A great Roman general who has recently returned to Rome after a military victory in Spain. Julius Caesar is not the main character of the play that bears his name; Brutus has over four times as many lines, and the play does not show us Caesar’s point of view. Nonetheless, virtually every other character is preoccupied with Caesar—specifically, with the possibility that Caesar may soon become king. If Caesar were to become king, it would mean the end of Rome’s republican system of government, in which senators, representing the citizens of Rome, wield most of the power. To noblemen like Brutus and Cassius, who consider themselves the equals of Caesar or any other citizen, Caesar’s coronation would mean they would no longer be free men but rather slaves. Caesar never explicitly says that he wants to be king—he even refuses the crown three times in a dramatic public display—but everything he says and does demonstrates that he regards himself as special and superior to other mortals. In his own mind, he seems already to be an absolute ruler.
A high-ranking, well-regarded Roman nobleman who participates in a conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. Brutus is motivated by his sense of honor, which requires him to place the good of Rome above his own personal interests or feelings. Thus, he plots against Caesar in order to preserve the republic even though he loves and admires Caesar personally. While the other conspirators act out of envy and rivalry, only Brutus truly believes that Caesar’s death will benefit Rome. Brutus’s sense of honor is also his weakness, as he tends to assume that his fellow Romans are as highminded as he is, which makes it easy for others to manipulate him.
A loyal friend of Caesar’s. In contrast to the self-disciplined Brutus, Antony is notoriously impulsive and pleasure-seeking, passionate rather than principled. He is extremely spontaneous and lives in the present moment. As resourceful as he is unscrupulous, Antony proves to be a dangerous enemy of Brutus and the other conspirators.
A talented general and longtime acquaintance of Caesar. Cassius resents the fact that the Roman populace has come to revere Caesar almost as a god. He slyly leads Brutus to believe that Caesar has become too powerful and must die, finally converting Brutus to his cause by sending him forged letters claiming that the Roman people support the death of Caesar. Impulsive and unscrupulous like Antony, Cassius harbors no illusions about the way the political world works. A shrewd opportunist, he acts effectively but lacks integrity.
Caesar’s adopted son and appointed successor. Octavius, who had been traveling abroad, returns after Caesar’s death, then joins with Antony and sets off to fight Cassius and Brutus. Antony tries to control Octavius’s movements, but Octavius follows his adopted father’s example and emerges as the authoritative figure, paving the way for his eventual seizure of the reins of Roman government.
One of the conspirators. Casca is a tribune (an official elected to represent the common people of Rome) who resents Caesar’s ambition. A rough and blunt-speaking man, Casca relates to Cassius and Brutus how Antony offered the crown to Caesar three times and how each time Caesar declined it. Casca insists, however, that Caesar was acting, manipulating the populace into believing that he has no personal ambition. Casca is the first to stab Caesar.
Caesar’s wife. Calphurnia invests great authority in omens and portents. She warns Caesar against going to the Senate on the Ides of March, for she has had terrible nightmares and heard reports of many bad omens.
Brutus’s wife and the daughter of a noble Roman (Cato) who took sides against Caesar. Portia, accustomed to being Brutus’s confidante, is upset to find him so reluctant to speak his mind when she finds him troubled.
Flavius and Murellus
Two tribunes who condemn the plebeians for their fickleness in cheering Caesar when once they cheered for Caesar’s enemy Pompey. Flavius and Murellus are punished for removing the decorations from Caesar’s statues during Caesar’s triumphal parade.
A Roman senator renowned for his oratorical skill. Cicero speaks at Caesar’s triumphal parade. He later dies at the order of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus.
The third member of Antony and Octavius’s coalition. Though Antony has a low opinion of Lepidus, Octavius trusts Lepidus’s loyalty.
A member of the conspiracy. Decius convinces Caesar that Calphurnia misinterpreted her dire nightmares and that, in fact, no danger awaits him at the Senate. Decius leads Caesar right into the hands of the conspirators.