Act I1.1 Rome (the location remains Rome until 4.1)
The play opens with the clash between tribunes Flavius and Murellus and a group of celebrating commoners. The tribunes' partisanship for Pompey establishes an immediate source of tension - and indeed marks a new dexterity Shakespeare developed for openings. The divide between the plebs and the tribunes is immediately apparent, particularly in the contemptuous manner of speech Murellus and Flavius address the commoners.
The 'triumph' the citizens celebrate marks Caesar's second victory (45 BC) against Pompey's sons in Spain. Plutarch however records the victory ceremony was resented by the people, for rather than a barbarian horde, Pompey was perceived as a virtuous foe. When the commoners have left Flavius and Murellus discuss Caesar's power.1.2 Rome: a public place
This scene is an important point in the development of the plot as it marks the beginning of Brutus' corruption and the tentative stages of the forming of the conspirators. Marcellus and Flavius have no action in this scene, perhaps a sign of their contempt, or even the exclusion that incites it. Later in the scene we are informed they have been 'put to silence' for 'pulling scarves off / Caesar's images'. Plutarch notes that they were 'deprived of their tribune- ships' rather than killed, as the euphemism infers.
When called from amidst the crowd, Caesar's use of his own name in response, 'Caesar is turned to hear' (l.17), is part of the dramatic process of striking the audience with his presence. From the crowd Caesar is warned by a soothsayer to 'Beware the Ides of March'. Caesar scorns the warning as superstitious nonsense: 'He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass' (ll. 24). Note the developing background of metaphysical experiences; attention to this warning, and to Calpurnia's 'dream' or vision later (2.2.2-3), would have saved Caesar's life. Such a milieu is hardly to be expected in a study of the political machinations or realpolitik surrounding Caesar's last days.
All except Brutus and Cassius exit to the forum. Brutus shows poor judgement in failing to attend an important Roman ritual, and underestimates the influence of Mark Antony. Cassius speaks to Brutus in terms of a 'friend, that loves you' (l. 36). However Plutarch records personal rivalry between the two, vying for positions of political power. Cassius questions Brutus' withdrawn manner. Brutus does not comprehend the deeper meaning of Cassius' question, 'Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?' (l. 51), interpreting it in practical terms. With the images of the 'mirror' and 'shadow', Cassius begins his attempt to subvert or corrupt Brutus against Caesar, telling him of his esteemed reputation in the political circles of Rome. The reference to 'immortal Caesar' in an aside is both sarcastic and ambiguous. Brutus comprehends Cassius' subversive intentions and asks:'Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek in myself
For that which is not in me?' (ll. 63-5)
The conversation is several times interrupted by fanfares and shouting. The conversation progresses to the political realities of the times: the idea of Caesar as king. Brutus reveals that he would not wish Caesar king, then Cassius reveals his contempt at what he perceives as an injustice. He recalls Caesar's weakness: ''Tis true, this god did shake: / His coward lips did their colour fly', and he questions the logic that'... this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature, and must bend his body
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him.' (ll. 115-17)
He continues to scorn Caesar further: 'Ye gods, it doth amaze me / A man of such feeble temper should / So get the start of the majestic world'. Cassius continues the attempt to lure Brutus by appealing to his ambition:' 'Brutus' and 'Caesar': what should be in that 'Caesar'?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?' (ll. 141-2)
Cassius then exclaims, 'Rome thou art lost the breed of noble bloods!' in allowing Caesar to ascend to power. Cassius finally cites the precedent of Lucius Junius Brutus, by tradition the founder of the Republic (and victor over the Tarquins), in his hope to lure Brutus. Brutus responds tactfully to Cassius' intimations. Cassius resembles the 'Machiavel' character of English Renaissance literature - he takes hope from Brutus' response, making an equally tactful and gracious response to Brutus' answer as Caesar begins to make his return
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