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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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ACT I, SCENE 3

Summary

The scene opens on a stormy night in Rome. Cicero, the famous orator, encounters an overly excited Casca on the street. Casca tells about some strange and ominous things he has seen. A slave set his left hand on fire and let it burn like twenty torches, but his hand remained unscorched; a lion glared at him near the Capitol, but let him pass by uninjured; nearly one hundred women were scared stiff at the sight of burning men walking up and down the streets; and an owl was hooting in the market place at midday.

Casca is convinced that all of these unnatural occurrences are warnings from the gods. Cicero, however, keeps a level head and philosophically comments that men may interpret things to suit themselves, quite ignoring the real nature of the thing. Cicero then departs.

Cassius enters immediately and brags that he has been walking about the streets with his coat open, inviting the heavens to strike him with lightning. Further, he tells Casca these unnatural occurrences are warnings to Rome that Caesar's rule will doom them. Casca tells Cassius that the Senators are thinking of crowning Caesar king the next day. Cassius replies that he will commit suicide rather than bear the tyrannical rule of Caesar. Casca joins Cassius in declaring his hatred of Caesar and pledges to cooperate with Cassius. Soon Cinna, another conspirator, arrives and urges Cassius to quickly win Brutus' support for their conspiracy. Cassius instructs Cinna to plant the forged letters in Brutus' house. The men then proceed to Pompey's Porch, where the other conspirators are waiting. Cassius states that he is confident that Brutus will join their plot; they plan to visit him before daybreak to definitely enlist his help.

Notes

The stormy night and the occurrence of strange events that are described in this scene are strategically ordered happenings that serve to heighten the dramatic tension of the play. They also add an element of the supernatural to the play, further adding to the ominous mood and complicating the ongoing tension.


It was a commonly held belief in the Elizabethan Age that political order on earth (or the microcosm) was a reflection of cosmic order (or macrocosm). People believed that the state was meant to be the harmonizing link between the universe and man; all three planes, however, were supposed to work in close harmony with each other, for any violation of order or degree in one plane would affect the other two. The Elizabethans believed that disruptions of any sort, in any of the three planes, corrupted the entire scale of creation and would have disastrous consequences. Casca is convinced in this scene that the violent storm is intended as an ominous warning from the gods that something is wrong on one of the planes. Cicero, in his wisdom, doubts this interpretation and provides a rational explanation of the events. He sees the storm as a natural event and adds that men erroneously interpret events to suit themselves, quite ignoring the real nature of the thing. Although Cicero's rational interpretation is more realistic for the modern audience, it cannot be denied that Julius Caesar is going to be assassinated, and Shakespeare intends the storm and other preternatural phenomena to be ominous warnings of this violation of order and degree. Cicero's parting remark serves as a comment on the many ways man has of restoring order in society and in his mind. The inclination of man to come up with explanations for natural phenomena, especially those that suit his schemes, is natural and pervasive, but should be resisted. Mankind must acknowledge and deal with the fact that it longs for reassurance from the heavens; humans want to know that their actions are warranted and good.

In contrast to Cicero, Cassius persuades Casca that the strange events are warnings. He states that they foretell of the evil that Caesar will do; ironically, they are probably warning against the evil things that Cassius will soon do. Cassius' actions in this scene are clearly consistent with his characterization in Scene 2. He uses Casca in much the same manner that he previously used Brutus; he manipulates Casca's superstitious nature to further turn him against Caesar in the same way he manipulated Brutus' noble nature.

It is significant that Casca tells Cassius that the Senators plan to crown Caesar the next day; he adds that Caesar will wear the crown everywhere in the Roman Empire except for in Italy. As a whole, Italy has a strong republican tradition and is unwilling to give Caesar absolute power. This revelation removes the basic motive for the conspiracy, since Caesar's rule is not absolute as the conspirators claim. In other words, this piece of information reveals that Cassius' conspiracy is unnecessary and devious, rather than practical and warranted.

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