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Brutus and Cassius take Casca aside to ask him what happened at the procession. Casca relates that Antony offered a crown to Caesar three times, but Caesar refused it each time. While the crowd cheered for him, Caesar fell to the ground in a fit. Brutus speculates that Caesar has “the falling sickness” (a term for epilepsy in Elizabethan times). Casca notes, however, that Caesar’s fit did not seem to affect his authority: although he suffered his seizure directly before the crowd, the people did not cease to express their love. Casca adds that the great orator Cicero spoke in Greek, but that he couldn’t understand him at all, saying “it was Greek to me” (I.ii.278). He concludes by reporting that Flavius and Murellus were deprived of their positions as civil servants for removing decorations from Caesar’s statues. Casca then departs, followed by Brutus.
Cassius, alone now, says that while he believes that Brutus is noble, he hopes that Brutus’s noble nature may yet be bent: “For who so firm that cannot be seduced?” he asks rhetorically (I.ii.306). He decides to forge letters from Roman citizens declaring their support for Brutus and their fear of Caesar’s ascent to power; he will throw them into Brutus’s house that evening.Read a translation of Act I, scene ii →
While the opening scene illustrates Caesar’s popularity with the masses, the audience’s first direct encounter with him presents an omen of his imminent fall. Caesar’s choice to ignore the Soothsayer’s advice proves the first in a series of failures to heed warnings about his fate. Just as Caesar himself proves fallible, his power proves imperfect. When Caesar orders Antony to touch Calpurnia, Antony replies that Caesar need merely speak and his word will become fact—that is, Caesar’s authority is so strong that his word immediately brings about the requested action. However, while the masses may conceive of Caesar’s power thus, Caesar’s order to Antony alerts us to the reality that he and his wife have been unable to produce a child. The implication that Caesar may be impotent or sterile is the first—and, for a potential monarch, the most damaging—of his physical shortcomings to be revealed in the play.
This conversation between Brutus and Cassius reveals the respective characters of the two men, who will emerge as the foremost conspirators against Caesar. Brutus appears to be a man at war with himself, torn between his love for Caesar and his honorable concern for Rome. He worries that it is not in Rome’s best interest for Caesar to become king, yet he hates to oppose his friend. Cassius steps into Brutus’s personal crisis and begins his campaign to turn Brutus against Caesar, flattering Brutus’s pride by offering to be his mirror and thus relaying to him the ostensible high regard in which the citizens hold him.
Cassius compounds Brutus’s alarm about Caesar’s growing power with references to his weak physical state: he lacks stamina and is probably epileptic. But Cassius observes only Caesar’s frail human body, his private self. When he urges Brutus to consider that the name of Brutus should be as powerful as the name of Caesar, he fails to understand that Caesar’s real power is not affected by private infirmities but rather rests in his public persona, whose strength is derived from the goodwill and good opinion of the populace.
Caesar, on the other hand, shows much more perceptiveness in his analysis of Cassius; he observes both Cassius’s private and public personas and notices a discord. He is made uneasy by what appears to be Cassius’s lack of a private life—Cassius’s seeming refusal to acknowledge his own sensibilities or nurture his spirit suggest a coldness, a lack of human warmth. Caesar comments to Antony, “He loves no plays, / As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music. / Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort / As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit / That could be moved to smile at anything” (I.ii.204–208). Cassius remains merely a public man, without any suggestion of a private self. Such a man, Caesar properly recognizes, is made uncomfortable by others’ power.