Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 3

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar | Act 1, Scene 3 | Summary

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Summary

Thunder and lightning fill the sky in Rome. Cicero meets Casca on the street, and Casca describes the terrifying sights he's seen during the storm—men on fire but unburned, a lion walking the streets, a "bird of night" (an owl) shrieking in daylight. Casca thinks these are clear omens of doom, but Cicero isn't convinced.

Afterward, Casca runs into Cassius. Hoping to enlist frightened Casca as a conspirator, Cassius says Casca is clearly overlooking that the omens point to "the lion in the Capitol." Casca's heard that the senators will crown Caesar king the next day. They both refuse to bow to tyranny, and resolve to defeat Caesar. Cassius says he's already gathered several Romans for this cause.

The two meet Cinna, a fellow conspirator who implores Cassius to convince Brutus to join them. Cassius gives Cinna the letters to deliver to Brutus, remarking confidently, "three parts of him is ours already."

Analysis

When do bizarre events and strange sayings become omens? Many ancient Romans believed otherworldly events—like men shooting fire from their fingers and lions roaming the streets—reflected the future. A recurring theme in the play is the interpretation, and misinterpretation, of omens by people who see the same event differently.

Cicero remarks that men often invent symbolism to explain strange events to themselves. The idea of invented versus actual meaning—a person or an event becoming larger than life—recurs with Caesar and the circumstances surrounding his death.

While Cassius played on Brutus's loyalty, here he plays on Casca's fear. He says Casca should have expected the heavens to wreak this kind of havoc, and "those that have known the earth so full of faults" aren't surprised. Cassius even seems pleased about the storm, as its timing confirms his mounting suspicions about danger to Rome. Cassius is an Epicurean, a follower of a branch of philosophy that believes the gods don't intervene in human affairs (by sending omens, for instance). Cassius is taking advantage of Casca's clear belief that the storm means something. Casca, with his own concerns about the monarchy, is easier than Brutus to convert to the conspiracy.

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