Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 2, Scene 2

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

Julius Caesar | Act 2, Scene 2 | Summary

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Summary

Caesar, in his home, prepares to go to the Capitol. The storm is still raging, and Calphurnia had cried out "They murder Caesar!" in her sleep the night before. Calphurnia begs Caesar not to leave the house. She's alarmed by the storm—which she sees as directly related to death, with ghosts shrieking in the streets and warriors drizzling blood on the Capitol. Caesar counters that he can't avoid his fate. If the gods say he's going to die, then he will, and he might as well do his job in the meantime. Besides, as he points out, every man dies, but only cowards worry about death. He won't waste time in fear.

A servant enters with bad news. When the priests sacrificed an animal to ensure Caesar's success, they found no heart in the animal. Caesar reiterates that he's invincible, and he's still going to the Capitol. Calphurnia continues to beg, and Caesar agrees to stay home to pacify her.

Decius comes to bring Caesar to the Capitol. Caesar refuses to go, and Decius says he'll need a reason. Caesar tells him Calphurnia had a dream that Caesar's statue ran with blood, which the Romans bathed in. Decius says the dream's a good sign—Caesar's blood will revive Rome, and men will wear it honorably like armor. He also tells Caesar the senators plan to give him a crown, but only if he shows up at the Capitol.

Convinced to attend, Caesar dresses and meets with the senators/conspirators. They exchange friendly dialogue and go to drink wine together. To the audience Brutus regrets that Caesar thinks the senators are his friends, when in fact they're his enemies.

Analysis

While Cicero merely holds omens in disregard, Caesar mocks them, despite the fact that he asked Antony to bless Calphurnia during the parade. Supposedly he and Calphurnia don't believe in divine intervention, although a bewildered Calphurnia is changing her mind. The omen Calphurnia sees—the conspirators bathing their hands in Caesar's blood—foreshadows his death as clearly as any image could. If the gods are speaking, they're getting more specific.

Like Brutus, Caesar tries to spin a nobler version of himself into truth. While Brutus spoke with doubt and self-awareness, Caesar speaks with unshakable faith. Caesar's a clear believer in fate, despite his rejection of omens, so long as fate flatters him. Caesar knows he's going to die, but that knowledge seems only to embolden him.

Now that the audience knows Caesar better, they can form an opinion on the assassination that's about to happen. Caesar discards the beliefs of others, even the priests who are experts in their field—unless, like Decius with his dream interpretation, they play to Caesar's ego. Decius has anticipated this situation: Caesar refusing to go, perhaps citing a vision. There's no artifice in the soothsayer or Calphurnia's words—they are more honest than any manipulator. Caesar doesn't care.

Yes, Caesar is proud. This pride leads Caesar to his death, but another aspect of pride—self-confidence—helps make him an effective leader. Self-confidence, fearlessness, practicality—all these traits help a general in battle or a ruler leading a country through strife. However, Caesar's detractors do not care for his ruling style. Here Shakespeare poses a question: Would the assassination be a courageous act after all? Cautious Brutus makes reasoned (if flawed) decisions, and he includes others in the decision-making process, suggesting that he might make a better ruler than Caesar.

As Caesar greets his friends, the audience may wonder how unaware he really is about the conspiracy. Does he know he's going to his death? Shakespeare never answers this question but includes the ambiguity in a larger exploration of how much an individual can do to avoid his fate.

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