How does William Shakespeare’s writing style contribute to the value of the play?
At the beginning of our studies of the play Julius Caesar, we were asked to brainstorm why we thought Shakespeare’s plays are still studied today. Our class decided on many fair reasons, such as:
- They explore human nature.
- Concepts are relevant to prevent future conflicts.
- Allows us to realise the mistakes people have made in the past through text.
However, after reading the play, I’m mostly convinced that the true reason is because of his powerful and vivid writing style, which I truly remembered the most. Although it was confusing at times, as his writing is unlike anything I’ve read before, once I understood a section, it became quite interesting and exciting to comprehend such intelligent ideas.
Throughout our reading, we noticed something fascinating about the way people spoke depending on their social class, which I thought was rather clever. The nobles spoke in iambic pentameter, or blank verse, while the Commoners spoke in prose. Iambic pentameter, or black verse is where there are ten syllables in each line, of which five are stressed and the remaining are unstressed. The first line of Antony’s famous speech (III, ii, 75-109) is “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” You may notice that this line sounds much like a poem. That’s because of the way it’s written, in iambic pentameter. On the other hand,
Prose is just the way you and I talk – in no special rhythm or pattern. When the First Citizen reacts to Antony’s speech, he says, “Methinks there is much reason in his sayings,” which seems like ordinary and normal speech. The effect of iambic pentameter and prose is do differentiate the nobles from the commoners, and it also allows us to notice when a character falls. For example, in Brutus’ speech before Mark Antony’s:
“Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause,
and be silent, that you may hear: believe me fore mine…” (III, ii, 15-17)
His fall has begun so Brutus wasn’t given the dignity of poetry; while prior to this, he often spoke in poetry.
Shakespeare uses images and descriptions to help influence the audience. When Cassius describes Caesar in I, ii, 135-138, Cassius says:
“Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves”
These lines show Cassius’ thoughts on how Caesar is so honourable and good, while the other petty men just follow his orders and look forward to dying dishonourably as slaves, and as Caesar becomes more important, the importance of the other nobles diminishes. Besides this, you may have recognised the powerful imagery in these lines. The strong images, firstly allows the viewer to understand the context visually, and then affects how the audience perceives Caesar as a character, especially when it says how he powerfully dominates the entire “narrow world” and how the petty men have no position in this world.
The play Julius Caesar is loaded with figurative language, especially metaphors to enrich the language of his play, which makes it even more relevant and valuable to study today. Although this was probably the dominating factor of why I found it difficult to understand the context sometimes, most phrases do deserve the credit they’re given just by us studying them. For example, when Caesar states to Anthony:
“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men, and such sleep o’-nights:
Young Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Here, Caesar suspects that Cassius might do something against him so he should be fed well to not envy the power that Caesar has. Shakespeare compares Cassius to a wolf because his is physical appearance denotes his dangerous and shifty nature.
Furthermore, similes are often used too in Julius Caesar, as in Caesars line:
“But I am constant as the northern star” (III, i, 60)
Caesar explains that he doesn’t change his mind on things when they request to banish Cimber, after defining the three omens, warning him that his life will soon be in danger if he goes to the Senate on the Ides of March. This line shows his excessive pride and self-importance, which only increases by the following lines:
“Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.” (III, i, 61-62)
“Hence! Wilt though lift up Olympus?” (III, i, 73)
This line is a metaphor, where he, annoyed, states that he is as steady as Olympus, a mountain in Greece home to the gods, and therefore immovable. It is also an example of irony as he says it at the edge of dying, when he compares himself to an immortal God before the conspirators kill him. This refers to his excessive ego when he compares himself to the brightest star of all.
“Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar!”
These are the last words of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar. “Et tu Brute!” translates to “And you, Brutus!” The famous line, uttered by Caesar when he spots his best friend, Brutus, among the conspirators, signifies the betrayal by a friend. Caesar thought of Brutus as the last person to betray him, so he has no one left to trust. He’d rather fall than live to see his best friend stab him, which again, shows his self-importance.
Thus, I continue to believe that Shakespeare’s unique, clever writing style is the reason why we still study his plays today. Many quotes from popular movies arise from Shakespeare’s phrases. They are still so relevant in society today and with the added powerful language, they are even more valuable. Through techniques, like iambic pentameter, prose and figurative language, the viewer is able to read between the lines and realise that the way he wrote each, single word is deliberate and has a reason – a valuable one too.