus use a great deal of figurative language as they speak of revenge, justice, and battle. They especially use the images of animals, storms, and water.

Textual Examples of Personification:

“O judgment thou art fled to brutish beasts.” Antony 3.3.103
Here Antony speaks of the thing, Judgment, as a person, claiming that it has fled, and left humans for animals.

 “Fortune is merry, and in this mood will give us anything” Antony 3.3.255-256
“Mischief, thou art afoot./Take thou what course thou wilt!” 3.3.249-250

Textual Example of Simile:

Later Antony speaks with Octavius about their ally Lepidus, who he does not respect. He uses a simile comparing Lepidus’ usefulness to that of a donkey.

“Octavius, I have seen more days than you.
And though we lay these honors on this man
To ease ourselves of divers slanderous loads, 
He shall but bear them as the ass bears gold, 
To groan and sweat under the business, 
Either led or driven, as we point the way.
and having brought our treasure where we will, 
Then take we down his load and turn him off, 
Like to the empty ass, to shake his ears
And graze in commons.”
— Antony 4.1.19-28

Identify these examples of Figurative Language:

Thou hast described
A hot friend cooling. Ever note, Lucillius, 
When love begins to sicken and decay, 
It useth an enforcèd ceremony. 
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith. 
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle.
But when they should endure the bloody spur, 
They fall their crests and, like deceitful jades, 
Sink in the trial. Comes his army on?
— Brutus 4.2.19-28

There is a tide in the affairs of men, 
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; 
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. 
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
— Brutus 4.3.226-232

“It is the bright day that brings forth the adder/and that craves wary walking.” — Brutus 2.1.14-15

Shakespeare’s Language: Prose vs Verse

Many students—and adults, for that matter—find Shakespeare difficult to read and hard to understand. They accuse him of not speaking English and refuse to believe that ordinary people spoke the way his characters do. However, if you understand more about his language, it is easier to understand. One idea that may help is to remember that his plays are written in two forms: prose and verse. In Julius Caesar prose is used very rarely.


Prose is the form of speech used by common, or comic, people in Shakespearean drama. There is no rhythm or meter in the line. It is everyday language. Shakespeare’s audiences would recognize the speech as their language. When a character in a play speaks in prose, you know that he is a lower class member of society. These are characters such as criminals, servants, and pages. However, some times important characters can speak in prose. The majority of The Merry Wives of Windsor is written in prose because it deals with the middle-class. In Julius Caesar the comical Casca’s story of Caesar’s refusal of the crown is given in prose. Interestingly Brutus’ speech to the people after Caesar’s murder is delivered in prose, but Antony’s is verse, the more sophisticated style. Why did Shakespeare use these different styles? Compare the speeches, and the reactions they generate, and draw your own conclusions.


Brutus: 3.2.13-21

Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause, and be silent that you may hear. Believe me for mine honor, and have respect to mine honor that you may believe. Censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses that you may the better judge. If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. 


Antony: 3.2.72-106

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. 
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. 
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it….
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And, sure, he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me. (weeps)

Antony’s speech is given in blank verse. It contains no rhyme, (though a great amount of repetition, can you hear the sarcasm in his ‘honorable men’ growing as the speech moves?) but each line has an internal rhythm with a regular rhythmic pattern. The pattern most favored by Shakespeare is iambic pentameter.

Iambic pentameter is defined as a ten-syllable line with the stress on the every second syllable. The rhythm of this pattern of speech is often compared to a beating heart. Examine Antony’s final line and count the syllables it contains.

And I must pause till it come back to me.

Replace the words with syllabic count:          

1-2      3-4          5-6        7-8       9-10

Replace the word with a ‘da’ sound to hear the heart beat:

da-DA   da-DA   da-DA   da-DA da-DA

Now put the emphasis on the words themselves:

and-I must-PAUSE til-IT come-BACK to-ME


In the riot scene that follows Antony’s speech, the angry people speak in prose and attack and kill the poet Cinna, who also speaks prose to them.  The lack of rhythm during this scene adds to the feeling of panic and chaos.


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