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Julius Caesar Commentary - Act I.

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Julius Caesar Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.

Act I. Scene I. - Rome. A Street.

Flavius: "Who else would soar above the view of men / And keep us all in servile fearfulness."

Two Tribunes, Marullus and Flavius scold Roman citizens for worshipping Caesar almost blindly. Their conversation reveals deep-seated fears that Caesar is growing too powerful, too arrogant and must be stopped. Hoping to reduce the blind worship of Caesar by Roman citizens, the two men remove scarves off Caesar's images or statues despite the obvious danger...

The date by history is 44 BC. Again by historical record we know that Caesar has just returned from his victory in the land we now call Spain against the sons of Pompey the Great, an enemy Caesar has already killed.

The play begins with two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, questioning why several tradesmen are not about their work, but instead appear to be idle.

The First Commoner, a carpenter by trade, answers the two tribunes politely as to his trade, but the Second Commoner, a cobbler, angers Marullus with his cryptic replies to Marullus' straightforward questioning (Lines 12-35).

Flavius being more patient, eventually learns that the tradesman are idle (not busy about their work) because they have chosen to take a holiday "to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph" (Line 34).

Marullus now sums up the fear other tribunes and officials like himself are having of Caesar's growing popularity. He asks why the people of Rome should be rejoicing, asking, "What conquest brings he home? What tributaries follow him to Rome / To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?" (Lines 35-37).

Marullus now asks why the people of Rome have so quickly forgotten Pompey, remarking on how so many a time, these very same citizens would climb walls, their infants in their arms, waiting to hear this great man speak.

Marullus then recalls how Roman citizens would roar their approval so loudly of Pompey, that the "Tiber [a river inside Rome] trembled underneath her banks," (Line 49) and yet these same people now come out in their best attire or best clothes to "strew flowers" in the way of the man who killed Pompey, Julius Caesar (Lines 52-54).

Marullus says such people should be gone and that these cruel Romans should "Run to your houses, fall upon your knees, / Pray to the gods to intermit the plague / That needs must light on this ingratitude" (Lines 57-59).

Flavius echoes Marullus's sentiments, telling these same countrymen to "Assemble all the poor men of your sort;" (Line 61) to the banks of the river Tiber where they can weep their tears into the channel of this river "till the lowest stream / Do kiss the most exalted shores of all" (Lines 63-64).

Seemingly convinced, the commoners now depart, leaving Marullus and Flavius to talk further. Flavius comments on how the commoners have vanished "tongue-tied in their guiltiness" (Line 66) and now he suggests that both he and Marullus should head their separate ways where they will both, "Disrobe the images" (remove ceremonial decorations from Caesar statues), (Line 68) should they find them "deck'd with ceremonies" (covered in celebration of Caesar's triumph in Spain), (Line 69).

Marullus has his doubts. Is it a wise to take down decorations when it is the Feast of Lupercal (an ancient Roman day of celebration), he asks?

Flavius is certain it must be done, telling Marullus, "let no images / Be hung with Caesar's trophies" (Line 72). Flavius "will drive away the vulgar from the streets:" as should his friend (Line 74).

Flavius now explains his reasons for disrobing the ceremonial images...

Flavius: "These growing feathers pluck'd [removed] from Caesar's wing / Will make him fly an ordinary pitch [stop him from flying too high], / Who else would soar above the view of men / And keep us all in servile fearfulness" (Lines 76-End of Scene).

If men like Flavius do not clip Caesar's ambitions quickly, he may rise so high that they may never be able to stop him and instead of stopping Caesar, they will instead become his servants...

Act I. Scene II. - The Same. A Public Place.

The Soothsayer: "Beware the ides of March."

Caesar leads a procession through the streets of Rome. A Soothsayer or fortune-teller tells Caesar to beware the "ides of March" a warning that Caesar will die on this day. It is ignored. Cassius starts to recruit Brutus towards a conspiracy by implying that Caesar is becoming too powerful... Brutus is suspicious but tells Cassius that he will think it over... Casca reveals information to Brutus that suggests Caesar may be getting more ambitious...

Accompanied to the sounds of music, Caesar and his train now appear. Caesar's train is extensive, numbering his close friend Mark Antony, his wife Calphurnia, Brutus' wife Portia, Decius Brutus (not to be confused with Marcus Brutus, known as Brutus), Cicero, Brutus, Cassius and Casca.

A large crowd follows Caesar, among them a Soothsayer (Fortune teller).

Caesar now commands his wife Calphurnia to stand in Mark Antony's way and he instructs Mark Antony who is soon to become a holy runner for running in the race of Lupercal, "To touch Calphurnia;" (Line 6).

Like many of his time, Caesar, believed that "The barren [Calphurnia, his wife], touched in this holy chase," [touched by Mark Antony who will be running in the race of Lupercal] will be able to shake off her "sterile curse" (Calphurnia's sterility), (Line 8).

A Soothsayer calls out Caesar's name, and the crowd, once noisy, is made silent at Casca's demand on Caesar's behalf (Lines 12-16).

Caesar turns to hear this voice "shriller than all the music," (Line 16), and this same Soothsayer tells Caesar to "Beware the ides of March [the 15th of March]" (Line 18).

These prophetic words are now immediately dismissed by Casca as the words of a "dreamer;" and the procession continues along its way (Line 25).

With the rest of the procession continuing along its way, Brutus and Cassius are left alone to ponder the day's events...

When Cassius asks Brutus (full name Marcus Brutus), "Will you go see the order of the course?" (will you see the rest of the procession), (Line 25), we learn that Brutus will not and we see the first hints that all may not be well between Caesar and his good friend Brutus...

Cassius, intrigued, urges his friend to do so, but Brutus politely explains that he lacks in some part "that quick spirit that is in Antony" (Line 29). He tells Cassius that he does not want to hinder Cassius' desires and prepares to leave Cassius (Lines 29-31).

Cassius, however is not so quickly dismissed, and wants to know more from his good friend Brutus...

Cassius now begins to probe Brutus as to where his loyalties truly lie. He notes that he has not seen from Brutus' eyes,"that gentleness / And show of love as I was wont to have:" (Line 33). Instead Cassius sees that Brutus now bears "too stubborn and too strange a hand / Over your friend [Cassius] that loves you" (Line 35).

Brutus tries to downplay his change of character to Cassius...

Brutus :"Cassius, / Be not deceiv'd: if I have veiled my look, I turn the trouble of my countenance / Merely upon myself" (Line 36).

Brutus tells Cassius that he has been troubled lately "with passions of some difference," (Line 40). Cassius however should not be overly concerned. He still loves his friends of which he counts Cassius as one.

Cassius now concedes that he must have misinterpreted Brutus' behavior and now Cassius asks Brutus "can you see your face?" (Line 51).

Brutus replies no, since an eye cannot see itself. Cassius now agrees, adding that this is a shame for it prevents Brutus from seeing his own worthiness, this being so great that Cassius explains that Brutus' virtue is exceeded only by "immortal Caesar,-" himself (Line 60).

Brutus is now very skeptical, asking Cassius, "Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius / That you would have me seek into myself / For that which is not in me?" (into what dangers or for what reasons Cassius are you trying to make me seek out what is not in my nature?), (Line 63).

Cassius interrupted now by shouting, returns to his conversation with Brutus, Brutus telling Cassius that, "I do fear the people / Choose Caesar for their king" (Line 79).

Seizing his chance, Cassius now asks Brutus whether he would fear this and crucially that he must think Brutus would prefer this not to happen (Line 80).

Now Brutus in his first major speech explains to Cassius that yes he would prefer Caesar not to be made king and yes, he does love Caesar well, but to what end is Cassius holding him and to tell him what information?

Brutus now adds in a major insight into his character that if it is for the common good, he is supportive, for as Brutus explains, "I love / The name of honour more than I fear death" (Line 89).

Cassius now replies that yes, he knows this virtue to be within Brutus and now Cassius starts to say more, describing his subject as one dealing with honor.

Cassius explains that, "I was born free as Caesar; so were you:", they have both been fed as well and they both can "Endure the winter's cold as well as he:" (Lines 96-99).

Cassius now explains how once both he and Caesar crossed "The troubled Tiber [a river within Rome] chafing [crashing / beating] with her shores" (Line 101), where Caesar himself begged for Cassius' help in their crossing. Yet now this man, who once was so frail and vulnerable, is now a god? (Line 116). Cassius also adds that this "god," was sick with fever in Spain, acting more like "a sick girl" than a so-called "god," (Line 128).

Cassius continues his criticism of Caesar, adding amidst the odd shouts of the procession, that Caesar has become "Like a Collosus; and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs, and peep about / To find ourselves dishonourable graves" (Lines 135-138).

Famously Cassius finishes his Caesar attack by famously remarking that this problem is of their own doing...

Cassius: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings" (the fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars or our fate or destiny but in ourselves that we have become underlings or subordinates to Caesar), (Line 139).

Cassius now asks how the name Caesar is any better than Brutus and wonders aloud as to exactly when Rome lost her breed of "noble bloods!" (Line 150) and how suddenly a city the size of Rome could ever become so small as to only have room enough for "one man?" (Caesar).

Cassius closes for the kill, adding that "There was a Brutus once that would have brook'd [fought / challenged] / Th' eternal devil to keep his state in Rome / As easily as a king" (Line 157).

Brutus replies that he is touched that Cassius sees him as an honorable man and he decides to think over what Cassius has said and will meet Cassius again to discuss such matters. For now, Brutus will leave Cassius with this one thought...

Brutus: "Brutus had rather be a villager / Than to repute [call] himself a son of Rome / Under these hard conditions as this time / Is like to lay upon us" (Line 171).

Cassius now is pleased that his concerns have been so well received by Brutus and seeing Caesar and his procession arrive again, tells Brutus to tug Casca's sleeve to learn more of note from the days proceedings.

Caesar returns and speaks with Brutus noting that "Cassius has a lean and hungry look; / He thinks too much: such men are dangerous" (Line 193). This is important, since it shows that even Caesar has reason to fear Cassius.

Interestingly, Brutus assures his friend Caesar that this is not the case and once Caesar and company have once again departed, Brutus learns more from Casca.

Specifically, Brutus learns that Mark Antony offered Julius Caesar what appeared to be a crown: "'twas [it was] one of these coronets;" (Line 235). This was offered to Caesar three times and each time Mark Antony presented it, Caesar would refuse to wear it.

The first time Caesar was offered the crown, he refused it, but in Casca's opinion "he would fain have had it" (Line 241).

The second time Caesar was offered the crown, "he was very loath [reluctant] to lay his fingers off it" and the third time, Caesar refused the crown, it was despite the obvious approval of the masses who clapped and shouted and "uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar refused the crown, that it had almost choked Caesar;" (Lines 232-252) for Caesar then "swounded and fell down at it [the crown]:" (Line 249).

Casca reports that Caesar also appeared to be suffering from "the falling-sickness" (Line 257). Now Casca adds that Caesar briefly appeared to lose coherence, such that when he thought that the crowds were glad that he refused the crown, "he plucked me ope his doublet and offered them his throat to cut" a sure sign that Caesar must want power (Line 265).

Later, when Caesar regained his composure, he told Casca to write off his actions to the people as infirmity. Caesar also spoke Greek, from which we derive the expression "it was Greek to me" from Casca when he is questioned by Brutus as to what Caesar said (Line 287).

Casca also reports that Marullus and Flavius, the two tribunes introduced at the beginning of the play were "put to silence [executed]" for "pulling scarfs off Caesar's images," further proof that Caesar could be becoming more ambitious (Line 291).

This almost vain action and Caesar's reluctance not to be crowned, fuel Casca's and Cassius' growing fear of Caesar...

With Brutus still in attendance, Cassius now makes plans to meet with Casca tomorrow, which Casca agrees to, providing, as he says, he is still alive and Brutus also makes plans to speak tomorrow with Cassius as well (Lines 292-312).

Now alone, Cassius explains his need of Brutus; Brutus is noble and his good name will do much to legitimize and further their cause (Lines 313-327).

Act I. Scene III. - The Same. A Street.

Cassius: "I have mov'd already / Some certain of the noblest-minded Romans / To undergo with me an enterprise / Of honourable-dangerous consequence;" (Caesar's assassination).

Cassius recruits a suspicious Casca to their cause against Caesar by pointing out that several strange occurrences are omens warning them against Caesar... Cassius has Cinna place some forged letters where Brutus will find them since these should further convince Brutus to join their conspiracy. Cinna reveals that Brutus' good name will be an asset to their conspiracy...

To the sounds of thunder and lightning, Cicero appears, wondering why Casca should be so breathless and is staring at him so much...

Casca now explains why, describing "scolding winds", an "ambitious ocean swell " with "rage and foam," and "threat'ning clouds:" (Line 8) , all suggesting in Cassius' words either "civil strife in heaven," (Line 11), "Or else the world, too saucy [unfavored] with the gods, / Incenses [angers] them to send destruction" this suggesting that Caesar's actions are causing strife in nature, a widely held belief at the time to be proof that something must be wrong.

Cicero now asks if Casca saw anything, a little more convincing or "more wonderful?" (Line 14) as Cicero tactfully but skeptically puts it.

Casca does not disappoint, and explains to Cicero how he saw a slave well known to Cicero, light fire from his hand without his hand being burnt, and that he saw a lion by the "Capitol" which merely glared at him with mild disdain and then "went surly by," (Line 21) without even bothering to attack Casca...

Casca continues but Cicero is a man of wisdom. He remarks that "men may construe [interpret] things after their fashion, [to their own ends] / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves" (men can construe or see things they way they wish which may be completely different from the reason or purpose of the things themselves / people can see what it is in their interests to see), (Line 35).

Cicero asks whether Caesar will come by the "Capitol" tomorrow and learning this, Cicero and Casca head their separate ways...

Casca now meets Cassius and announces himself to a suspicious Cassius patriotically as "A Roman" (Line 42).

Casca recalls again the most unnatural things he has seen...

Cassius not impressed that Casca cannot see the obvious tells Casca that he is "dull, [not smart]" (Line 57). Is it not obvious that the true cause of these most unnatural occurrences is "That heaven hath infus'd them with these spirits / To make them instruments of fear and warning / Unto some monstrous state" (heaven has infused nature with spirits to make these unnatural events serve as a warning to us that something monstrous might soon happen), (Lines 69-71).

Cassius now explains that he can "name to thee a man [Caesar] / Most like this dreadful night, / That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars / As doth [does] the lion in the Capitol, / A man no mightier than thyself [you] or me" and as fearful as these unnatural occurrences are (Lines 72-78).

Casca now asks if Cassius means Caesar and realizing this to be the case, Casca mentions that "they say the senators to-morrow / Mean [intend] to establish Caesar as king; / And he shall wear his crown by sea and land, / In every place, save here in Italy" (Line 85).

Cassius declares that he will wear his dagger then (Line 89) and Cassius' conviction convinces Casca that he too must act against Caesar for "every bondman in his own hands bears / The power to cancel [stop] his captivity" (Line 100).

Cassius further fuels the hatred of Caesar, remarking that Caesar would not be a wolf but for the fact that he knows the Romans to be sheep (Line 104).

With Casca now an ally, Cassius explains to him that "I have mov'd [moved] already / Some certain of the noblest-minded Romans / To undergo with me an enterprise / Of honourable-dangerous consequence;" (Caesar's assassination), (Lines 120-132).

Cinna now arrives and repeats the great value Brutus would represent to their conspiracy, were he to join them. Cassius tells Cinna not to worry, but instead to take a paper given to him by Cassius and to "look you lay it in the praetor's chair, / Where Brutus may but find it; and throw this / In at his window; set this up with wax / Upon old Brutus' statue:" (Lines 143-146).

This task completed, Cinna is to meet up with Cassius at "Pompey's porch," where Decius Brutus (not to be confused with Marcus Brutus known as Brutus), and Trebonius will also be present.

With Cinna now departed, Cassius brings Casca up to speed with current events; both he and Casca will see Brutus at his house, Cassius adding that "three parts of him [Brutus] / Is ours already, and the man entire / Upon the next encounter yields [gives] him ours [to us] " (Line 154).

Realizing that it is now past midnight, Cassius and Casca decide to head their separate ways, tomorrow they will awaken Brutus and be sure of his allegiance to them in their dangerous act...

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