“Did not great Julius bleed for justice’ sake?”: Examining a theory of social justice through will-making in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

  • Lisa M. Barksdale-Shaw


This article submits that, in Julius Caesar, Caesar’s will functions as the pivotal, legal instrument that subscribes
a path toward social justice for every Roman citizen by providing an economic legacy, and simultaneously
overshadows the deadly allegations against Caesar, thereby highlighting his reputedly vile, tyrannical rule and
exposing the calculating motives of Cassius and Brutus. The conveyance of land – as an act of empowering the
Roman people – creates a strategic way toward leveraging economic power into their hands. I examine Caesar’s
will, Roman inheritance, and Caesar’s legacy. I find similarities with the more recent South African legislation
surrounding land expropriation “in the public interest” with an effort “to tackle injustices”. The article also
examines how law negotiates as theatrical stage property, and as a legal instrument to gauge the rights of an
economically undervalued class. Here, this analysis surveys justice, the law, and material culture, as a way to
interrogate this distinctive Roman history while considering written evidence, particularly its negotiation as a
fundamental, early modern legal vehicle