Shakespeare’s handling of historical materials in Julius Caesar


William Shakespeare (1564-1616) shows his dramatic genius to handle historical materials in his famous play Julius Caesar (1599). He adapted his historical materials to suit his dramatic requirements. In fact, he had taken the name of the play Julius Caesar from North’s translation called The Lives of the Noble Grecians written by Plutarch. 

More Notes: Julius Caesar

Historical events 

To discuss Shakespeare’s historical materials, first of all, the celebration of Caesar’s victory over Pompey’s son occurs in the play at the same time as the festival of Lupercal.  Historically, Caesar celebrated his victory over Pompey’s son in October, 45 B.C. while the festival of Lupercal took place in February, which is four months later. Shakespeare has condensed these events so that they are made to happen on a single day for the sake of dramatic economy and in order to increase the dramatic effect.  

Shakespeare’s portrait of Caesar 

Shakespeare’s portrait of Caesar is widely different from the Caesar of history. The Caesar of history was a mighty conqueror, heroic, intellectual, strong, and high–minded person. But Shakespeare represents him as deaf of one ear, as boastful, as superstitious, as loving flattery, and as a weak person. Shakespeare represents Caesar like that— 

His coward lips did from their colour fly, 

And that same eye whose bent doth awe the world 

Did lose his lustre; I did hear him groan. 

Battle of Philippi 

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare combines the two battles of Philippi into one. Actually, there was a space of twenty days between those two battles. All these things Shakespeare has done in order to close these events and compact unity. 

More Notes: Julius Caesar

The assassination place of Caesar 

The assassination of Caesar occurs inside the Senate- the house that Shakespeare represents in his play, Julius Caesar. But historically the assassination of Caesar took place on the porch of the Senate house. By doing this Shakespeare departs from history in order to conform to the laws of dramatic effect. The assassination place of Caesar 

Other character changes 

Historically Plutarch furnished the basis for the characterization of Portia, Calpurnia, and Cicero. But Shakespeare created these characters mobilizing with real life. Historically Antony is depicted as indecent and immoral but Shakespeare represents him as a respected person. 

More Notes: Suggestions

Famous speeches of Brutus and Caesar 

In history, Plutarch does not show any model for the speeches of Brutus and Antony. He only refers f Brutus’s epistolary style and his compact manner of speech and Antony’s Asiatic style of oratory. But Shakespeare represents their speech in different ways. In this funeral speech, Brutus speaks against Caesar. But Antony speaks for Caesar. There is a transparent sincerity in Antony’s lament for Caesar that Shakespeare shows in the play. Antony says: 

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar 

And I must pause till it come back to me 


To sum up, from the light of the above discussion we can say that Shakespeare successfully handles both historical events and historical characters for the purpose of dramatic significance. 

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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