This is one of Shakespeare’s earlier tragedies, often studied in school, often considered inferior to the “great” tragedies Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and perhaps Antony and Cleopatra. As such it is treated oddly: it’s seldom read as carefully for its specific nuances of character, and it has received somewhat less critical attention. In fact it’s nevertheless a fairly tight play, perhaps lacking the sophistication and depth of characterization of Shakespeare’s greatest efforts, but still tightly framed in the manner of, say, Aeschylean tragedy. It’s worth reading and seeing and attending to closely.
One might well question the title of the play: it is indeed about the death of Julius Caesar and the events that follow it, but primarily if it’s about anyone in particular, it’s more about Brutus (the leader of the assassins) and Mark Antony, who led the Caesarian faction against him. Julius Caesar is dead before the halfway point in the play.
Like some of Shakespeare’s histories and like his Roman tragedies (leaving aside TItus Andronicus as pure fiction, this class really would encompass this play, Coriolanus, and Antony and Cleopatra), this play also contains a fair amount of discourse that could be seen as having a bearing on contemporary political reality.
Unfortunately, all this tends to mean that there is at least a potential doctrinaire burden to the play that some producers and filmmakers are all to willing to jump on. It’s been used to support some kind of hidden political discourse in a number of situations, and there are several versions of it that really just aren’t very good. A good production, though, is worth seeing.
Not everyone has loved this play. George Bernard Shaw in particular disliked it: largely in response, he wrote his own Caesar and Cleopatra, linked at the Project Gutenberg site here. One can even see Shaw live making his rather arrogant response to Shakespeare’s take on Caesar appended, inexplicably, to the DVD of the Macbeth production by George Schaefer (1954).