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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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ACT II, SCENE 2

Summary

The stormy weather and a series of nightmares have frightened Caesar's wife, Calphurnia, who begs him not to go to the Capitol that day. She tells him she dreamed that a lioness gave birth in the streets, graves yielded up their dead, blood rained upon the Capitol, and ghosts howled and shrieked throughout Rome. Further, she saw smiling Romans washing their hands in Caesar's blood. Caesar, who ignores the contents of her dreams, tries to calm his wife; he sends a servant to order the priests to make a sacrifice to appease the gods on her behalf.

The servant quickly returns and gives Caesar another omen. The priests could not find a heart in the animal offered up as a sacrifice; as a result, they also advise Caesar to stay home. Caesar is still resistant. He is afraid that men will see him as a coward if he does not go to the Capitol; but he is at least concerned about the series of omens. Finally, Calphurnia persuades him to stay at home. Caesar decides he will send Antony to tell the Senators that he is unwell.

Decius Brutus, a supposed friend, enters and greets Caesar; in truth, he is the one appointed by the conspirators to bring Caesar to the Capitol. When Caesar tells him about Calphurnia's dreams, Decius Brutus cleverly gives them a favorable interpretation and flatters Caesar by saying that the spouting blood in the dream is a symbol of Caesar's blood rejuvenating Rome. When Caesar tells him that he is not feeling well and has decided to stay home, Decius Brutus is smart enough to realize that he must play upon Caesar's ambition and pride in order to bring him to the Capitol. He tells Caesar that the Senators are certain to crown him today, but they might change their minds if he is not present. He further taunts Caesar by asking how it would look if the future king were scared by his wife's dreams. Decius words are successful, for Caesar decides to go.


All the conspirators, except Cassius, arrive to escort Caesar to the Capitol. When Antony arrives to accompany his friend, Caesar praises him for being on time despite his habitual late-night revelries. Caesar then turns to Trebonius and tells him to stay close, for he has important business to discuss with him. In an aside, Trebonius wickedly comments that he will be so near to Caesar that his best friends will wish he had been further away. Caesar still believes that the conspirators are his friends; he invites them to have some wine with him before setting forth for the Capitol. In his own aside, Brutus mourns the falseness of these socalled "friends," including himself, who drink with Caesar, yet plan his death.

Notes

The primary focus of this scene is Caesar's tragic pride and susceptibility to flattery. The scene opens with Calphurnia's ominous dreams, suggesting danger for her husband. She begs him to stay home, but Caesar chooses to ignore her pleas. It is obvious that he believes he is beyond harm's way. When the priests also warn him to stay home, Caesar is forced to listen. He will send Antony to tell the Senate that he is not well. Then Decius Brutus arrives and flatters Caesar into departing for the Capitol. Caesar's arrogance clearly leads to his downfall.

Calphurnia's nightmares are vivid and violent, especially the one where a statue of Caesar spouts blood in which the smiling Romans wash their hands. She pleads with Caesar to heed the warning offered by the dreams and begs him to stay at home. Believing that Calphurnia is being histrionic and overly superstitious, Caesar refuses to listen. To appease her and the gods, he calls for the priests to make a sacrifice, which also yields an omen. The animal chosen for sacrifice had no heart, a fact that frightens the priests; they send word that Caesar should stay at home. Caesar relents and agrees not to go to the Senate.

When Decius Brutus arrives, he changes Caesar's mind through several clever arguments. First it interprets Calphurnia's dreams in a positive light, flattering to Caesar. Then he tells Caesar that the Senators are sure to crown him today; but he warns that they may change their minds if Caesar is not present. He further insures that Caesar will go the Capitol by stating that the people would judge him to be a coward if he stayed at home because of his wife's bad dreams. The arguments are enough to change Caesar's mind, for he decides to depart with Decius Brutus, in spite of the ill omens and warnings. His pride comes before all; ultimately, it also leads to Caesar's assassination.

In this scene, Caesar shows himself to be weak-willed and vulnerable. Rather than trust the opinions of his wife, he refuses to show any weakness and stay at home. Then he changes his mind and decides to stay at home, wisely heeding the warning of the priests. Caesar then foolishly falls prey to Decius' flattery, changes his mind again, and decides to go to the Capitol. He is so blinded by his own self-importance and pride that he cannot see the conspirators for what they are. Still believing them to be friends, he invites them in to have some wine with him before they all depart for the Senate. It is an image reminiscent of the Last Supper, where Christ drinks wine with Judas, the conspirator who causes his death.

A tortured Brutus is seen at the end of the scene. He sees the irony in the fact that Caesar is celebrating with the men, including himself, who will soon take his life; he grieves to think that Caesar calls them all friends, oblivious to their plot. Brutus' concern and humanity in this scene make him a more sympathetic character; Shakespeare seems to portray Brutus as a good man pulled into an evil crime for false, but noble, purposes. Unlike Cassius, he is not a classic villain.

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