The Struggle Between Fate and Free Will in Tragedy Julius Caesar 

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The butterfly effect is the belief that something as insignificant as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can start something as catastrophic as an entire hurricane. Although many people believe fate decides the course of a person’s life, the butterfly effect is a much more logical explanation than some divine being or entity controlling every person’s destiny. It is easy to simply dismiss free will and claim everything depends on fate and destiny. This is not the case in Julius Caesar however, instead Shakespeare uses both. In the end, it is not fate that decides the course of a person’s life: it is how the character alters or accepts their fate. While fate and free will compete to dominate a person’s destiny, omens and prophecies and how one responds to them is ultimately what decides their future.

In Julius Caesar both Cassius and Brutus are the ones that ultimately decide their fate in the decisions the make. At the beginning of the play, Cassius refuses to believe that Julius’ rise to power was an act of fate, instead, he is under the impression that it is the fault of others, not fate. Brutus becomes one of the conspirators because he is scared and thus makes the choice to, not because of a superstitious omen. Cassius believes that the men in power and senators are the ones to blame for Julius’ success, as opposed to fate or destiny. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (1.3. 140-141). Cassius is saying that although fate may play a part the course of one’s life, it is our choices that end up altering our fate and by extension, those who make those choices should be held accountable for the repercussions. Brutus listened to Cassius’ advice and decides to join the conspiracy, a conspiracy against his own close friend, simply because of possibilities. These possibilities being: Julius could become too powerful and he could neglect his friends and those responsible for bringing him to power. Because of this, Brutus goes forward with the plan to kill Caesar even though he could essentially stop the plan at any time, making this a decision that would alter his fate. However,

Brutus believes he has a reason to do so:

If there be any in this assembly, any dear

friend of Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love

to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend

demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my

answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved

Rome more. (3.2.19-24)

Brutus justifies his decision with his love of Rome, insisting that killing Caesar was an act of patriotism for the good of Rome. Essentially, Brutus’ and Cassius’ beliefs are what alter their fate and lead to their suicides. Similar to before, Cassius acts hastily and commits suicide because of an assumption he made. Because he perceived Titinius as being held captive when in actuality he was fine, his fate changed when he made the decision to kill himself. Brutus also commits suicide in order to evade fate, he runs onto his own sword altering the course of his own destiny. Even though fate may plays a factor in these character’s lives, it is their choices that permute their future.

Caesar is repeatedly warned by various omens however he ignores all of them. He is warned by the soothsayer to be careful on the ides of march, Caesar doesn't take the warning seriously and blames it on the soothsayer. Caesar ends up dying after being stabbed 33 times on March 15 (or the ides of March), so it is safe to say that Caesar should have heeded the Soothsayer’s warning. Caesar’s ignorance is shown by how he simply brushes off the warning, “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass” (1.2.28-29) Caesar is far too ignorant to listen to the Soothsayer’s warning, which contributes to his untimely end. Caesar then ignores another omen, Calpurnia’s dream of people bathing in a fountain of Caesar’s blood. Calpurnia tells Caesar to stay home however Decius is able to convince Caesar to go anyways, leading to his death. The dream foretold what was to come however Caesar brushed it off yet again:

Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home.

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She dreamt tonight she saw my statue,

Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,

Did run pure blood, and many lusty Romans

Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it.

And these does she apply for warnings and portents

And evils imminent, and on her knee

Hath begged that I will stay at home today. (2.2.80-87)

Had Caesar heeded Calpurnia’s warning he could have evaded his own bloodbath. Caesar was given many chances by these omens to realize what the future would hold however his arrogance led him astray and put his fate right into the hands of the conspirators. These omens were simply negligible and seemed insignificant to Caesar when in reality they could have saved his life. Despite fate attempting to save Caesar, his own actions and the actions of others are essentially what led him to his death on the fateful day of March 15th.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare writes about free will by showing the readers the beliefs of the characters. Caesar, Cassius, and Brutus all see fate in different ways. Caesar believes that there is nothing one can do about fate. This is shown by how Caesar declares: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear, / Seeing that death, a necessary end, / Will come when it will come” (2.2.35–37). In other words, Caesar recognizes that certain events lie beyond human control. To not alter the effects of fate is essentially as bad as death. He believes that fate will run its course no matter what. In the end, Brutus interprets his and Cassius’s defeat as the work of Caesar’s ghost, not the apparition, but his legacy and the love people had for him. Brutus did not know that before, but rather, he came to that realization:

Why then, lead on.—O, that a man might know

The end of this day's business ere it come!

But it sufficeth that the day will end,

And then the end is known. (5.1.133-136)

Brutus understands that although men never know their fate, it should not stop them from living. The way a person responds to warnings, prophecies, and possibilities is what decides the course of a person’s life. It is clear that Shakespeare truly wanted to capture the struggle between free will and fate in Julius Caesar. Although fate plays a role in one’s life, free will will always trump its effects.

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