The story of Julius Caesar’s assassination has been told both historically and fictionally. Historical sources focus on the facts of the assassination, while fictionary works focus more on the characters and the drama of the story. Because of the different purposes of the sources, there are many differences between the historical and fictional stories. William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
adds certain details and dramatic elements to make the story more interesting and to make the play more enjoyable. Historical sources
such as Roger Bruns’s Caesar and Manuel Komroff’s Julius Caesar present an more accurate account of the events that occurred on and around the Ides of March. There are however, because all of the sources are telling the same story, even more similarities. Reading all of the sources can give a reader an understanding of not only what really happened and why, but also what the people involved were probably like.
The time before Caesar’s death has many differences in how events happened rather than if events happened. Both historical accounts
record that Caesar had recently returned from a long military campaign that sent him to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. Shakespeare’s account tells of a recent victory over Pompey but does not say that Caesar returned from a massive campaign. In Komroff’s account, The conspirators had planned for much longer than the other authors recorded. Komroff wrote that the conspirators convinced the Senate to offer Caesar the crown. The conspirators then placed a crown on a statue of Caesar that was quickly torn down by Caesar’s friends. “Then, a few days later, as he was riding through the streets of Rome, a crowd of people who had been led on by the Aristocrats hailed him as King” (Komroff 161-162). The final offer of the crown occurred before a large crowd of Romans, when a crown was placed on Caesar’s head he took it off and said “The Romans have no kings but their gods” (Komroff 162). Caesar refused the title every time because he knew that the second he did, the people would turn against him. Caesar also knew that the conspirators were behind these offers and was not about to play right into their hands. In both Shakespeare’s and Bruns’s works, Mark Antony was the one who offered the crown to Caesar. He did not do it to harm Caesar but out of respect for Caesar. The Number of conspirators is the same in both historical works. Both say that at least sixty men were involved in the conspiracy, most of them senate members. Shakespeare’s work says that only about eight men were part of the conspiracy, probably to cut down on the number of actors for the play. While there are many differences in the time before Caesar’s death, there are just as many similarities.
All three sources agree that Caesar fought and killed Pompey. Some of the senators were alarmed at this because Pompey was a Roman and they questioned Caesar’s honor. Upon Caesar’s return from battle, many celebrations were held. In Bruns’s account, a series of “triumphs” or extravagant celebrations were held in Caesar’s honor, one for each of his triumphs. In Shakespeare’s account, a large celebration was held in Rome in Caesar’s honor. The motive for killing Caesar is similar in all three accounts. The conspirators were afraid that Caesar was “ambitious,” that he wanted to become king. The conspirators feared a monarchy because they did not want a heir to gain the throne, they wanted to maintain a republic where leaders were voted into office. Many of the conspirators did not trust Caesar, “Yet, Caesar still provoked in many deep resentment and distrust” (Bruns 102). Because Caesar was a leader of the people, the conspirators, who were of the aristocratic class, “hoped to regain control of the government” (Komroff 163). All of the sources also agree on when Caesar was killed. He was killed on March 15, the Ides of March.
In the time that Caesar was killed many details are different in the two types of accounts. In the historical account of Komroff, The conspirators crowded around Caesar when he was seated at the head of the Senate. The conspirators engaged in conversation with Caesar, “They talked freely together. Some had favors to ask. Others had stories to tell” (Komroff 166). Then the conspirators began to carry out the fatal stage of their plan.
A scroll was then placed in Caesar’s hand and as he unrolled it and began to read its contents, his toga was suddenly grabbed and torn from his shoulders. He was stabbed in the throat by a dagger.
He rose to his feet with a cry and caught the arm of the one who struck him. Then he was stabbed again by another. He looked around and saw that he was surrounded by a ring of daggers. There was no chance of escape. He lifted the folds of his toga over his head. The daggers struck him from every side (Komroff 166-167).
In Shakespeare’s account a man named Metellus was petitioning Caesar to repeal the banishment of his brother. Caesar refused, saying, “...I am constant as the northern star...” (Shakespeare, 715). The conspirators used this as an excuse to get closer to Caesar. The conspirators came close to Caesar to plead for Metellus’ case, first Brutus and Cassius then the rest of the conspirators joined them as Caesar’s side, all but Casca who was waiting behind Caesar. “Speak, hands, for me!” (Shakespeare 716). This was Casca’s cry as he dealt the first blow to Caesar. The others then set upon Caesar and all but Brutus stabbed Caesar. Caesar tried to fight the conspirators but when he saw Brutus about to stab him he surrendered. “Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar!” (Shakespeare 716). The historical account says that the conspirators were already right next to Caesar but the fictionary account says that the conspirators needed an excuse, Metellus, to creep up to Caesar. History records that Caesar was stabbed 23 times, fiction says that Caesar was stabbed “thirty and three” times or 33 times. The differences during Caesar’s death show the different purposes of the author but the similarities show the reader the facts of the story.
In all of the accounts Caesar receives warnings about his death. The same soothsayer who warned him the first time warned him again with the phrase, “Beware of the Ides of March” (Komroff 166). Caesar ignores this warning and heads on to the senate. Artemidorus hands Caesar a scroll with the names of the men in the conspiracy and the details of the plot. Caesar places the scroll in a pile of petitions that he was to review at the senate thinking that it was another petition when it was really a scroll that could have saved his life. “If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayest live; if not, the Fates with traitors do contrive” (Shakespeare 711). History and Fiction also agree that Caesar fell dead at the base of a statue of Pompey, the one whom Caesar had conquered and killed. The time after Caesar’s death was a dramatic time in Roman history. Because of the already tense situation, few things needed to be changed for Shakespeare’s play.
In Shakespeare’s account Brutus spoke to the Roman people and for a time they were sided with him but in Komroff’s record the people did not side with the conspirators at all, in fact they were against the conspirators. On the night of Caesar’s death, the conspirators met to talk and scheme. Their plan that had seemed so perfect the night before had fallen apart and they had lost the support of the people that they needed so desperately so as not to seem like senseless murderers. In Shakespeare’s story, the conspirators spoke to the people only hours after Caesar’s death and after Antony turned the people against the conspirators they were forced to leave right away and did not even have time to meet that night because they were all either fleeing or dead. There are many more similarities in the time after Caesar’s than differences.
Immediately after Caesar’s death was a time of panic and fear. The senate, after seeing the murder of Caesar, was panicked and they ran from the senate house in fear that they were next. The conspirators surrounded Caesar’s body and raised their hands in victory proclaiming that “Liberty is now restored” (Komroff 167). In both accounts the conspirators address the Roman people to try to gain their support and approval. When Mark Antony speaks to the people he rallies them against the conspirators. He shows the people Caesar’s body and Shakespeare wrote that Antony even pointed out the place that each of the conspirators stabbed Caesar to give the people a picture of the murder. Antony read Caesar’s will to the people to make the people feel personally involved in the situation. The people were so riled by Antony that they began to march through the streets of Rome calling for the death of the conspirators. Shakespeare wrote that the mob even killed a man who had the same name as one of the conspirators. This goes to show how angry the people were and how hungry they were for revenge. In all of the accounts the conspirators were hunted down and killed, thus avenging the murder of Julius Caesar.
When Shakespeare presented the story of Julius Caesar’s death he made it entertaining because, as a playwright, it was his job to present a story in an entertaining fashion. He added elements that may or may not have had any part in what actually happened. Historical authors like Komroff and Bruns have to make their works historically accurate to give readers the real story. They do not have to make history sound exciting by adding elements or by developing characters. Because these authors had different purposes so they wrote the story from different perspectives. This causes differences in the story’s development and the effect it leaves on a reader or viewer.