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Julius Caesar Act I Overview
Transcript of Julius Caesar Act I Overview
Honors English 10 Julius Caesar Casca reports to Cassius that the senators plan to make Caesar king in the Senate the following day. Cassius draws his dagger and swears to the gods that if they can make a weak man like Caesar so powerful, then they can empower Cassius to defeat a tyrant. He declares that Rome must be merely trash or rubbish to give itself up so easily to Caesar’s fire. Casca joins Cassius in his censure of Caesar, and Cassius reveals that he has already swayed a number of high-powered Romans to support a resistance movement. Teachers love Spark Notes, too, but you shouldn't rely on it/them as a crutch. There is no substitute for reading the text! Two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, enter a Roman street, along with various commoners. Flavius and Murellus derisively order the commoners to return home and get back to work: “What, know you not, / Being mechanical, you ought not walk / Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of your profession?” (I.i.2–5). Murellus engages a cobbler in a lengthy inquiry about his profession; misinterpreting the cobbler’s punning replies, Murellus quickly grows angry with him. Flavius interjects to ask why the cobbler is not in his shop working. The cobbler explains that he is taking a holiday from work in order to observe the triumph (a lavish parade celebrating military victory)—he wants to watch Caesar’s procession through the city, which will include the captives won in a recent battle against his archrival Pompey. Scene 1 Caesar enters a public square with Antony, Calpurnia, Portia, Decius, Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, and a Soothsayer; he is followed by a throng of citizens and then by Flavius and Murellus. Antony, dressed to celebrate the feast day, readies himself for a ceremonial run through the city. Caesar urges him to touch Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, as he runs, since Roman superstition holds that the touch of a ceremonial runner will cure barrenness. Antony agrees, declaring that whatever Caesar says is certain to become fact. Scene 2 Casca and Cicero meet on a Roman street. Casca says that though he has seen many terrible things in the natural world, nothing compares to the frightfulness of this night’s weather. He wonders if there is strife in heaven or if the gods are so angered by mankind that they intend to destroy it. Casca relates that he saw a man with his hands on fire, and yet his flesh was not burning. He describes meeting a lion near the Capitol: bizarrely, the lion ignored him and walked on. Many others have seen men on fire walking in the streets, and an owl, a nocturnal bird, was seen sitting out in the marketplace during the day. When so many abnormal events happen at once, Casca declares, no one could possibly believe that they are natural occurrences. Scene 3 Murellus scolds the cobbler and attempts to diminish the significance of Caesar’s victory over Pompey and his consequent triumph. “What conquest brings he home? / What tributaries follow him [Caesar] to Rome / To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?” Murellus asks, suggesting that Caesar’s victory does not merit a triumph since it involves no conquering of a foreign foe to the greater glory of Rome (I.i.31–33). Murellus reminds the commoners of the days when they used to gather to watch and cheer for Pompey’s triumphant returns from battle. Now, however, due to a mere twist of fate, they rush out to celebrate his downfall. Murellus scolds them further for their disloyalty, ordering them to “pray to the gods to intermit the plague / That needs must light on this ingratitude” (I.i.53–54). The commoners leave, and Flavius instructs Murellus to go to the Capitol, a hill on which rests a temple on whose altars victorious generals offer sacrifice, and remove any crowns placed on statues of Caesar. Flavius adds that he will thin the crowds of commoners observing the triumph and directs Murellus to do likewise, for if they can regulate Caesar’s popular support, they will be able to regulate his power (“These growing feathers plucked from Caesar’s wing / Will make him fly an ordinary pitch” [I.i.71–72]). The Soothsayer calls out from the crowd to Caesar, telling him to beware the Ides of March. (The “ides” refers to the fifteenth day of March, May, July, and October and the thirteenth day of the other months in the ancient Roman calendar.) Caesar pauses and asks the man to come forward; the Soothsayer repeats himself. Caesar ultimately dismisses the warning, and the procession departs. Brutus and Cassius remain. Cassius asks Brutus why he has not seemed himself lately. Brutus replies that he has been quiet because he has been plagued with conflicting thoughts. But he assures Cassius that even though his mind is at war with itself, he will not let his inner turmoil affect his friendships. Cassius and Brutus speak together. Cassius asks Brutus if Brutus can see his own face; Brutus replies that he cannot. Cassius then declares that Brutus is unable to see what everyone else does, namely, that Brutus is widely respected. Noting that no mirror could reveal Brutus’s worthiness to himself, Cassius offers to serve as a human mirror so that Brutus may discover himself and conceive of himself in new ways. Caesar stands like a Colossus over the world, Cassius continues, while Cassius and Brutus creep about under his legs. He tells Brutus that they owe their underling status not to fate but to their own failure to take action. He questions the difference between the name “Caesar” and the name “Brutus”: why should Caesar’s name be more celebrated than Brutus’s when, spoken together, the names sound equally pleasing and thus suggest that the men should hold equal power? He wonders in what sort of age they are living when one man can tower over the rest of the population. Brutus responds that he will consider Cassius’s words. Although unwilling to be further persuaded, he admits that he would rather not be a citizen of Rome in such strange times as the present. Meanwhile, Caesar and his train return. Caesar sees Cassius and comments to Antony that Cassius looks like a man who thinks too much; such men are dangerous, he adds. Antony tells Caesar not to worry, but Caesar replies that he prefers to avoid Cassius: Cassius reads too much and finds no enjoyment in plays or music—such men are never at ease while someone greater than themselves holds the reins of power. Caesar urges Antony to come to his right side—he is deaf in his left ear—and tell him what he thinks of Cassius. Shortly, Caesar and his train depart. Brutus and Cassius take Casca aside to ask him what happened at the procession. Casca relates that Antony offered a crown to Caesar three times, but Caesar refused it each time. While the crowd cheered for him, Caesar fell to the ground in a fit. Brutus speculates that Caesar has “the falling sickness” (a term for epilepsy in Elizabethan times). Casca notes, however, that Caesar’s fit did not seem to affect his authority: although he suffered his seizure directly before the crowd, the people did not cease to express their love. Casca adds that the great orator Cicero spoke in Greek, but that he couldn’t understand him at all, saying “it was Greek to me” (I.ii.278). He concludes by reporting that Flavius and Murellus were deprived of their positions as civil servants for removing decorations from Caesar’s statues. Casca then departs, followed by Brutus. Cassius, alone now, says that while he believes that Brutus is noble, he hopes that Brutus’s noble nature may yet be bent: “For who so firm that cannot be seduced?” he asks rhetorically (I.ii.306). He decides to forge letters from Roman citizens declaring their support for Brutus and their fear of Caesar’s ascent to power; he will throw them into Brutus’s house that evening. Cassius enters. He has been wandering through the streets, taking no shelter from the thunder and lightning. Casca asks Cassius why he would endanger himself so. Cassius replies that he is pleased—he believes that the gods are using these signs to warn the Romans about a “monstrous state,” meaning both an abnormal state of affairs and an atrocious government (I.iii.71). Cassius compares the night to Caesar himself, who
like this dreadful night,
. . . thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol. (I.iii.72–74)
He also calls Caesar “prodigious grown, / And fearful, as these strange eruptions are” (I.iii.76–77). Casca insists that they are portents of danger ahead. Cicero replies that men will interpret things as they will: “Indeed it is a strange-disposèd time; / But men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves” (I.iii.33–35). Cicero asks if Caesar is coming to the Capitol the next day; Casca replies that he is. Cicero departs, warning that it is not a good atmosphere in which to remain outside. A conspirator named Cinna enters. Cassius now divulges his latest scheme in his plot to build opposition against Caesar: the conversion of Brutus. Cassius gives Cinna the letters he has forged to place in Brutus’s chair in the Senate, and others to throw through Brutus’s window and place on Brutus’s statue. Cassius claims that Brutus has already come three-quarters of the way toward turning against Caesar; he hopes the letters will bring him the rest of the way around. Casca comments that the noble Brutus’s participation in their plot will bring worthiness to their schemes, for “he sits high in all the people’s hearts, / And that which would appear offence in us / His countenance, like richest alchemy, / Will change to virtue and to worthiness” (I.iii.157–60). SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Julius Caesar.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2007. Web. 10 Feb. 2013. MLA citation of source: