“Julius Caesar” being a historical tragedy, death is pre-eminent. Caesar’s death is a focal point of the plot around which revolved the death of Brutus, Cassius, Cinna the poet and Portia’s death.
Caesar’s death is aided by supernatural portents. Prior to his death, there is thunder and lightning “all the sway of earth shakes, like a thing unfirm”, “a tempest dropping fire”, and Calpurnia’s dream which foretold Caesar’s death. All this created an eerie climax, since his was the only death foretold by a premonition.
The reader is left to wonder after the warnings from the soothsayer “Beware the Ides of March!” and Artemidorus “Caesar, beware of Brutus, take heed of Cassius…There is but one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Caesar” whether Caesar’s fate could have been changed had he listened to them.
Caesar’s death is sensational because he dies at the hands of men he called his “friends”. Several armed conspirators were needed to kill Caesar a single unarmed man. His dying words “Et tu, Brute?” are very poignant (deeply moving).
Even though the readers know Caesar’s death is inevitable, due to the various warnings and omens, until the last moment, there is a thrilling suspense in which the reader wonders whether he will live or die. We feel sorry for him because he gives up only when he sees the ultimate betrayal of his friend Brutus.
In Act 5 Scene 3, Cassius learns from Pindarus about the battle and is told his friend Titinius is captured. “O coward that I am, to live so long, to see my best friend ta’en before my face.” Unable to bear this grief, he forces Pindarus to run him through with his own sword. Cassius’ death stands out as the day he kills himself is the day he was born, “This day I breathed first. Time is come round, and where I did begin, there shall I end”.
The sword he used was the same one used to kill Caesar. Before his death, he saw omens everywhere. He became aware “Coming from Sardis, on our former ensign two mighty eagles fell, and there they perched, gorging and feeding from our soldiers’ hands, who to Philippi here consorted us. This morning are they fled away, and gone, and in their steads do ravens, crows and kites fly o’er our heads, and downward look on us as we were sickly prey”. Cassius, though a firm unbeliever in the supernatural, thought it was a sign of their impending defeat and was sure that he would lose the battle that day.
Even though Cassius is one of the leaders of the conspiracy against Caesar, we feel sad at his death, for it is because of his deep love for his friend that he takes his life. The extreme guilt he feels, knowing Titinius died carrying out his orders, drives him to kill himself to end his pain. The painful twist in the story gives the reader a deeper feeling of sorrow when we learn Titinius did not die but was celebrating Brutus’ victory.
In Act 3 Scene 3, Caesar’s death is followed be the death of Cinna, the poet. Despite a premonition, Cinna ventured out after Caesar’s death. “I dreamt tonight that I did feast with Caesar, and things unluckily charge my fantasy; I have no will to wander forth of doors, yet something leads me forth.” Thus Cinna appears to be fated to die. He is questioned intensively and answers the mob, “Truly, my name is Cinna” which leads to his death. He is mistaken for Cinna the conspirator, and his pleading, “I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!” falls on deaf ears and he is brutally torn to pieces as the crowd cries, “Tear him for his bad verses.”
“I am not Cinna the conspirator” makes no sense to the crowd. A commoner says “It is no matter; his name’s Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart”.
This death is a shocking one and shows the unbridled frenzy which Antony has churned up. The mob is inflamed by his fiery exaltation and is pillaging, burning and seeking victims. They are cruel and merciless, as despite the poet’s protest of innocence, they brush aside reason and tear him to pieces.
Brutus’ opponents considered him to be noble even in death. His death is the last in the play. He dies at his own hands. The audience is prepared for Brutus’ death when he says, “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet. Thy spirit walks abroad and turns our swords in our own proper entrails.”
Strato, Brutus’ servant holds the sword after being told, “Hold then my sword and turn away thy face while I do run upon it.”
Poetic justice is achieved when Brutus proclaims, “Caesar, now be still! I killed not thee with half so good a will.” Brutus is redeemed. Through death he escaped his guilt of killing Caesar, and from the hands of his enemies, Antony and Octavius.
His arch enemy Antony, in his eulogy , says of him, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he, did that they did in envy of great Caesar. He only, in a general honest thought, and common good to all, made one of them.”
These three deaths are made interesting by Shakespeare’s magnificent talent at story-telling. All four deaths could have been avoided. The suspense leading up to Caesar’s death is thrilling as we wonder if he indeed will be killed. His death is avenged when Brutus and Cassius are killed. Cassius’s honourable act of killing himself out of deep love for his friend is made interesting when we find out Titinius is not dead after all. Cinna’s death is very shocking because it shows us the violent nature of the crowd and Antony’s dangerous powers of manipulation. Brutus’ kills himself so as to avoid being captured, but it is still honourable. The underlying message is that criminals will get what they deserve.