ACT I - Scene.ii
Caesar has now entered Rome in triumph and Caesar and
his wife, Calphurnia, are about to watch the traditional foot race in which Mark Antony will run.
There is a superstition that if a runner touches a childless woman, she will regain her fertility, and so Mark Antony touches Calphurnia.
In a shrill voice a soothsayer calls out to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of
March”. However, Caesar does not heed this warning.
All leave except Brutus and Cassius.
Cassius is concerned that Caesar is becoming the Dictator of Rome. Cassius is organizing a conspiracy against Caesar and needs the influential Brutus on his side. His task is to persuade Brutus to join the conspirators and he uses the ploy that as he is from a noble family, he is a guardian of its welfare. Their conversation is interrupted by shouting and the sound of trumpets, and the two fear that Caesar has been elected King.
Brutus: “For some new honors that are heaped on Caesar”
Cassius: “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.”
Caesar re-enters and he looks suspiciously at Cassius and he says,
“Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Antony: “Fear him not, Caesar, he’s not dangerous,
He is a noble Roman and well given.”
Caesar leaves and Casca tells Brutus and Cassius that Mark Antony offered
the crown to Caesar three times, but that Caesar rejected this. Caesar then had an epileptic seizure.
Although Brutus has leanings towards the conspirators, he has not yet fully
committed to them, but Cassius reveals in his soliloquy how he plans to win Brutus over.
We obtain the first insight that Caesar is not
leadership material. He has already received one warning from the soothsayer, which he disregarded out of hand, and although he suspects Cassius, he is easily dissuaded from this by Antony, who has his own
From history, we know that Caesar was a great hero and military tactician,
but Shakespeare portrays him here as being politically inept and weak. He feels that if he has the support of the people, then the Senate would not dare move against him.
It is curious that Caesar calls on Antony to touch his wife Calphurnia, with
the hope that she will produce an heir to carry on his dynasty. Mark Antony is known for his athletic prowess and his womanizing, and the suggestion here is that Caesar is impotent. This is a
revolutionary idea that Shakespeare is putting forward, for in Elizabethan times, it was widely accepted that the woman was at fault when a couple failed to produce children. Clearly this view would obtain
approval from Elizabeth I.
The scene between Caesar and the soothsayer is also interesting.
It indicates that Caesar is deaf in one ear for he asks the soothsayer to repeat his prophecy and after looking him in the eye to see if he is honest, he dismisses the warning, calling the soothsayer a dreamer.
Unlike the man in the streets of Rome, the reader obtains a close view of
this flawed man who would be King.
As with most of Shakespeare’s work, there is a supernatural thread running
through the entire play. This again emphasizes the superstition of the Elizabethan people, and Shakespeare feeds this interest.
Cassius is the main conspirator, although it will be Brutus that will lead
them later in the play. It is Cassius who has brought together the group of murderers, which will include Brutus because he believes it is a just cause.
Cassius has an ability to persuade people, as he is quick-witted. When he hears the trumpets and cheering, he suggests that the people have made Caesar their King, and then he tells Brutus about when he saved Caesar from drowning, leaving these facts for Brutus to ponder.
When Caesar returns to the stage, he becomes suspicious of Cassius (see
quotation above), but is soon dissuaded from this view by Mark Antony. Again this shows his indecisiveness. There is also reference to the fact that Caesar suffered from epilepsy.
All these indicators emphasized by Cassius are part of his plan to sway
Brutus onto his side. The next scene will see the conclusion of this process.