Julius Caesar

by: William Shakespeare

Misreading Augurs and Visions

Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time.
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves (I.iii)

Cicero speaks these lines during the ominous storm before Caesar’s assassination, when Casca mentions the portentous quality of the various signs manifesting throughout Rome. Cicero here wisely remarks that the symbols are indeed strange but that men may interpret them whichever way they wish, in some cases assigning meanings that have no relation to their original or intended meaning. More important than the symbols themselves is the way they are decoded. In this way, Cicero voices one of the main themes of the play: the misreading of augurs and omens. Nature might offer hints as to what the future has in store, but it is up to men to properly interpret them.

Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man
Most like this dreadful night (I.iii)

Here, Cassius does precisely what Cicero warned against: he interprets the ominous portents of the stormy night as indication of the gods’ displeasure with Caesar and his illegal rise to power. Cassius twists the meaning of the strange symbols so that they match his already formed opinions. For Cassius, this stormy night, with all of its bizarre signs and portents, offers further validation for his plot to murder Caesar; proof that the gods are really on his side. Of course, we learn at the end of the play that these signs had little to do with Caesar himself, but more to do with the civil war that follows.

The dream is all amiss interpreted,
it was a vision fair and fortunate (II.ii)

Decius Brutus speaks these lines to Caesar regarding Calpurnia’s foreboding dream. He insists that the vision of Caesar’s statue spurting blood while Romans bathe their hands in it is not an ominous vision but rather one of good tidings: it “signifies that from you great Rome shall suck/ Reviving blood” (II.ii). Decius Brutus twists the meaning of Calpurnia’s vision into something positive. Again, the emphasis here is on the ability to distort or skew the meaning of auguries, so that they foretell whatever seems most expedient or advantageous. Decius Brutus creates his own interpretation as a way to bring Caesar to the Senate (where he knows a trap is waiting). In the end, Calpurnia’s dream proves to be a warning, as the Senators do in fact dip their hands in the blood of murdered Caesar.

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