Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar | Act 1, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Julius Caesar enters for his celebratory parade through Rome. His entourage includes his wife, Calphurnia, and his friends Antony, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, and Cicero. Caesar tells Antony to touch Calphurnia during the parade, since elders say a touch during the holy chase can cure her infertility. A soothsayer loudly cautions Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March." Caesar brushes off the warning and leaves.

Brutus and Cassius stay behind. Cassius mentions that Brutus seems troubled, and reminds Brutus how much the Romans admire and respect him. They hear three separate shouts from the public, whom they think have chosen Caesar as king. Brutus admits that although "I love him well" he doesn't want Caesar crowned. Cassius doesn't either. Cassius tells Brutus that he's saved Caesar from drowning and seen him through a violent fever. Would the public, Cassius wonders, worship this man if they knew how vulnerable he really is? Brutus would be a better ruler, Cassius thinks. Brutus thanks him and says he will think about what Cassius has said.

Caesar and his entourage return. Caesar confides to Antony that he doesn't trust Cassius; he's too thin, too cynical, and he "thinks too much."

Brutus and Cassius ask Casca what happened at the parade. Casca relays that Caesar, strangely, refused the crown Antony offered three times. The crowd cheered his refusals. The third time Caesar refused, he fainted and fell down. Brutus points out that Caesar has epilepsy ("the falling sickness"). Casca thinks Caesar uses his infirmity to explain away anything odd he does in public. He also mentions that Flavius and Marullus have lost their jobs for desecrating Caesar's images.

Casca and Brutus leave, promising to meet with Cassius the next day. Cassius tells the audience his plan to send Brutus forged letters, which Cassius will write as if they're from Roman citizens. The letters will praise Brutus's ability and hint at Caesar's dangerous ambition.

Analysis

Here Shakespeare sets the wheels of conspiracy in motion. Brutus and Cassius reveal their character and intentions. Cassius doesn't directly discuss assassination, but he's clearly restless for a change. The audience, Brutus, and possibly Casca see what's coming.

The scene also introduces Caesar to the audience, though they're not yet sure what to make of him. He's smart not to trust Cassius, and he's quick to give commands—an efficient ruler so far but liable to make enemies. And if he's so ambitious, why did he refuse the crown three times? Perhaps the refusal was a publicity stunt to appeal to the crowd. The people would think Caesar was too modest even to accept the crown he'd earned, and they'd cheer his good nature.

Or was he putting on a show? Casca says that the people clapped for Caesar "as they use to do the players in the theater." This sentiment echoes the tribunes' dim view of the crowd in Scene 1. The crowd's emotions are easy to toy with; first they wanted a hero, and now they simply want to be entertained. Casca clearly despises the theatrical aspect of Caesar's character and believes Caesar doesn't mean to refuse power; he just wants the people to think he's humble. He's happy to give orders to Marc Antony and others in private.

Cassius and Brutus sense the deeper consequences of Caesar's rule. This is the first scene where Cassius slyly edges a colleague toward becoming a conspirator by appealing to that person's desires and character. Brutus wants to think of himself as a wise man who values honor and loyalty. Cassius is probably right that most Romans respect Brutus, but he's laying the flattery on pretty thick. He even mentions as an aside that all the Romans see Brutus's worth "except immortal Caesar."

Brutus, on some level, knows Cassius is flattering him for a purpose. Like most people, though, Brutus appreciates hearing the praise of a friend. And Brutus does want the ability to be a great ruler, even if he doesn't want the job. He loves Rome, and like Cassius, he laments the lost age of Rome's nobility. Though Brutus never tells Cassius his specific worries, Cassius guesses that the current political situation isn't helping. The audience wonders if Brutus will fall for Cassius's fake letters of praise or see through the ruse.

Caesar applies flattery, on a smaller scale, with Antony. When Caesar tells Antony why Cassius makes him uncomfortable, he says, "He loves no plays, as thou dost, Antony." By contrasting sensitive Antony with brutish Cassius, Caesar praises Antony's character and further cements his loyalty. This manipulation technique—us versus them—will resurface as other characters use it, including Antony himself.

"Men at some time are masters of their fates," Cassius says to Brutus, bringing up the play's theme of free will versus fate. In times like these, Cassius believes, men shouldn't merely let life happen to them—they should take life by the reins and change their destinies. Will Cassius still hold to this belief once he's done the deed and seen its consequences? The audience isn't sure.

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