In the late summer or autumn of 1599, Shakespeare’s company brought to the stage the tragedy of Julius Caesar.2 Although it is often read as a play about the killing of a king and expressing a real ambivalence on that score, it would be equally productive to see it as depicting a struggle among aristocrats — senators — aimed at preventing one of their number from transcending his place and destroying the system in which they all ruled as a class.3 In this perspective, then, the assassination is not regicide, but an attempt to restore the status quo ante. The conspirators strike down an individual, Julius Caesar, whose behaviour displays and is characterised in terms that could not help but suggest emulation to an Elizabethan. However, the assassination is carried out by individuals whose actions are presented in the play in exactly the same way. In other words, although the motives of the conspirators, and especially those of Brutus, must be distinguished from Caesar’s as well as Antony’s and Octavius’ in many respects, all are nevertheless animated by the same fundamental drive, the drive to excel all others, to ‘out-imitate’ their fellows.
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