Caesar wanders through his house in his dressing gown, kept awake by his wife Calpurnia’s nightmares. Three times she has called out in her sleep about Caesar’s murder. He sends a servant to bid the priests to offer a sacrifice and tell him the results. Calpurnia enters and insists that Caesar not leave the house after so many bad signs. Caesar rebuffs her, refusing to give in to fear. But Calpurnia, who has never heeded omens before, speaks of what happened in the city earlier that night: dead men walked, ghosts wandered the city, a lioness gave birth in the street, and lightning shattered the skies. These signs portend true danger, she says; Caesar cannot afford to ignore them.
Caesar counters that nothing can change the plans of the gods. He deems the signs to apply to the world in general and refuses to believe that they bode ill for him personally. Calpurnia says that the heavens proclaim the death of only great men, so the omens must have to do with him. Caesar replies that while cowards imagine their death frequently, thus dying in their minds several times over, brave men, refusing to dwell on death, die only once. He cannot understand why men fear death, which must come eventually to all.
The servant enters, reporting that the augurs recommend that Caesar stay home. They examined the entrails of an animal and were unable to find a heart—a bad sign. But Caesar maintains that he will not stay home out of fear. Danger cannot affect Caesar, he says. Calpurnia begs him to send Antony to the Senate in his place; finally Caesar relents.
Decius enters, saying that he has come to bring Caesar to the Senate. Caesar tells him to tell the senators that he will be absent that day. Calpurnia tells him to plead illness, but Caesar refuses to lie. Decius then asks what reason he should offer. Caesar states that it is simply his will to stay home. He adds that Calpurnia has had a dream in which she saw his statue run with blood like a fountain, while many smiling Romans bathed their hands in the blood; she has taken this to portend danger for Caesar.
Decius disputes Calpurnia’s interpretation, saying that actually the dream signifies that Romans will all gain lifeblood from the strength of Caesar. He confides that the Senate has decided to give Caesar the crown that day; if Caesar were to stay at home, the senators might change their minds. Moreover, Caesar would lose public regard if he were perceived as so easily swayed by a woman, or by fear. Caesar replies that his fears now indeed seem small. He calls for his robe and prepares to depart. Cassius and Brutus enter with Ligarius, Metellus, Casca, Trebonius, and Cinna to escort him to the Senate. Finally, Antony enters. Caesar prepares to depart.
Artemidorus comes onstage, reading to himself a letter that he has written Caesar, warning him to be wary of Brutus, Casca, and the other conspirators. He stands along the route that Caesar will take to the Senate, prepared to hand the letter to him as he passes. He is sad to think that the virtue embodied by Caesar may be destroyed by the ambitious envy of the conspirators. He remains hopeful, however, that if his letter gets read, Caesar may yet live.
Portia sends Brutus’s servant to the Senate to observe events and report back to her how Caesar is faring. A Soothsayer enters, and Portia asks him if Caesar has gone to the Capitol yet. The Soothsayer replies that he knows that Caesar has not yet gone; he intends to wait for Caesar along his route, since he wants to say a word to him. He goes to the street to wait, hoping Caesar’s entourage will let him speak to the great man.
These scenes emphasize the many grave signs portending Caesar’s death, as well as his stubborn refusal to heed them. Initially, Caesar does agree to stay home in order to please Calpurnia, showing more concern for his wife than Brutus did for Portia in the previous scene. In appreciating Calpurnia’s fear, Caesar demonstrates an ability to pay attention to his private matters, albeit a muffled one. But when Decius tells him that the senators plan to offer him the crown that day, Caesar’s desire to comfort his wife gives way to his ambition, and his public self again prevails over his private self.
Increasingly and markedly in these scenes, Caesar refers to himself in the third person, especially when he speaks of his lack of fear (“Yet Caesar shall go forth, for these predictions / Are to the world in general as to Caesar” [II.ii.28–29]). Tragically, he no longer sees the difference between his powerful public image and his vulnerable human body. Even at home in his dressing gown, far from the senators and crowds whose respect he craves, he assumes the persona of “Caesar,” the great man who knows no fear. Caesar has displayed a measure of humility in turning down the crown the day before, but this humility has evaporated by the time he enters into his third-person self-commentary and hastens to the Senate to accept the crown at last.
Perhaps this behavior partially confirms the conspirators’ charges: Caesar does seem to long for power and would like to hold the crown; he really might become a tyrant if given the opportunity. Whether this speculation constitutes reason sufficient to kill him is debatable. Indeed, it seems possible that the faults that the conspirators—with the possible exception of Brutus—see in Caesar are viewed through the veil of their own ambition: they oppose his kingship not because he would make a poor leader, but because his leadership would preclude their own. In explaining the noble deed to be performed to Ligarius, Brutus describes it as “a piece of work that will make sick men whole.” Ligarius responds, “But are not some whole that we must make sick?” (II.i.326–327). Whereas Brutus’s primary concern is the well-being of the people, Ligarius’s is with bringing down those above him.
Calpurnia’s dream of the bleeding statue perfectly foreshadows the eventual unfolding of the assassination plot: the statue is a symbol of Caesar’s corpse, and the vague smiling Romans turn out, of course, to be the conspirators, reveling in his bloodshed. Yet, to the end, Caesar remains unconvinced by any omens. If one argues that omens serve as warnings by which individuals can avoid disaster, then one must view Caesar’s inflexibility regarding these omens as an arrogance that brings about his death. On the other hand, Shakespeare also imparts Caesar’s stubbornness with dignity and a touch of wisdom, as when Caesar professes that since the gods decide the time of one’s death, death cannot be averted: if it is fated for the conspirators to kill him, perhaps to die bravely is the most honorable, worthy course of action he can take.
An idea about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar...
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I just read Julius Caesar. I liked the play, and I loved Marc Antony's funeral speech. If you're interested, check out my blog on the play:
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