Whilst studying the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar I noticed there were some key themes that are identifiable in today’s society. There are examples of betrayal, manipulation, jealousy, greed, revenge and political conflict just to name a few. These are common threads in Julius Caesar which occur in our current society.
I see most of these themes play out in our school grounds almost on a daily basis. On the surface, you see laughter; happiness and people have a good time. However, if you look closely, you will see people sitting alone, being excluded and other people talking about others behind their backs. This is the sad reality for many people today.
Betrayal is explored when Brutus stabs Caesar in the back, both literally as well as metaphorically. Brutus is convinced by the jealous Cassius that Caesar is being treated like a god when he isn’t anything special. Through lies and deception, Cassius is able to turn the once loyal Brutus against his good friend Caesar. We see this all the time in the modern era. Long term friends can fall out because somebody else has spread a rumour or a falsehood about one of them that the other believes. Sadly, loyalty can disintegrate off the back of a few choice words. Cassius was able to manipulate Brutus by sending letters containing displays of affection from the public. This in turn made Brutus jealous and he conspired to kill Caesar.
The outcome was Cassius brainwashed Brutus. Today, we are seeing the effects of young males being brainwashed into joining ISIS. One young man from Bankstown has recently been seen in a video displaying hate towards the Western World with threats to the US, UK and Australia, This youth grew up in Australia but has been convinced that our way of life is wrong and he has joined a group intent on spreading hate against all those who oppose their beliefs.
Jealousy is a theme we can clearly relate back to the present. Again, we see friends fall out over jealousy towards one another. In the Shakespearean play, it was Cassius who was jealous of Caesar. He hated that the people treated Caesar like a god when he saw him as a normal person like him. Jealousy changed a man who once saved his friend when he was drowning and another time when he was sick – into a man who plotted to kill this same friend. The play is even referenced in modern drama during the movie “Mean Girls”. Gretchen likens herself to Brutus and refers to her ‘friend’ Regina as Caesar:
“Why should Caesar just get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar, Brutus is just as smart as Caesar, people totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar, and when did it become OK for one person to be the boss of everybody because that is not what Rome is about! We should totally just stab Caesar!”
This very funny moment in the movie is something we come across once in a while when one friend seems to take over the group and jealousy leads others to plot their downfall.
Greed is another feeling that the play shares with the people of today. Too often, we crave for more and more instead of being happy with what we already have. Cassius wanted a reputation and to be equal with or better than Caesar. He aligned with people who convinced the people of Rome that what they did was out of the good of their hearts and good for Rome. But he did not do it for Rome. He did it for himself. He was greedy for power. He wanted the wealth. He wanted everyone to remember his name. Although Cassius did it for the wrong reasons, Brutus did it for what he believed was right. He thought it was for the good of Rome. He was convinced.
We see greed almost every night in the news. Somebody has robbed a service station, another has stolen an old ladies life savings. On a much grander scale, countries go to war over land or oil or some other material reason. Greed is the cause of much conflict and heartache.
Revenge is a terrible reality in today’s modern world. September 11 was seen by many as an act of revenge on the United States of America. The supporters of groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban believed that the US had interfered in their way of life. Osama Bin Laden said that if the US violates the security of the Muslim world (by using his homeland Saudi Arabia as a base during the Gulf war) than Al Qaeda is justified in violating American Security.
People often need to justify a wrongdoing as an act of revenge. This means somebody had wronged them first. Towards the end of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony seeks to avenge the death of his good friend Caesar. It is his pursuit of revenge that ultimately leads to the death of Brutus – a tragic hero who did not truly deserve his eventual fate.
Julius Caesar is essentially about the politics of his day. Leadership is always going to be a difficult position to be in when people are undermining you. For Caesar, he had his trusted friends in Cassius and Brutus conspire to remove him from this honourable position. We saw something similar to this a few years ago when Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister of Australia. Eerily, Kevin Rudd came back like the ghost of Caesar to replace Julia close to the election of 2013.
In reading the play Julius Caesar, I was able to identify with a number of key themes. Julius Caesar demonstrates that the ideas of betrayal, manipulation, greed, jealousy, revenge and political conflicts are timeless and just as relevant today as it was back then.