An Analysis on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act I Scene II

Part 1

The scene begins with a public event, a foot race, where Mark Antony is also running. We hear Caesar quite confident with himself, giving orders to people who are listening to him and obeying his orders. Even Casca the conspirator appears to be an obedient man, telling people to be quiet and listen to Caesar. This is the background of the scene. There is peace and order. Things are done as our elders say, and people leave no ceremony out.

Then, however, in the middle of this peace and order, a voice is heard, crying Caesar. This is the soothsayer. Upon his call, music stops. This is an interruption. As is usually the case with interruptions, this one is not welcome, either. It is a tongue shriller than all the music. It is piercing to the ear, and, disturbing to the soul. The whole world comes to a standstill to know why. Caesar, being the leader, is the first to ask. Instead of ignoring the voice, Caesar is turned to hear. This is condescension on Caesar’s part. He is acting, sincerely or not, the leader who is listening to his people. The soothsayer says only one phrase, the famous Beware the ides of March. It is simple and to the point. Caesar must beware the ides of March, so that he can avoid getting assassinated. Of course the soothsayer doesn’t say that much. He just repeats the phrase even though Caesar shows further condescension by asking the man to come nearer and speak once again. Seeing that he has nothing else to say, Caesar says He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. By being more attentive and asking for details, Caesar could appear to be afraid. However, he is Julius Caesar and therefore he needn’t beware anything, especially the mysterious warning of a commoner. This is what he is supposed to be. Then music resumes and so does peace and order.

Then there is a long dialogue between Brutus and Cassius. They are not watching the games. They are separated from the crowd. They are isolating themselves from the public. Indeed they are isolated because their thoughts and feelings are in contrast with the general mood of the day. People are cherishing, running, laughing. They are excited and joyful. But these two do not care about the races and do not take part in their joy. They have private things to talk about; they have secrets. Cassius approaches Brutus as a friend. He is reproaching Brutus for ignoring him recently. Brutus, afraid of having offended a friend, explains that it is all about himself and his inner conflicts. Cassius is a good observer as Caesar says later in the scene, and he looks quite through the deeds of men. Therefore, he must have recognized that Brutus has problems with himself, so, his reproach is not sincere. He is only trying to make him speak, and learn his opinion about Caesar. A friendly and offended reproach would, as Cassius rightly guessed, be the way into his inner self. After thus leading Brutus to reveal his feelings, Cassius appeals to his curiosity by asking a simple and silly question: can you see your face? and in this way he manages to bring the conversation to a point where he can start asking dangerous questions. However, first he employs another method: flattery. According to him it is a pity that Brutus has no such mirrors as will turn your hidden worthiness into your eye. Then he relates the would-be wishes of many respected Romans who are groaning underneath this age’s yoke, that noble Brutus had his eyes, that is, if only Brutus could see better. Not flattered, Brutus suspiciously asks Cassius what dangers he is trying to lead him into, upon which Cassius needs to make a long and sentimental defense in a deliberately offended tone. At that moment, Cassius is unexpectedly assisted by the shouts from the crowd. Hearing the shout, Brutus says I am afraid the people have made Caesar their king. This is an incredible opportunity for Cassius to reveal his true intentions; and he makes the best of it. He introduces his intention with a question, which allows him to confirm that Brutus is sincere in what he says about Caesar’s being made king: Ay, do you fear it? Then must I think you would not have it so. He is leading Brutus to admit that he doesn’t want Caesar to be made king even though what he has already said is an acknowledgement of the fact. This is like a boy asking his father if he is really going to buy him a bicycle although the father has already said that he would. The boy wants to be assured and he also likes hearing it again as it is good news. Brutus, after giving Cassius the expected answer, suddenly seems to be awakened from a reverie. He also seems suspicious:But wherefore do you hold me here so long? What is it that you would impart to me? Then, recognizing that what Cassius would impart to him must be something dangerous, he says, perhaps to encourage him, that he wouldn’t fear it even if it meant his death as long as it was for the good of Romans, and that honour is more important for him than life. This provides Cassius with a good point to proceed with his dangerous speech. He concentrates his words on honour. He says he would rather die than to live in awe of such a thing as I myself.(That such a thing is Caesar!) He is deliberately echoing Brutus’ words that he would rather die than live without honour. Then the emphasis in his words shifts to proving why Caesar is such a thing as Cassius himself. The points which he makes in order to prove that Caesar is only an ordinary man are these;

1- Caesar was born a free man, and so were Cassius and Brutus.

2- He eats, and so do Cassius and Brutus.

3- Both Brutus and Cassius can endure the winter’s cold as well as he.

All these points are childish. The qualities that make Caesar an extraordinary man are neither his being born freer than Cassius, nor his being able to live without eating, nor his having an ability to endure the cold longer than Cassius. Cassius, whom we have seen as a clever and sly man up to this point who is able to lead another clever man into a very dangerous talk and confession, surprises us here. He is talking like a man who is jealous of his boss who was once at the same rank as himself; or like a schoolboy who envies the class president with whom he played football yesterday, saying that he was not playing better than himself but today he is the president. Obviously these words of Cassius are not studied; rather, they seem to be said at the heat of the moment. They reflect Cassius’ feelings, or his strongest feeling: jealousy. The examples that he gives to prove his point, that upon a raw and gusty day he had saved Caesar from drowning in the river Tiber, and that once in Spain Caesar had a fit and was shaking and asking for some water like a sick girl, actually exemplify his jealousy. Again he is like that schoolboy talking jealously of the new class president, saying “Yesterday as we were playing football, he fell and hurt his leg and then began to cry like a girl”. It is sheer jealousy and it is as primitive as a child’s. Caesar, as we see later in the same scene while talking to Antony about Cassius, was quite right while saying “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease whiles they behold a greater than themselves”. Unlike an ordinary man, he was able to see through Cassius. The way Cassius talks about Caesar is really striking and rather funny: while depicting the scene where he saved Caesar from Tiber, he says, I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor, did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder the old Archises bear, so from the waves of Tiber did I the tired Caesar. He is describing Aenas, who was also born free like Cassius, ate like Cassius, and endured the cold like Cassius, as a hero, emerging from the flames of Troy, carrying his father. Moreover, he is comparing himself to Aeneas, and tired Caesarto old Archises. Therefore, Caesar is not only no better than himself, but also inferior to himself. Obviously he let loose his feelings. Here is a list of the abusive words that Cassius uses in describing Caesar in the second example;

This god did shake [in a fit]

His coward lips

I did hear him groan

Sick girl

A man of such a feeble temper

It is interesting that in none of his words about Caesar does Cassius criticize Caesar for being a bad commander or an incompetent ruler, or a potential enemy of Rome. He is just insulting and belittling him. It is ironic that this man, who was underlining the importance of honour for himself and presenting his objection to Caesar as a defense of his honor, is now doing a dishonorable job by talking so insultingly about a man who is not present and with whom, it seems, he had shared a lot as a comrade in arms.

We would like to learn what Brutus would say in reply to Cassius’ insulting remarks about Caesar but just as Cassius finishes his words, the scene is interrupted by shouts from the people, hailing Caesar. What did Shakespeare mean with this interruption? Perhaps he wanted to avoid Brutus from taking place in this dishonorable deed of insulting Caesar because Brutus is depicted as a true man of honour throughout the play. Without this interruption, Shakespeare would have to make Brutus speak because Cassius has already had a long speech uninterruptedly. Brutus would either agree with Cassius in his humiliation of Caesar and thus appear to be as dishonorable and jealous a man as Cassius, or he would disagree with Cassius and perhaps be angry with him for so speaking and the play would come to a dead end. Cassius’ words after that interruption are more to the point and freer from feeling. He seems to take up the method of flattery again, saying that there is no reason for Caesar’s name to be sounded more than Brutus’ as his name is as fair, as nice to hear, and as heavy as Caesar’s. Then he makes a new point, which is probably more convincing to Brutus than insults. He laments that Rome has lost the ability to raise noble men who would share in the glories, and that there is only one man in the whole of Rome and this is unfair. He concludes that Brutus’ ancestor, also a Brutus, would rather let the devil rule in Rome than a dictator, implying that it is a noble and ancestral duty on Brutus to prevent Caesar from becoming the king.

Brutus is moved, as he acknowledges, with Cassius’ words, but not so moved as to immediately agree with him. After all, these are high things, as Brutus says, and must be considered and further discussed. However, it is quite clear that his tendency is toward Cassius’ arguments. He would rather be a villager than a son of Rome under these hard conditions as this time is like to lay upon us.

3 thoughts on “An Analysis on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar Act I Scene II

  1. dear 100 makes the best of a bad situation. Thank goodness for his sense of humour (and perspective!)

  2. “The pub, the poet and the pint” Dublin’s literary pub crawl. Sounds AMAZING.

  3. On Sept. 26, “To Know Wisdom and Instruction: The Armenian Literary Tradition at the Library of Congress” closes in the South Gallery.

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