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Julius Caesar

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First written between the years 1600-01, first performed in 1623.

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, approx. 47 BC (an Early Tragedy)

Marcellus and Flavius criticize the commoners for celebrating Caesar's recent military defeat of Pompey since they feel it's actually a sad day. During a victory march, a soothsayer warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March" (March 15); Caesar ignores him. A race is run, wherein Marc Antony, in the course of competing, touches Caesar's wife Calphurnia in hopes of curing her infertility. During the race, Cassius tries to convince Brutus that Caesar has become too powerful and too popular. Brutus neither agrees nor disagrees. Caesar confers with Antony that he fears Cassius is evil and worth fearing. Casca explains to Brutus and Cassius that shouting they heard was caused by Caesar's thrice refusal of a crown offered to him by Antony (though confusing, the commoners rejoiced that he had refused it for it indicated he is a noble man). At the third offering, Caesar collapsed and foamed at the mouth from epilepsy. Afterwards, Caesar exiled/executed Flavius and Marcellus for pulling scarves off of Caesar's images (statues). In a thunderstorm, Casca meets Cicero and tells him of many ominous and fearful sights, mostly of burning images, he has seen. Cassius then meets Cicero and tells him the storm is a good sign of the evil he and his other cohorts plan to do to Caesar. It seems the senators plan to crown Caesar King, but Cassius aims to prevent it, or else commit suicide. Casca agrees to help Cassius. Cinna informs Cassius that Decius Brutus (actually Decimus), Trebonius, and Metallus Cimber will help them to kill Caesar.

Cassius is trying to convince Brutus to join too. Brutus, unable to sleep, tells himself that he fears Caesar will become a tyrant if crowned king. Cassius et al. come to Brutus and resolve to murder Caesar the next day (March 15). Metallus also convinces Caius Ligarius to join their cause. The men leave and Portia (Brutus' wife) begs Brutus to tell her what is happening, but he does not (though he does tell her before he leaves for the Senate). At Caesar's house, Calphurnia begs Caesar to stay home for fear of danger (based on a foreboding dream and the night's storm). Holy priests pluck the entrails of an animal and find no heart in it, another bad sign. Caesar declares he will stay home, to calm his wive's fears. Decius, though, convinces Caesar to come to the senate. On the way, the soothsayer Artemidorus tries to warn Caesar of impending death, to no avail. At the Senate, Trebonius leads Antony away from Caesar, then the conspirators murder Caesar. They cover themselves in his blood and go to the streets crying, "Peace, freedom, and liberty." Antony comes back and mourns Caesar's murder. Antony pretends to support the clan, yet yearns for great havoc to occur as a result of the death. Brutus explains to the crowd that they killed Caesar because he was too ambitious. Antony replies with reverse psychology to incite the commoners to riot in grief over Caesar's murder. Antony also reads them Caesar's (supposed) will, wherein he leaves money to all the citizens, plus his private gardens. In the ensuing riots, Cinna the poet is wrongly killed by a mob that believes him to be Cinna the conspirator.

Antony forms a triumvirate with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, to rule Rome. However, Brutus and Cassius are raising an army to defy them. Brutus learns that his wife Portia kills herself by swallowing hot coals. Messala tells Brutus that the triumvirate has killed 100 senators. Titinius, Messala, Brutus, and Cassius decide to confront Antony's army at Phillipi. At Brutus' tent, the ghost of Caesar comes and tells Brutus he will see him at Phillipi. The battle indeed ensues at Phillipi. Cassius confers to Messala that it is his birthday and that he fears defeat. In battle, Titinius is captured by Octavius. Cassius convinces Pindarus to help him commit suicide. Pindarus, in grief, flees after the deed is done. In a twist, Brutus overthrows Octavius and Cassius' army, defeating part of Antony's army. Titinius, in grief over Cassius' death, kills himself with Cassius's sword. The battle turns again, this time against Brutus' army. Cato is killed and Lucilius is captured, while pretending to be Brutus. Brutus successively asks Clitus, Dardanius, and Volumnius to help him commit suicide, yet all refuse. Brutus finally convinces Strato to hold the sword while he (Brutus) runs onto it and dies. Thus, Antony and Octavius prevail, while Cassius and Brutus both commit suicide, assumedly partly in grief over murdering Caesar.

~

This play is a story primarily about a conspiracy to murder Ceasar. The conspirators' plan has many flaws and they must struggle with the aftermath of what they have done. Brutus the "noblest roman" is the leader and the prime driver is Cassius who is both dangerous, ambitious, and manipulative, and turns Brutus away from Ceasar, for, who "Tis not that I don't like him, but for the general" kills Ceasar in the name of Rome. Brutus must fight the ghost of Ceasar for the rest of the play and Shakespeare makes it clear that although Brutus's action may have been justified and Ceasar may have become a tyrant, he is still the tragic hero of the play. Shakespeare also entertains humanic proportions for all characters, in this endeavour to not merely label characters bad guys-good guys but rather fully human and fragile to manipulation and flattery. He also uses contrasts between characters and relationships such as Cassius and Brutus, Octavius and Antony. Portia, Brutus, Calpurnia, and Ceasar also paint a picture of severe differences, strengths, and weaknesses. Cassius is always having to submit to Brutus's demands and leadership shortfalls, and Ceasar's complete self-absorption when dealing with Calpurnia. The play is extremely thick with magnificent speeches and supernaturalism and is a great read. I would recommend anyone to read the play even if you can't understand it, because it entertains an insight into the human manipulative world that Shakespeare wrote most of his plays in.--Submitted by tim clark.

~

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Act 1. Scene I

Enter FLAVIUS, MARULLUS, and certain Commoners

FLAVIUS

Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home:

Is this a holiday? what! know you not,

Being mechanical, you ought not walk

Upon a labouring day without the sign

Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?

First Commoner

Why, sir, a carpenter.

MARULLUS

Where is thy leather apron and thy rule?

What dost thou with thy best apparel on?

You, sir, what trade are you?

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but,

as you would say, a cobbler.

MARULLUS

But what trade art thou? answer me directly.

Second Commoner

A trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe

conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.

MARULLUS

What trade, thou knave? thou naughty knave, what trade?

Second Commoner

Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me: yet,

if you be out, sir, I can mend you.

MARULLUS

What meanest thou by that? mend me, thou saucy fellow!

Second Commoner

Why, sir, cobble you.

FLAVIUS

Thou art a cobbler, art thou?

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl: I

meddle with no tradesman's matters, nor women's

matters, but with awl. I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon

to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I

recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon

neat's leather have gone upon my handiwork.

FLAVIUS

But wherefore art not in thy shop today?

Why dost thou lead these men about the streets?

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself

into more work. But, indeed, sir, we make holiday,

to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.

MARULLUS

Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?

What tributaries follow him to Rome,

To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?

You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!

O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,

Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft

Have you climb'd up to walls and battlements,

To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,

Your infants in your arms, and there have sat

The livelong day, with patient expectation,

To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:

And when you saw his chariot but appear,

Have you not made an universal shout,

That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,

To hear the replication of your sounds

Made in her concave shores?

And do you now put on your best attire?

And do you now cull out a holiday?

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.

FLAVIUS

Go, go, good countrymen, and, for this fault,

Assemble all the poor men of your sort;

Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears

Into the channel, till the lowest stream

Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.

Exeunt all the Commoners

See whether their basest metal be not moved;

They vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness.

Go you down that way towards the Capitol;

This way will I

disrobe the images,

If you do find them deck'd with ceremonies.

MARULLUS

May we do so?

You know it is the feast of Lupercal.

FLAVIUS

It is no matter; let no images

Be hung with Caesar's trophies. I'll about,

And drive away the vulgar from the streets:

So do you too, where you perceive them thick.

These growing feathers pluck'd from Caesar's wing

Will make him fly an ordinary pitch,

Who else would soar above the view of men

And keep us all in servile fearfulness.

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