Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 2
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
The story of Calpurnia's crying out in her sleep, of the ill omens announced by the augurs, and of Caesar's irresolution, is all in Plutarch, and is not exaggerated by the poet. This scene between Calpurnia and Caesar and the similar one between Portia and Brutus should be compared with reference to differences of character in the actors which the dialogue brings to light.
It is now nearly eight o'clock, and the ides of March has
night-gown: Not in its modern sense, but "dressing-gown," as usually in Shakespeare.
1. Nor heaven nor earth: neither heaven, etc., -- like "or our cause or our performance" in the previous scene (II, i, 135 and note).
5. do present sacrifice: perform the sacrifices at once.
6. their opinions of success: That is, their opinions as to the
outcome, -- as to what will succeed or happen, -- if Caesar goes
10. Caesar shall forth: Shakespeare often omits the verb "go" in this and similar expressions. Later we find "We'll along ourselves"; "We must out and talk"; "I will myself into the pulpit"; etc.
13. stood on ceremonies: regarded omens or prophecies.
16. the watch: the watchman, -- a familiar figure in Shakespeare's London, though not in Caesar's Rome.
20. right form of war: regular battle array.
22. hurtled: crashed, clashed.
24. ghosts did shriek, etc. Ghosts were believed to have the power of speech, as we see later in this play. In connection with these lines, it is interesting to read the words of Horatio in "Hamlet," a tragedy written about the same time as "Julius Caesar."
25. all use: all custom, all we are used to.
27. Whose end is purposed: the completion of which is
planned by the gods.
29. Are to the world, etc. That is, these prophecies apply
just as much to the world in general as they do to Caesar.
73. satisfaction. Pronounced sat-is-fac-ti-on. Do you see
76. to-night: last night, as in III, 3, i. "I dreamt to-night that I did feast with Caesar"; and Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" says,
For I did dream of money-bags to-night.
More often the poet uses the word in its present meaning.
76. statue. Pronounced here, and again in act III, as a three syllable word, -- sta-tu-a. How should it be treated in line 85 below ?
78. lusty: vigorous, robust. Where did Cassius speak of "lusty sinews"?
80, 81. portents, and evils imminent: signs and approaching
83. all amiss interpreted. That is, the meaning of your dream has been explained entirely incorrectly.
89. tinctures: stains. This is an allusion to the old custom of dipping handkerchiefs in the blood of great men, especially of saints and martyrs, and then preserving them as relics. cognizance: memorial, badge.
96, 97. a mock apt to be rendered: a sneering reply likely to
103. To your proceeding. That is, my love for, or interest in, your advancement, -- your career.
104. reason to my love, etc. Reason (which would have kept me from speaking so frankly) is subject to, subordinate to, my love. Or, as Rolfe puts it, "My love leads me to indulge in a freedom of speech that my reason would restrain." (Notice here again how much the poet puts into a phrase of six words.)
113. ague (a'gue): fever.
114. 'tis strucken eight. Five hours earlier, Cassius said, "The clock hath stricken three." (See II, i, 192 and note.) Notice throughout this part of the play the exact time of each important event that develops the plot is stated exactly. See II, 4, 22.
116. long o' nights. Where did Caesar speak of men who "sleep o' nights"?
118. So to, etc. Much as we familiarly say, "The same to you!"
120. what, Trebonius! Like the exclamatory, impatient "what" at the opening of Act II,
What, Lucius, ho!
128. That every like, etc. That is, to be like a friend is not to be a friend. Brutus, of course, is referring to the words Caesar has just spoken.
129. yearns: grieves, pains, -- as always in Shakespeare. Brutus here, just for a moment, seems to have a pang of remorse.
How to cite the explanatory notes and scene questions:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_2_2.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Compare Caesar's superstitions here with those of I, 2. Why do you think Shakespeare makes so much of them in the
2. Is it Calpurnia or the report from the augurers that determines Caesar to remain at home? Give reasons for your decision.
3. What opinion do you form of Calpurnia? Do you like her as well as Portia? Contrast the two.
4. What are the arguments of Decius Brutus to induce Caesar to "come forth"?
5. What do you think of Caesar's sudden change of mind as to the augurers' warning? Is it flattery alone that wins him?
6. How do you account for Calpurnia's silence while Decius is persuading Caesar to come to the Senate?
7. How would you have Calpurnia look and act when Caesar decides to go forth?
8. Does Decius Brutus impress you as a heroic, noble-spirited man in this scene? Can you defend him for his deception?
9. Do Caesar's words and actions in this scene raise him or lower him in your estimation?
10. Are your sympathies at this point with Caesar or the conspirators? Give your reasons in detail.
Shakespeare's Source ... In Plutarch we find: "Then going to bed the same night, as his manner was, and lying with his wife Calpurnia, all the windows and doors of his chamber flying open, the noise awoke him, and made him afraid when he saw such light; but more, when he heard his wife Calpurnia, being fast asleep, weep and sigh, and put forth many fumbling lamentable speeches: for she dreamed that Caesar was slain.... Caesar rising in the morning, she prayed him, if it were possible, not to go out of the doors that day, but to adjourn the session of the Senate until another day. And if that he made no reckoning of her dream, yet that he would search further of the soothsayers by their sacrifices, to know what should happen him that day. Thereby it seemed that Caesar did likewise fear or suspect somewhat, because his wife Calpurnia until that time was never given to any fear and superstition; and that then he saw her so troubled in mind with this dream she had. But much more afterwards, when the soothsayers having sacrificed many beasts one after another, told him that none did like them: then he determined to send Antonius to adjourn the session of the Senate."
Did You Know? ... "The Roman people were specially yearning to avenge
the slaughter of Marcus Crassus and his army by the Parthians,
and CÃ¦sar was at this time preparing an expedition against
them. But a Sibylline oracle was alleged, that Parthia could
only be conquered by a king; and it was proposed to invest
CÃ¦sar with the royal title and authority over the foreign
subjects of the state. It is agreed on all hands that, if his
enemies did not originate this proposal, they at least
craftily urged it on, in order to make him odious, and
exasperate the people against him. To the same end, they had
for some time been plying the arts of extreme sycophancy,
heaping upon him all possible honors, human and divine, hoping
thereby to kindle such a fire of envy as would consume him." (Henry Norman Hudson)