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Posted on August 20th, 2012, by

Compare the ways the plays King Lear and Julius Caesar investigate the use and abuse of power via personal ambition and family relationships

William Shakespeare’s plays “King Lear”¯ and “Julius Caesar”¯ raise the theme of the power and the struggle for the power, which involves use and misuse of power. The author reveals the complexity of relationships between people struggling for power to the extent that the author shows that, in their strife for power, people are ready to violate moral norms and principles and ruin family relationships for the sake of their personal ambitions to take the power and become rulers of their countries. Even though the main characters of the play are deprived of their power, they are still quite different because Julius Caesar is the powerful leader who frightens his subordinates and enemies, whereas King Lear is naĆÆve and weak ruler who becomes a victim of his goodness and respect to family relationships. In such a way, William Shakespeare shows that people are ready to ruin family relationships and even murder their family members for the sake of power.

On analyzing both plays, it should be said that both characters are, to a significant extent, similar but their similarity is rather superficial that real. To put it more precisely, King Lear is a weak ruler. He cannot take decisions that meet interests of his kingdom. Instead, he is concerned with his family and his daughters. The love of his daughters is more important that the fate of his kingdom because when he decides to give up his rule and divide the kingdom between his daughters he chooses his successor on the ground of the daughter’s love but not on the ground of state considerations. In other words, King Lear does not care about the future of his kingdom but he wants to provide for his daughters and make them happy as long as they love him. In this regard, Caesar is totally different. As the matter of fact, this character is pragmatic and the future of his country is his primary concern. No wonder, Brutus proves to be a character who is “the noblest Roman of them all”¯ (Shakespeare, 2000). In such a way, Julius Caesar uses his power to appoint his successor and he concerns with his ability to rule the country, while family relationships are secondary to him. In such a context, King Lear is a very unusual character.

At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that Shakespeare creates quite a strange, a bit bizarre character who seems to be getting out of his mind when he decides to refuse from his royal power and divide his kingdom among his daughters. What is more, he takes decision on the basis of the verbal expression of love to him as a father and king from the part of his daughters who prove to be quite hypocritical, all but Cornelia, who cannot help from saying the truth, her real feelings. In such a way, Shakespearean King Lear is a naĆÆve, old King who is eventually totally abandoned and neglected, loses all his power and love of those daughters whom he considered to be his best and most beloved ones. Therefore, he is apparently going to be slightly mad being disappointed with his life as an ordinary man as he is deprived of his royal power. Only when he lost his power he understands that:

O reason not the need! Our basest beggars

Are in the poorest things superfluous:

Allow not nature more than nature needs,

Man’s life is cheap as beast’s

(Shakespeare, II, 4).

In such a way, Shakespeare reveals the drama of a disenchanted character whose highest expectations have failed. Eventually, he changes his understanding of the world:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,

That bide the pelting of thisĀ  pitiless storm,

How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,

Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you

From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en

Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp:

Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,

That thou mayst shake the superflux to them.

And show the heavens more just.

(Shakespeare, IV, 4).

In such a way, King Lear understands eventually that he failed to use his power properly for the well-being of his country and himself.

Instead, his daughters abused the power and to gain the total control over the country they started the war. As soon as their father became absolutely useless, they just forgot about him.

In such a way, King Lear is deceived because he failed to use his power. In this regard, Julius Caesar is totally different because he is betrayed because he used the power effectively and, what is more, his strife for power was unlimited that provoked the plot of Senators against him.

In fact, his power and the struggle of Senators against the abuse of power by Caesar is clearly seen from the first act of the play. The first act of the play “Julius Caeser”¯ introduces the reader into the epoch of the rule of Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor, who is surrounded by treacherous people, such as Brutus. The opening scenes of the play show the criticism of Caesar by two tribunes, Marullus and Flavius. They are critical about citizens worshiping Caesar as almost a king, which was quite unusual for Rome at the epoch. In such a way, through criticism of Julius Caesar, or, to put it more precisely, through criticism of citizens worshiping him, William Shakespeare prepares the audience to the introduction of the main characters of the play, Julius Caesar and his closest environment. Obviously, such a beginning of the play is intended to create quite a negative image of Caesar. At any rate, the author shows the audience that Julius Caesar is the man who had changed traditions and norms of ancient Rome, though he got the admiration of the plebs.

After that, William Shakespeare introduces Julius Caesar, himself. He is leading the procession through the streets of Rome. In such a way, the author again emphasizes that people of Rome do worship Julius Caesar who is the leader of the nation that has gained the public approval. At the same time, Julius Caesar proves to be not so admired as he may seem to be since he encounters a soothsayer, a fortune teller, who warns Caesar to be aware of “the ides of March”¯ (Shakespeare, 2000), when Caesar should die, according to the prophecy of the fortune teller. This means that the author introduces some elements of conspiracy and scheming against Caesar, though it is not clear where the threat comes from. However, Caesar ignores this warning that demonstrates his self-assuredness and self-confidence.

Nevertheless, it soon becomes clear that the warning was not ungrounded. Cassius, the rival of Caesar, fears Caesar’s ever growing power and he begins plotting to overthrow Caesar and put the end to his political career and life. Cassius recruits Brutus, a close friend of Caesar, toward his conspiracy by implying that Caesar is becoming too powerful. Brutus does not agree at once but promises to think the offer made by Cassius over. In such a way, the author shows that Caesar’s environment is uncertain since even his close friends, such as Brutus are vulnerable to influence of his enemies, but motives of Cassius are unclear to Brutus, although he suspects that Cassius wants to grow in power and take the place of Caesar. Hence, the political struggle in Rome is the struggle for the power. In such a context, voices of tribunes, Marullus and Flavius are the only people who seem to be able to tell the truth about the rulers of Rome, but they are put to silence for “pulling scarfs off Caesar’s mages”¯ (Shakespeare, 2000), when they pull decorations off Caesar’s statues.

Furthermore, Cassius conspiracy gains momentum when he recruits a suspicious Cassca to their cause against Caesar by pointing out that several recent strange occurrences are omens warning them against Caesar. Obviously, this proves that Romans were very superstitious people and believed in omens, but Shakespeare also shows that the overthrowing of Caesar was a kind of divine act since omens were sign given to people by gods. At least, this is how Cassius attempted to interpret these omens. Finally, Cassius has Cinna place some forged letters where Brutus finds them convincing to join the plot. Thus, the preparation to the coup-d’etat progresses and eventually it results in the murder of Julius Caesar.

In this respect, it should be said that Julius Caesar died because he abused his power and it is quite symbolic that it is his son, Brutus, who murdered him. Brutus, similarly to daughters of King Lear, ruined family relationships and killed his father. At first glance, he is crueler than King Lear’s daughters but Brutus is guided by consideration of the well-being of Rome and its people, whereas Lear’s daughters are concerned with their own interests and power they want to take. Therefore, Brutus violated family relationships to use his power for the well-being of his country and people and put the end to the abuse of power by Caesar. In contrast, Lear’s daughters abuse the power and family relationships for their own well-being.

Thus, it is possible to conclude that the use and abuse of power are key themes of both plays “King Lear”¯ and “Julius Caesar”¯. William Shakespeare shows the destructive impact of power on the family relationships. At the same time, he shows that family relationships can become a tool to reach the power, even if this means a murder of a family member, as was the case of Julius Caesar. At the same time, Julius Caesar is rather punished for his abuse of power, whereas King Lear is punished for his goodness and inability to use his power properly.

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