Both enduring tales of conflict and tragedy, William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and “Julius Caesar” not only feature strikingly similar titles, but also comparable themes, such as devastating misunderstandings and the self in conflict with societal pressures. These uncanny connections between the two texts prompted this exploration into the theory that Romeo and Juliet’s’ relationship could be a metaphor for Julius Caesar’s reign over the Roman Republic.
Characterization of Romeo/Rome
Figuratively equated with the Eternal City, the young Montague is characterized in the play as being too idealistic. His passion for Juliet and overzealous romanticism ultimately leads to his downfall, just as the idealism of the Roman senators led them to conspire against Caesar. Also, In the beginning of “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo was infatuated with a woman named Rosaline, which could be referring to a “roseline” or royal bloodline, as early Rome was ruled by kings prior to the birth of the Republic. Once Romeo sees Juliet, he abandons his loyalties, family, society for her, just as the Romans did with the rise of Caesar.
Much of “Julius Caesar” deals with characters failing to correctly interpret the omens that they encounter. Cicero points this out, revealing, “Men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves” (I.iii.34–35). This lack of awareness leads to miscommunications. The co-conspirators believe that Caesar’s rise to power is dangerous and they are doing the “right thing” by assassinating him. Other Romans disagreed. This lack of communication is also found our between Romeo and Juliet and their families. Like a game of telephone, the facts become evermore distorted through human emotion. Romeo failed to correctly understand that Juliet was not really dead, just as the senators failed to understand Caesar’s intentions as ruler.
Society Versus the Self
Romeo and Juliet heavily features the lovers struggling against societal pressures. Familial loyalty, religion, and a whole host of other power structures conspire against their relationship. Brutus, representing the city and Romeo, also wrestles with these opposing ideals. Should he stand firm with his individual loyalties to Caesar or act according to what he considered to be the greater good?
“Romeo and Juliet’s” Roman Influences
Furthermore,”Romeo and Juliet” features several allusions to another ancient Roman story. Shakespeare’s celebrated play bears a striking resemblance in theme, plot, and dramatic ending to the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe, as told by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses. Shakespeare even threw in lines referencing this Roman myth in “Romeo and Juliet” as he was well-aware of the similarities.
With the indelible tales of ancient Rome swirling in his head as he wrote this heart wrenching play, the Bard could have easily been inspired by the admonitory legend of Julius Caesar, and although the Eternal City has undergone countless changes over the years, it survives, just like the bond between these two lovers and their doomed tale of woe.