This thesis examines Shakespeare’s characterisation of Cassius in Julius Caesar.
Although a faint figure in the historical tradition that Shakespeare inherited, Cassius
emerges as the second most prominent character in the play (at least in terms of words
spoken). My aim is to explain how (and why) Cassius comes to enjoy such a primary
role in the tragedy. In Chapter One, I examine the historical information Shakespeare
may have consulted to fashion his Cassius. As I hope to show, Shakespeare adapts and
appropriates Plutarch to provide a far more nuanced portrait than the predominantly
one-dimensional foil for Brutus. In Chapter Two, I examine the Caesar plays of several
contemporary European dramatists (e.g., Muret, Pescetti, and Kyd) to compare their
depictions of Cassius to Shakespeare’s. In Chapter Three, I examine Elizabethan
England’s influence on Shakespeare’s depiction of Cassius. Additionally, I will explore
whether or not Shakespeare sought to connect Cassius with the contemporary figure
Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.
The overarching questions that connect these chapters together are: can Cassius be
considered the hero or a villain of the play? Is he neither? Is he a “mixed” character?
These questions are important, as critics have long been divided over Cassius since the
play was first performed. Hopefully, this thesis will show that Cassius is, by the end of
the play at least, closer to Vikram Chopra’s “Elizabethan patriot” than he is to any other
critical iteration. Shakespeare has created a character who is intelligent, patriotic, and
passionate, but also personally vindictive. In short, he is every bit as flawed as every
other major character in the tragedy.