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Shakespeare: Julius Caesar

4. “It must be by his death”

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about one of the key soliloquies in the play (“It must be by his death”), in which Brutus muses in his garden how to put an end to Caesar’s ambition. In particular, we focus on the political ideas contained in the speech and their relation to the works of Machiavelli (especially his Discourses on Livy), as well as the image of the serpent that recurs throughout the speech.


In this course, Professor John Roe (University of York) explores Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. We begin by thinking about the sources for the play, focusing in particular on the works of Plutarch, before moving on in the second module to give a summary of the plot. After that, we think about who we could consider to be the hero of the play, before turning in the fourth module to consider the extent to which Julius Caesar is a ‘Machiavellian’ play. In the fifth module, we explore Brutus’ famous soliloquy “It must be by his death”, before moving on in the sixth module to consider the role of the people in the play. In the seventh module, we provide an analysis of Mark Antony’s famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech, before turning in the eighth and final module to the figures of Cassius and Casca, and think about the extent to which Shakespeare himself might have been a Republican.


John Roe is a professor in Renaissance literature and a member of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) at the University of York. He took a BA (subsequently MA) in English Literature at the University of Cambridge and an MA and PhD in Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Comparative Literature, mainly English and Italian, has remained a keen interest, which shows principally in his monograph Shakespeare and Machiavelli. He has taught at York since 1973. Before that he taught at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and at Harvard. During his time at York he has enjoyed long sojourns at universities in other countries, for example, at the University of the Saarland in Germany, at Kyoto University, Doshisha University, and Kobe Jogakuin, in Japan; and most recently a year as the visiting Gillespie Professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Roe, J. (2018, November 21). Shakespeare: Julius Caesar - “It must be by his death” [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Roe, J. "Shakespeare: Julius Caesar – “It must be by his death”." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 21 Nov 2018,