Act I

….But indeed, sir, we make holiday to see Caesar, and to rejoice in his triumph.

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?. . .
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things,
O you hard hearts, you cruèl men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climbed up to walls and battlements. . .
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome. . . 
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood?
Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude. (1.1.30–55)

In the play’s opening scene, two tribunes, Murellus and Flavius, chastise the commoners of Rome for celebrating Julius Caesar’s victory over his rival, Pompey, who was murdered during Rome’s civil wars. According to Murellus, the same citizens who once worshiped Pompey as their leader have now thrown their allegiance behind Caesar, Pompey’s enemy. Although Murellus and Flavius do not go on to play a major role in the play, their scorn for Caesar establishes the contentious political atmosphere of Rome, which pits Caesar’s immense popularity with the masses against the enmity of his rivals among the Roman nobility. This conflict quickly unfolds, as many of the nobles who claim to be Caesar’s supporters join in conspiracy against him.

But never till tonight, never till now,
Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction. . .
Besides—I ha' not since put up my sword—
Against the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glared upon me and went surly by,
Without annoying me. And there were drawn
Upon a heap a hundred ghastly women,
Transformèd with their fear, who swore they saw
Men all in fire walk up and down the streets. (1.3.9–25)

In these lines, Casca describes an unusual tempest (storm) accompanied by a number of unnatural events in Rome’s streets that he interprets as signs of impending destruction. He encounters a lion roaming the streets, as well as a hundred terrified women who have had visions of people walking the streets on fire. As in many of Shakespeare’s plays, foul weather and unnatural events foreshadow treacherous events to follow—in this case, Caesar’s betrayal and assassination.

Act II

Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelpèd in the streets,
And graves have yawned and yielded up their dead.
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol.
The noise of battle hurtled in the air.
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! These things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them. (2.2.13–26)

In these lines, Caesar’s wife Calpurnia recounts more harrowing, unnatural events that occurred in the streets of Rome the night before Caesar’s assassination. A lioness gave birth in the streets, dead people emerged from their graves, and fiery armies made war in the sky, their blood trickling down on the streets. Calpurnia urges Caesar to heed these signs as a warning that he should not venture out of his house. Although she prevails upon him briefly, Caesar refuses to feel threatened by these events and is easily persuaded by Decius Brutus to go to the Capitol, where the conspirators await. 


Tear him to pieces. He’s a conspirator.

I am Cinna the poet. I am Cinna the poet. . .
I am not Cinna the conspirator.

It is no matter. His name’s Cinna. Pluck but his name out of his heart and turn him going.

Tear him, tear him! (3.3.27–33)

This brief scene, which occurs in the aftermath of Caesar’s assassination, illustrates how public opinion in Rome has quickly shifted against the conspirators. Although Brutus is initially able to convince the plebeians (Rome’s commoners) that Caesar’s assassination was for the good of the Republic, Antony’s moving speech at the funeral quickly turns the plebeians against Brutus and the other conspirators. The mob becomes so incensed that they kill Cinna the Poet just for having the same name as one of the conspirators. Cinna’s senseless murder hints at the danger of a citizenry that blindly follows powerful leaders.