Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare

Act I, scene i

Summary Act I, scene i

In addition, Shakespeare’s illustration of the fickleness of the Roman public proves particularly relevant to the English political scene of the time. Queen Elizabeth I was nearing the end of her life but had neither produced nor named an heir. Anxiety mounted concerning who her successor would be. People feared that without resort to the established, accepted means of transferring power—passing it down the family line—England might plunge into the sort of chaotic power struggle that had plagued it in the fifteenth century, during the Wars of the Roses. Flavius and Murellus’s interest in controlling the populace lays the groundwork for Brutus’s and Antony’s manipulations of public opinion after Caesar’s death. Shakespeare thus makes it clear that the struggle for power will involve a battle among the leaders to win public favor with displays of bravery and convincing rhetoric. Considering political history in the centuries after Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, especially in the twentieth century, when Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler consolidated their respective regimes by whipping up in the masses the overzealous nationalism that had pervaded nineteenth-century Italy and Germany, the play is remarkably prescient.