Thursday, October 27, 2016

Julius Caesar: What's in a Name?

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If I were to write a paper about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, I would actually want to focus on a famous line from one of Shakespeare’s other well-known plays:

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

While Juliet uses this line to say that names are artificial and meaningless conventions, and that she loves Romeo no matter what his name is, I would argue that the use of names throughout Julius Caesar is not meaningless, but rather shapes and manipulates one’s understanding and interpretation of information.
I wouldn’t focus on character’s literal names, but rather how they describe themselves and one another. For example, Brutus appeals to the crowd by calling them, “Romans, countrymen, and lovers” (3.2.14). Antony then refers to the plebeians as “Friends, Romans, countrymen” and “Good friends, sweet friends” (3.2.82, 222). Antony repeatedly calls the men who killed Caesar “honorable men,” and refers to Brutus specifically as, “Caesar’s angel” (3.2.92, 96, 103, 108, 193). Antony also compares Lepidus to a horse (4.1.33). Even before Caesar’s death, Cassius describes Caesar to Brutus as a mortal man no different from either of them, as a god, and then as a “sick girl” (1.2.104, 123, 135). It seems to me that Cassius was able to manipulate Brutus into betraying Caesar through his speech, Brutus was able to calm the crowd through his funeral speech, and Antony was able to incite mutiny through his speech. Obviously there were other things at play, but I think it would make an interesting paper to argue that the names used to describe each person all had a strong persuasive influence on each listener.
Research that I would enjoy moving forward would be to watch different movie renditions of the play and compare differences and similarities of interpretation of how to portray the movie. There’s the Warner Brother’s 1953 black and white production, BBC’s production, Common Wealth’s production, and a 30 minute animated production posted on, but originally aired on BBC2. I also found an interesting article that focuses on characters that one normally doesn’t pay as much attention to if you center in on the fall of Brutus. It was a little long, but I would love to study it more in depth to see what it says about Caesar and the common people.
For a play that is so concerned with loyalty, betrayal, fear, and pride, I would be very interested in examining these themes through the lens of names and language used to describe one’s fellowman.


  1. I love your idea of examining the ways that Shakespeare used names to influence the ways characters interact. I think your concept of identity as assumed by oneself or assigned by others would be absolutely intriguing. I saw some instanced in "The Tempest" that might interest you if you pursue that topic. Prospero calls himself "Duke" instead of father while talking to Miranda, he sometimes calls Ariel "slave", sometimes "spirit" and sometimes "servant". Let me know if you decide to pursue it and I will try to watch for more and give you better citings as I see them!

    1. I think it would actually be something super cool to work into the semester's big research paper. Like, what effect do names really have across the board of Shakespeare's works? Thanks for the suggestion from the Tempest!

  2. This is fascinating! I love how you're connected different plays together rather than just focusing on Julius Caesar. Would you include references to Romeo and Juliet in your research? Or would you focus more on scholarly articles and outside sources?

    1. I think that I would use references to Romeo and Juliet by means of introduction and conclusion, as well as research on that specific line as it pertains to Romeo and Juliet, but I was originally thinking of analyzing how Shakespeare has used "name calling" throughout his various works. However, I think it would help to do the same sort of reading on Romeo and Juliet to see how names really do matter. Or really don't. More the way people perceive them?