Classical Connections Between Shakespeare and Julius Caesar
By Cortney Wright
Teacher of Classical Composition, Literature, Grammar, Spelling, Bible Study, and French
“Beware the Ides of March!” A soothsayer cries out his ominous warning to Julius Caesar on his way to the Senate in Shakespeare’s 1599 historic tragedy “Julius Caesar.” However, apart from an actual assassination plot, there truly was nothing to fear about the Ides of March. In fact, this day would have been a time to celebrate, marking the first full moon of the new year, according to the Roman lunar calendar.
But why was Caesar assassinated and who wanted to kill him? Born into a noble family in 100 B.C. during a chaotic period of the once-great Roman Republic, Caesar rose through military leadership in what would be modern-day Spain, France, Belgium, and even Africa. In our First Form Latin Student Text we read that “in 47 B.C., Julius Caesar defeated the king of Pontus in one hour. He was so proud of his extraordinary speed that he sent the famous message to the Senate in Rome: veni, vidi, vici.” I came, I saw, I conquered.
In 46 A.D. Caesar returned to Rome where all the great offices of state were his. In Dorothy Mills’ The Book of the Ancient Romans, we learn that “…the civil wars were over, and peace had been restored…The Republic was ruled by one man only, but by a man who desired to rule not only for his own glory, though he was ambitious and loved power, but by one who desired to use it in the interest of the state…Julius Caesar refused the title of king, but he was surrounded by all the outward forms of monarchy” (269). Caesar was bound to have enemies. There were men who feared that he would eventually overthrow the government and make himself king. They conspired to kill Caesar on the Ides of March. Caesar was warned by a soothsayer and his wife not to go to the Senate that day. Caesar declared fear was worse than death and went anyway. “The conspirators rushed upon Caesar, stabbing him with daggers…he attempted to defend himself, until he received a blow from Brutus, the man whom he had befriended, and then, saying, “Et tu, Brute!” he drew his robe over his face and fell.
“The sun himself had pity for Rome. He too, it was, when Caesar’s light was quenched, For Rome had pity, when his bright head he veiled In iron-hued darkness, till a godless age Trembled for night eternal.”
So is there anything to fear about the Ides of March? Probably not. Shakespeare’s immortalized words point us not to superstition, but circumspection. As John Dos Passos wrote, “In times of change and danger, when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning, a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.” Classical connections between Caesar, Shakespeare, and the Ides of March provide that continuity for us today.
At the Belmont devotional on March 16, middle school students recited Marc Antony's famous speech from the "Julius Caesar" play:
This historical thought was delivered by middle school students at devotional on 3/16/23. Each week one class leads the student body in prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, scripture recitation, a meditation, and an historical thought. Family and friends are welcome, Thursdays 8:30-9:05 am. Belmont is an independent K-12 school in the classical, Christian tradition. In partnership with parents, we invest in students — helping them acquire an education of the highest quality, find joy in life, and become influences for good in the world. If you are interested in receiving updates about Belmont, please subscribe to Exulto here by inserting your email.