Julius Caesar takes place in Rome during a time when the empire was in a precarious state: military leaders and senators were constantly competing with one another to be in control of the world’s greatest superpower. Julius Caesar emerged as Rome’s most popular politician and general, and managed to take control after winning great acclaim during his military career. Although he was by most standards a very good ruler, his absolute authority made many citizens nervous. Fearful of being enslaved, a group of senators and other politicians came together and conspired to assassinate Julius Caesar in March of 44BC.
Elizabethan audiences would have been familiar with the anxiety that gripped Caesar’s conspirators: the Queen was getting older (66, to be exact!) and had produced no heirs. Unrest was growing in England as people nervously looked around for someone to succeed her. Many people feared civil war would break out-- exactly the type of civil war seen in ancient Rome. Shakespeare, then, was making a very thoughtful commentary on the political atmosphere of his day. Like most of Shakespeare’s plays, Julius Caesar was not a truly original piece; it was adapted from Plutarch’s Lives, which was written in the first century ad. Julius Caesar is Shakespeare’s shortest play and first premiered at the Globe Theater in London in 1599.