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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 1-40

Casca describes some of the dreadful omens he has seen: the stormy seas; a lion (symbol of Caesar?) walking the streets; men on fire. The earth itself "Shakes like a thing unfirm" (line 4).

Who is responsible for these strange happenings? Caesar-for overstepping the limits of his power? The conspirators-for plotting against him? The people-for allowing themselves to be manipulated against the best interests of the state?

All we know for certain is that evil has been set loose, and that it is affecting not just Rome but the entire universe. The disorder is like a sickness that started with a few individuals and now begins to spread until it infects everyone. Caesar, Brutus, and the other characters are not isolated human beings, acting in a vacuum; what each one does affects everyone else.

Cicero does not deny the importance of the omens, but points out that each person interprets them in his own way:

Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time: But men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.

Act I, Scene iii, lines 33-35

LINES 41-88

Other men are frightened by these supernatural happenings, but not Cassius. It has been "A very pleasing night to honest men," he says. Not only was he not afraid, he walked with his jacket unbuttoned, daring the heavens to strike him. Cassius shares Cicero's belief that the heavens are sending fearful warnings, but presumes to know that they are meant for Caesar, not for him. His cause, he feels, is noble-why should the gods punish him?

As arrogant as Caesar, Cassius forgets there may be forces in the world he can neither understand nor control. By opposing Caesar, whom he compares to the storm, Cassius feels he is opposing history, fate, the gods themselves. They, of course, will humble him in time.

Cassius, speaking to Casca, calls Caesar "A man no mightier than thyself, or me / In personal action" (lines 76-77). Cassius thus weighs his worth against another man's-unlike Brutus, who weighs each person alone against absolute standards of right and wrong. Physical strength is what Cassius respectsunlike Brutus, who values people for their principles.

Cassius mourns the times he's living in, when Romans behave like women and meekly accept Caesar's rule:

But woe the while! Our fathers' minds are dead And we are governed with our mothers' spirits; Our yoke and sufferance show us womanish.

Act I, Scene iii, lines 82-84

Soft, feminine qualities frighten Cassius; he likes to see himself as the masculine ideal, who wins races and depends on nothing but his own courage and strength. Beneath this mask, however, lies the heart of a lost boy craving affection.

Cassius' mother, we discover later (Act IV, Scene iii, lines 118- 122), lacked the same feminine qualities that Cassius fears to discover in himself. Did he have to prove his worth even to her? If so, that might explain his competitive nature, and his basic lack of confidence in his own powers of judgment.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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