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ACT I, SCENE 2
Caesar enters in procession, accompanied by his close friend Mark Antony, his wife Calphurnia, and others. Mark Antony is preparing to take part in a race to celebrate the traditional Feast of Lupercal. It is an important race, for barren women are supposedly cured of infertility if touched by the young men running the course. Caesar, hoping for a son, tells Calphurnia to stand in Antony's path; he then reminds Antony to touch Calphurnia during the race. Someone in the crowd warns Caesar, "Beware the ides of March." Caesar ignores the warning and orders the race to begin.
As Caesar and his procession move across the stage, Brutus and Cassius stay behind. Cassius takes this opportunity to gauge Brutus' feelings towards Caesar without directly stating his own stance. He remarks that Brutus has been acting strange and reserved in his dealings with his friends. Brutus tells Cassius he is preoccupied with some concerns he has and asks to be forgiven for his behavior. Sensing that Brutus may be open to what he has to say, Cassius flatters Brutus and tries to enlist his support in the revolt against Caesar's rule. Brutus at first resists, insisting on his faithfulness and loyalty; he says he does not gossip about friends behind their backs. A flourish of trumpets startles him, however, and he blurts out his true feelings about the matter, saying, "I do fear the people/Choose Caesar for their king." This is all the encouragement Cassius needs to intensify his persuasion. Brutus confesses to Cassius that though he loves Caesar dearly, he is also concerned about the possible consequences of the vast power the king now holds.
Cassius proceeds to flatter Brutus; he then goes on to narrate two instances of Caesar's physical weakness. The first is a time when Caesar supposedly challenged Cassius to swim across the flooded river Tiber on a stormy day. Caesar was unable to finish the swim, and Cassius claims he had to help him across. Cassius says he is disgusted that such a weak man has now become the absolute ruler of Rome. Additionally, he tells of a time in Spain when Caesar was extremely ill with a fever. He suggests that his illness was a weakness, not a natural phenomenon.
There is a second flourish of trumpets and another general shout is heard offstage. Brutus comments that the crowd must be applauding some new honors heaped on Caesar. On hearing this, Cassius continues to provoke Brutus' resentment of Caesar, suggesting that even Brutus is a better ruler. Brutus replies that he will seriously contemplate what Cassius has told him; he leaves with the promise that the two of them will discuss these matters later.
Caesar enters and tells his confidante, Mark Antony, that he does not trust Cassius. Caesar explains that he sees a "lean and hungry look" in Cassius that clearly indicates the man has great ambition, which could be dangerous; it is a clear foreshadowing of events to come. When the two men exit, Brutus and Cassius are seen on stage with Casca, who has important news. In front of the crowd a short while ago, Antony offered Caesar the Roman crown three times, and three times, Caesar turned it down. Caesar then fainted before the crowd, seeming to suffer from some kind of momentary loss of reason. Brutus comments that Caesar suffers from "the falling sickness," known today as epilepsy. Casca adds that Marullus and Flavius, two tribunes, have been put to death for pulling scarves from Caesar's statues. After reporting the news, Casca leaves, followed shortly by Brutus.
Cassius, left alone on stage, gives a soliloquy in which he states that Brutus' character is as easily molded as metal. Cassius senses that Brutus values duty to the state more than any personal loyalty to Caesar. As a result, he plans to impress on Brutus his obligations to Rome and win him to his cause. To further convince Brutus to join in a conspiracy against Caesar, Cassius will write some false letters, stating the fear of the common citizens about Caesar's ambitious nature; he will then make sure that Brutus reads the forged letters, which are sure to influence his thinking.
The second scene opens with Caesar giving orders, while Antony and Casca both slavishly fawn over him, seeming to hang on his every command. The fact that Caesar is first presented in a dictatorial stance is intentional on Shakespeare's part; it confirms the fear about Caesar's imperial reign and tyrannical bearing, expressed in the last scene. Through Caesar's behavior, Shakespeare lends credibility to the republican opposition of his being crowned king.
This scene also has some important expository functions. All the major players in this historical tragedy are here assembled and described. Caesar's character is captured in a few deft strokes; he is shown to be a powerful, but vulnerable, leader. Cassius is portrayed an astute observer of others, and Brutus is depicted to be honest, but easily manipulated. Cassius recognizes the idealism of Brutus and realizes that the way to get Brutus to betray his friend is to convince him that Caesar will bring harm to Rome.
It is important to note that even in the midst of all the pomp and celebration, a warning is called out that Caesar should be aware the Ides of March; it is a prophetic foreshadowing of the tragedy that will soon occur. Because of his arrogance and self-confidence, Caesar ignores the warning, even when Brutus repeats it for him. Caesar's disregard of the prophecy proves to be a fatal mistake for him. Had he listened to the warning, his life might have been spared. Instead, Caesar believes he is immune to danger imposed by humans and brushes aside the Soothsayer as a dreamer. With irony and contrast, Caesar is superstitious enough to believe that Calphurnia's infertility will be cured by a runner's touch. In the course of the play, Caesar repeatedly ignores ominous warnings, such as Calphurnia's dream, the warning of the priests, and Artemidorus' plea to read the letter containing the names of the conspirators; therefore, it is his self-assurance and impenetrable pride that leads to his assassination. In a strange way, Caesar, therefore, becomes part of the conspiracy against him, for he plays into the hands of his enemies; the success of their plan depends entirely upon Caesar's pride.
About some things, Caesar shows that he is perceptive. Near the end of the scene, he notices the 'lean and hungry look' in Cassius' eyes; he tells Antony that the look reveals the ambition of Cassius, which could be dangerous. It is another of the many important foreshadowings in the plot. Casca also shows himself to be perceptive. As expected by Caesar, Casca fawns over the leader, seeming to hang on to Caesar's every word and command. As soon as the crowd disperses, however, he runs to Cassius to report on what has happened. He reveals that Caesar was offered the crown three times, but turned it down each time. He also confirms Caesar's tyranny by reporting that Flavius and Marullus have been put to death for removing scarves from Caesar's statues, tying this important scene back to the first one.
Antony appears only briefly in this scene, but it is obvious that he is Caesar's confidante and loyal friend. He accepts Caesar as a worthy leader, pays him his due respect, and considers his every wish a command. At this point, however, Antony is not outspoken and seems to pose no threat to the plotting of the conspirators. Shakespeare establishes this fact about Antony so that it will later be believable that Brutus begs to spare the life of Antony. Later, Antony's character rises to heroic proportions when he delivers Caesar's funeral oration and turns the mob against the conspirators.
Cassius, one of the antagonists in the play, emerges in this scene as a shrewd political manipulator who is jealous of Caesar's success and popularity. Although Cassius proclaims his republican credentials as the cause of his opposition to Caesar, he is not really concerned about ethics and morality; instead, he is a power hungry villain who wants to murder Caesar and seize more power for himself. He will stoop to any level to accomplish his cause; he is seen writing false letters from the common citizens, criticizing Caesar's ambitions, and tossing them in Brutus' window to influence the man to join the conspiracy. In spite of his evil nature, Cassius proves he is a good judge of character. He senses that Caesar is overly self-confident and, therefore, vulnerable; he also realizes that Brutus values duty to the state more than his personal friendship to Caesar.
In contrast to Cassius, Brutus is not devious or manipulative; instead, he is portrayed as a noble and principled man, who gives his full allegiance to Rome. He is manipulated into becoming one of the conspirators against Caesar and a chief antagonist in the play. Although he is supposedly one of Caesar's loyal and trusted friends, he fears that if crowned king, Caesar may become ambitious and tyrannical. He prefers for the Roman government to be led by the Senate, without one powerful, dictatorial leader in charge. Cassius senses that Brutus is not supportive of Caesar's being crowned. Since he is a respected citizen of Rome and Caesar's friend, Cassius is eager to have Brutus join the conspiracy against Caesar, for it would lend respectability to an otherwise treacherous act of murder. It is important to note that Brutus is not persuaded so much by Cassius to join the conspiracy as by his own self-image as the protector of republicanism. The noises offstage seem to spur him to action more than any words by Cassius. The only part of Cassius' speech that affects Brutus notably is his fleeting reference to ancestry and history.
Characterization is especially important in this play because the success of the conspiracy against Caesar depends on the personalities of the major players. The conspiracy can only succeed if all the characters act in accordance with their established traits. This dependence on human factors contributes to the element of suspense in the play. Although the audience and readers know that Caesar's assassination at the Capitol is a historical fact and is bound to occur in the play, Shakespeare's superb ability to build plot and character keeps the audience involved with the action until the final moment of assassination.
Caesar returns to the stage at the end of the scene. He has come from the feast of Lupercal in an angry mood. Obviously, he had only symbolically refused to accept the crown; but the crowd cheered and applauded his refusal, instead of pressing him to accept it. The crowd's reaction is obviously responsible for Caesar's ill humor.
Also at the end of the scene, Cassius gleefully muses that he has been successful in drawing Brutus a few steps closer to joining the conspiracy and resolves to throw forged letters at his window, urging him to take action against the ambitious Caesar. Cassius is fearful about Brutus' friendship with Caesar and wants to do everything he can to make the man act against his friend. In addition, Cassius reveals that he is craving for friendship himself; hence, he remarks, 'If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius, / He should not humor me.'