The aspects of roman society which Shakespeare focuses on in Julius Caesar are the concept of honour, superstition and fate, the fickleness of the people and the love of leadership. All of which I will talk about in this essay. Firstly I will start at the very beginning in the opening paragraph of the play we read that two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, enter to find a crowd gathered. Flavius shouts to the crowd telling the crowd to disperse as it is not a holiday. A cobbler talks to him telling him that they are here to cheer Caesar home.
Flavius is disgusted and says “o you hard hearts you cruel men of Rome knew you not Pompey many a time and oft have you climb’d up to walls and battlements to towers and windows yea to chimney tops your infants in your arms and there have sat the livelong day with patient expectation to see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome” Here Flavius says to the people did you not once cheer on Pompey your leader but now they are cheering a new Caesar whom of which killed the one they loved so much before. As if Pompey never existed. This shows the first instance of the crowd’s fickleness.
Chapter Two, on a street in Rome Caesar Calpurnia Antony Brutus and others are making their way to the races, held to celebrate the feast of Lupercalia. (Shakespeare has reduced the time between events Lupercalia was actually held on 15th February; here it is the day before the ides of March). A soothsayer calls to Caesar from the crowd, Caesar turns towards him and the soothsayer shouts “beware the ides of March” Caesar dismisses him as dreamer and moves on. Here Caesar is not worried or even takes it into account he just shrugs it off but it has a great effect on him later.
Brutus and Cassius are left alone, Cassius comments that Brutus has looked unhappy recently. Brutus tells Cassius that he is worried that people will choose Caesar as king and that he is worried of his growing power. Cassius tells Brutus of two occasions where Caesar appeared to be very weak. Once where Caesar challenged Cassius to swim the river Tiber Cassius swam it with ease but Caesar nearly drowned and had to be rescued crying “help me Cassius or I sink” Again when in Spain Caesar developed a fever and cried “as a sick girl” for water.
Cassius can not accept that Caesar is supposed to be a god like figure as he has seen him as weak as a small girl. Caesar enters sees Cassius and comments “he has a lean and hungry look” Caesar does not trust him and says that if he fears anyone it was Cassius. Brutus stops Casca one of Caesar friends and asks him what had taken place to cause the crowd to cheer. Casca says that the crowd cheered as Antony offered the crown to Caesar. It was offered three times and each time Caesar refused it. It appeared to Casca that this had been deliberately staged and that Caesar was actually very reluctant not to take the crown.
So that it looked as if he did not want the power and that he looked modest and unselfish. The crowd loved him for this they cheered every time he dismissed the crown. An example of the love of leadership but the hate of kings. The night before the ides of March there is a terrible storm. The Romans were very superstitious and they were looking for a reason why god would be angry and punish them. “A slave whose head burns like twenty torches, but feels no pain. A lion in the streets. Fiery ghosts walking the streets. However Cassius, unlike Cicero is not afraid of the storm and compares their fear of it to their fear of Caesar.
Cassius believes the Romans have let Caesar become too powerful he was put a conspiracy together to assassinate Caesar. However there is one person they need to persuade to gain them popular support Brutus. The conspirators know that the plebeians are fickle this shows by trying to get Brutus to join. Cassius has a cunning plan to try and get Brutus to help them he forges letters from very wealthy high important people and posts them through Brutus’ door. Brutus cannot sleep he gets up and finds the letters. He calls his fellow friends (the conspirators) to his garden they discuss who will join the plot.
Brutus says he has no personal reason to kill him but he will kill him for the people “I know no personal cause to spurn t him. But for the general. ” They decide to lure him to the senate and stab him. “Lets kill him boldly, but not wrathfully lets carve as a dish fit for the gods, not hew him as a carcass fit for hands. But they are doubtful that Caesar will come to the senate house as he has been superstitious at late. They are right. The next morning the ides of March, Calpurnia wakes and asks Caesar not to leave the house but he says that he refuses to show fear.
She tells him of the dream that she had the night before so he sends for the priest to make a sacrifice and come back with the results. They come back with bad news the beast which they cut open had no heart-a very bad omen. More superstition Caesar agrees to allow Mark Antony to go to the senate and say he is un-well Brutus arrives and is told by Caesar that he will not be going to the senate house. Decius asks for a reason why Caesar is not going and tells him that the senate will laugh at him otherwise. Caesar tells him that Calpurnia had a dream in which his statue ran with blood and Romans came to bathe their hands in it.
Decius interprets the dream favourably saying that it “signifies that from you great Rome shall suck reviving blood”. Decius goes on to say that the senate had intended to crown Caesar today but the senate might change their mind if Caesar does not appear on account of his wife’s dreams. Caesar is persuaded and goes to the senate and his conspirators are waiting. On his way to the senate house he passes the soothsayer calling to him he says “the ides of March have come” as if to say “their here and nothings happened. The soothsayer replies “ay, Caesar, but not gone. ” As he enters the senate house he is surrounded by the conspirators.
He is stabbed repeatedly by them but pushes them away until he stumbles forward to see Brutus with a dagger in his hand “et tu, Brute? ” Brutus stabs him and Caesar falls to his knees and dies at the feet of the statue of Pompey. Antony has heard about Caesars murder and has fled, the conspirators want to kill Antony but Brutus says no. He arrives saying that he will follow Brutus but asks if he can speak publicly at Caesars funeral. Brutus agrees but after he has given the crowd, the reason for the murder. Brutus’ speech is accepted by the crowd and, when he has finished speaking, the people are very much on his side.
The speech of Brutus is in prose whereas Antony addresses the crowd in powerful blank verse. The speech of Antony mirrors that given by Brutus. Antony cleverly sways the opinion of the yet again fickle crowd without attacking the conspirators directly. In his oration, Antony keeps repeating that Brutus is an honourable man, but follows this with statements intended to suggest the opposite. After Antony’s first speech the people begin to side with him. His speech by Caesars body and the reading of the will are carefully calculated to turn the people against the conspirators.
The speech brings about what Cassius had feared most the people of Rome come to Antony’s aid. Revenge is planned by Antony and Octavius and a civil war breaks out. Just before the battle Brutus is visited by Caesar at the camp at Sardis. The ghost tells Brutus that they will meet again at Philippi. Brutus wakes the others and sends word to Cassius that their armies should prepare immediately for battle. Both armies march to Philippi, the opposing generals meet to exchange words before the battle begins. Antony rebukes Brutus for killing Caesar. He criticises the way they killed him while pretending to be his friends.
Cassius tells Brutus that, had he been allowed to kill Antony, these insults would never been uttered. Octavius swears to avenge the death of Caesar and leaves with Antony. Brutus attacks Octavius he thinks the troops look low in spirits and not ready to fight, at this stage of the battle Brutus is hopeful of victory. Philippi overlooking the battle field Cassius sees Brutus troops fleeing the battle field and a messenger comes to him telling him that Antony is in the camp so instead of fighting he took the brave, noble and honourable way of dying, according to the Romans, asking his servant to hold his sword out so that he can run onto it.
Is this the honourable way of dying surely the honourable thing to do his to stand up and fight to the death?. Titinius goes to tell Cassius the good news of them defeating Octavius but find him dead. Titinius places a victory wreath on Cassius head and then kills himself with Cassius’ sword another honourable death. Antony is searching for Brutus. Brutus admits defeat and runs onto his sword held by his servant. Antony and Octavius find the bodies of Cassius and Brutus and Antony comments on Brutus saying “the noblest roman of them all” and says that he only killed Caesar out of a sense of common good; all the others killed him out of envy.
Although the Romans regarded suicide as noble, the Elizabethans watching would have thought it dishonourable as they believed that only god had the power to take life. Shakespeare is careful to show the Elizabethan audience that the murder of Caesar has not gone unpunished. This is not simply a case of sticking to historical facts. It would have been very dangerous for a playwright to have suggested that a king could be murdered without any fear of reprisal. It was still thought by the Elizabethans that the king of England was appointed by god and that god would punish anyone who harmed his chosen representative on earth.