Shakespeare's Julius Caesar - Casca meets Cicero to tell of omens
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Julius Caesar

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ACT I SCENE III The same. A street. 
 Thunder and lightning. Enter from opposite sides, CASCA, with his sword drawn, and CICERO. 
CICERO Good even, Casca: brought you Caesar home? 
 Why are you breathless? and why stare you so? 
CASCA Are not you moved, when all the sway of earth 
 Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
 I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds 5 
 Have rived the knotty oaks, and I have seen 
 The ambitious ocean swell and rage and foam, 
 To be exalted with the threatening clouds: 
 But never till to-night, never till now,
 Did I go through a tempest dropping fire. 10 
 Either there is a civil strife in heaven, 
 Or else the world, too saucy with the gods, 
 Incenses them to send destruction. 
CICERO Why, saw you any thing more wonderful?
CASCA A common slave--you know him well by sight-- 15 
 Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn 
 Like twenty torches join'd, and yet his hand, 
 Not sensible of fire, remain'd unscorch'd.

 Besides--I ha' not since put up my sword--
 Against the Capitol I met a lion, 20 
 Who glared upon me, and went surly by, 
 Without annoying me: and there were drawn 
 Upon a heap a hundred ghastly women, 
 Transformed with their fear; who swore they saw
 Men all in fire walk up and down the streets. 25 
 And yesterday the bird of night did sit 
 Even at noon-day upon the market-place, 
 Hooting and shrieking. When these prodigies 
 Do so conjointly meet, let not men say
 'These are their reasons; they are natural;' 30 
 For, I believe, they are portentous things 
 Unto the climate that they point upon. 
CICERO Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time: 
 But men may construe things after their fashion,
 Clean from the purpose of the things themselves. 35 
 Come Caesar to the Capitol to-morrow? 
CASCA He doth; for he did bid Antonius 
 Send word to you he would be there to-morrow. 
CICERO Good night then, Casca: this disturbed sky 39
 Is not to walk in. 
CASCA Farewell, Cicero. 
 Exit CICERO. 
 Enter CASSIUS. 
CASSIUS Who's there? 
CASCA A Roman. 
CASSIUS Casca, by your voice.
CASCA Your ear is good. Cassius, what night is this! 
CASSIUS A very pleasing night to honest men. 
CASCA Who ever knew the heavens menace so? 
CASSIUS Those that have known the earth so full of faults. 
 For my part, I have walk'd about the streets, 46
 Submitting me unto the perilous night, 
 And, thus unbraced, Casca, as you see, 
 Have bared my bosom to the thunder-stone; 
 And when the cross blue lightning seem'd to open 
 The breast of heaven, I did present myself
 Even in the aim and very flash of it. 
CASCA But wherefore did you so much tempt the heavens? 
 It is the part of men to fear and tremble, 
 When the most mighty gods by tokens send 55 
 Such dreadful heralds to astonish us.
CASSIUS You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life 
 That should be in a Roman you do want, 
 Or else you use not. You look pale and gaze 
 And put on fear and cast yourself in wonder, 60 
 To see the strange impatience of the heavens:
 But if you would consider the true cause 
 Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts, 
 Why birds and beasts from quality and kind, 
 Why old men fool and children calculate, 65 
 Why all these things change from their ordinance
 Their natures and preformed faculties 
 To monstrous quality,--why, you shall find 
 That heaven hath infused them with these spirits, 
 To make them instruments of fear and warning 70 
 Unto some monstrous state.
 Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man 
 Most like this dreadful night, 
 That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars 
 As doth the lion in the Capitol, 75 
 A man no mightier than thyself or me
 In personal action, yet prodigious grown 
 And fearful, as these strange eruptions are. 
CASCA 'Tis Caesar that you mean; is it not, Cassius? 
CASSIUS Let it be who it is: for Romans now 80 
 Have thews and limbs like to their ancestors;
 But, woe the while! our fathers' minds are dead, 
 And we are govern'd with our mothers' spirits; 
 Our yoke and sufferance show us womanish. 
CASCA Indeed, they say the senators tomorrow 85 
 Mean to establish Caesar as a king;
 And he shall wear his crown by sea and land, 
 In every place, save here in Italy. 
CASSIUS I know where I will wear this dagger then; 
 Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius: 90 
 Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
 Therein, ye gods, you tyrants do defeat: 
 Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass, 
 Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron, 
 Can be retentive to the strength of spirit; 95 
 But life, being weary of these worldly bars,
 Never lacks power to dismiss itself. 
 If I know this, know all the world besides, 
 That part of tyranny that I do bear 
 I can shake off at pleasure. 
 Thunder still 
CASCA So can I:
 So every bondman in his own hand bears 
 The power to cancel his captivity. 
CASSIUS And why should Caesar be a tyrant then? 
 Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf, 
 But that he sees the Romans are but sheep: 105
 He were no lion, were not Romans hinds. 
 Those that with haste will make a mighty fire 
 Begin it with weak straws: what trash is Rome, 
 What rubbish and what offal, when it serves 
 For the base matter to illuminate 110
 So vile a thing as Caesar! But, O grief, 
 Where hast thou led me? I perhaps speak this 
 Before a willing bondman; then I know 
 My answer must be made. But I am arm'd, 
 And dangers are to me indifferent. 115
CASCA You speak to Casca, and to such a man 
 That is no fleering tell-tale. Hold, my hand: 
 Be factious for redress of all these griefs, 
 And I will set this foot of mine as far 
 As who goes farthest.
CASSIUS There's a bargain made. 120 
 Now know you, Casca, I have moved already 
 Some certain of the noblest-minded Romans 
 To undergo with me an enterprise 
 Of honourable-dangerous consequence;
 And I do know, by this, they stay for me 125 
 In Pompey's porch: for now, this fearful night, 
 There is no stir or walking in the streets; 
 And the complexion of the element 
 In favour's like the work we have in hand,
 Most bloody, fiery, and most terrible. 130 
CASCA Stand close awhile, for here comes one in haste. 
CASSIUS 'Tis Cinna; I do know him by his gait; 
 He is a friend. 
 Enter CINNA. 
 Cinna, where haste you so?
CINNA To find out you. Who's that? Metellus Cimber? 
CASSIUS No, it is Casca; one incorporate 135 
 To our attempts. Am I not stay'd for, Cinna? 
CINNA I am glad on 't. What a fearful night is this! 
 There's two or three of us have seen strange sights.
CASSIUS Am I not stay'd for? tell me. 
CINNA Yes, you are. 
 O Cassius, if you could 140 
 But win the noble Brutus to our party-- 
CASSIUS Be you content: good Cinna, take this paper,
 And look you lay it in the praetor's chair, 
 Where Brutus may but find it; and throw this 
 In at his window; set this up with wax 145 
 Upon old Brutus' statue: all this done, 
 Repair to Pompey's porch, where you shall find us.
 Is Decius Brutus and Trebonius there? 
CINNA All but Metellus Cimber; and he's gone 
 To seek you at your house. Well, I will hie, 150 
 And so bestow these papers as you bade me. 
CASSIUS That done, repair to Pompey's theatre.
 Exit CINNA. 
 Come, Casca, you and I will yet ere day 
 See Brutus at his house: three parts of him 
 Is ours already, and the man entire 
 Upon the next encounter yields him ours. 
CASCA O, he sits high in all the people's hearts:
 And that which would appear offence in us, 
 His countenance, like richest alchemy, 
 Will change to virtue and to worthiness. 
CASSIUS Him and his worth and our great need of him 
 You have right well conceited. Let us go,
 For it is after midnight; and ere day 163 
 We will awake him and be sure of him. 

Next: Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 3
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.



Scene 3

In the preceding scene we saw Cassius sound Brutus' feelings concerning the growth of Caesar's power in the state, and learned from his final soliloquy the result of his observations,
Well, Brutus, thou art noble, yet I see . . .
The third scene shows Cassius rapidly and with simple means winning Casca, and planning with Casca and Cinna the subtler devices which shall appeal to the moral sense of Brutus.

The previous scene took place on February 15th. A month has passed, and now it is the evening before the 15th of March.

1. brought you Caesar home? Did you escort Caesar home?

3. the sway of earth: the balanced swing, or regular movement of the earth; the established order of nature.

6. rived: split, cleaved. The form riven also is in use. In Cooper's "Deerslayer" there is an Indian chief named Rivenoak.

8. to be exalted, etc., so as to rise as high as the threatening clouds. In "The Merchant of Venice" the Prince of Morocco speaks of
The watery kingdom, whose ambitious head
Spits in the face of heaven.
11. civil strife in heaven: civil war among the gods.

12. too saucy with: too insolent towards the gods.

13. destruction. The metre requires four syllables, -- de-struc-ti-on. At the end of a line it is not uncommon to find ion treated as two syllables, i-on.

14. more wonderful. That is, "more wonderful than this storm you have just been describing," or possibly Cicero may simply mean "more wonderful than usual." Which do you prefer?

15-27. These portents, or prodigies as Casca calls them, are all given in Plutarch's life of Caesar. Compare the two versions. Which do you prefer, the prose or the poetry?

19. I ha' not since, etc. "You see, I still have my sword drawn." (Cf. stage directions at opening of scene.)

20. Against: opposite.

21. Who. Shakespeare frequently uses "who" to refer to inanimate objects and animals, just as he uses "which " sometimes when referring to persons. The relative pronouns had not become fixed in his time. (In the Bible of 1611 we find "Our Father, which art," etc.) surly: in a gruff or haughty manner. The word is an adjective and must not be confused with the adverbs surely or sourly, (There is an adverb surlily.)

23. Upon a heap: in a crowd or mob.

26. the bird of night. This, of course, is the owl, which, like the crow and the raven, has always been considered a bird of bad omen. Can you account for these strange superstitions by the habits, notes, and color of these birds? Just before the murder of Duncan in "Macbeth" Lady Macbeth says:
It was the owl that shrieked, the fatal bellman,
Which gives the stern'st good-night.
29. conjointly meet: come together, happen at the same time.

30. These are, etc. That is, "Such and such are their causes."

31. portentous things: signs and omens.

32. the climate: the region, country, -- as we use the "clime."

33. strange-disposed: strangely ordered. Here again is an adjective where we should use an adverb. (Cf. "went surly by" in line 21 above.)

34. construe. See note on line 45 of the previous scene.

35. Clean from: completely away from, -- as we say, "I clean forgot it."

39. Is not to walk in. That is, is not fit or suitable to walk under. Some explain "sky" as meaning "weather," "atmosphere," though this is not necessary.

42. what night is this! We should say, "What a night this is!"

47. Submitting me: exposing myself.

48. unbraced: "with my doublet unfastened," -- my coat unbuttoned. Shakespeare clothes his Romans in the English clothes of his own day. It is evident from this passage, and many others throughout the play, that actors in 1600 wore the costume of their own day, and did not attempt to dress according to the parts they played.

49. thunder-stone: the thunderbolt which many people still believe falls with lightning.

50. cross blue lightning: the zigzag flash, etc. How blue?

58. you do want, etc.: you lack, or make no use of them.

60. put on fear, etc.: suffer fear and throw yourself into a state of wonder. Thus we say, "I was thrown into confusion."

63-66. Why. After each why we must supply some such expression as "we see."

64. from quality and kind. That is, why we see birds and beasts change their natures.

65. old men fool and children calculate: why old men act like fools and children think wisely, -- that is, why everything is upside down.

66. their ordinance: what they were ordained or made to be.

67. preformed faculties: faculties created for special purposes.

68. To monstrous quality: to a strange, abnormal kind of thing. why. This is the turning-point of this long involved sentence, and is about equivalent to now, well then.

71. some monstrous state: some fearful state of affairs; some terrible calamity in the government.

Cassius' long, complicated sentence (62-71) may be summed up briefly as follows: "These strange sights, these things contrary to nature, are a sign and warning from heaven."

77. prodigious: portentous, of the nature of a prodigy, -- as generally in Shakespeare.

81. thews: muscles.

82. woe the while! woe the time! alas the day!

83. with our mothers' spirits. That is, by feminine rather than masculine impulses or feelings.

84. Our yoke and sufferance: our endurance of tyranny. A good illustration of hendiadys, a figure of speech, which you should look up in a large dictionary. {A figure of speech in which two words connected by a conjunction are used to express a single idea instead of an adjective. See Twelfth Night, shameful state. - Shakespeare Online}.

90. Cassius from bondage, etc. Cassius will free himself from slavery, as he says later, by killing himself.

95. Can be retentive, etc. Can repress, or confine, man's spiritual strength.

97. In the last act we shall see presented in actual deed "this Roman idea of taking one's own life when it became unbearable."

98. know all the world besides: let all the world know too.

101. bondman: slave, "bound-man."

108. begin it with weak straws. "Just as men start a huge fire with worthless straws or shavings, so Caesar is using the degenerate Romans of his time to set the whole world ablaze with his own glory." (Hudson.)

109. offal: worthless, waste stuff.

114. My answer must be made. I must answer for my words.

117. fleering: deceitful, treacherously grinning. Hold, my hand: Here, take my hand.

118. Be factious: be active in forming a party, a faction, for redress of all these grievances.

123. undergo: undertake, -- as often in Shakespeare.

124. honorable-dangerous. A similar compound adjective occurred in line 33 above, and later we find "high-sighted" and "honey-heavy."

125. by this: by this time.

126. Pompey's porch. The magnificent theatre of Pompey, where the statue of the great Roman general stood, was erected in 55 B.C. in the Campus Martins, or Field of Mars. The porch was an elaborate portico connected with the theatre.

128. the complexion of the element: the appearance of the heavens.

129. In favor's like: in aspect, or looks, is like the work, etc. (See note on "your outward favor," I, 2, 91.)

135. incorporate: closely united: heart and soul in sympathy with our efforts.

137. I am glad on't. Overlooking Cassius' last question Cinna expresses his pleasure at hearing that Casca has joined their conspiracy. on't: of it. In I, 2, 71 Cassius said, "Be not jealous on me."

138. There's two or three. The grammar of our language was less rigidly fixed in Shakespeare's time than it is today. Thus we find in this play many instances of singular verbs with plural subjects, as just below in line 148, and again in line 155. Later we find "There is tears for his love." As a matter of fact, in conversation today even educated persons use such expressions as "There's several reasons" and "There's six or eight of us."

143. praetor's chair. The praetor was a city magistrate, annually elected, who watched over the administration of justice. He was distinguished by the presence of lictors, by the toga, and by the curule chair. Marcus Brutus had been made praetor by Caesar in 44 B.C., or about two years before the conspiracy.

146. old Brutus' statue. This was Lucius Junius Brutus, to whom Cassius referred in I, 2, 159-161.
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.
It is interesting to see how closely Shakespeare followed Plutarch's "Life of Brutus" here:

"For under the image of his ancestor Junius Brutus (that drave the kings out of Rome) they wrote: O, that it pleased the gods thou wert now alive, Brutus! and again, That thou wert here among us now! His tribunal, or chair, where he gave audience during the time he was Praetor, was full of such bills: "Brutus, thou art asleep, and art not Brutus indeed."

148. Is. See note on "There's two or three," line 138 above.

150. hie: hasten, hurry, -- often with a pronoun as in "The Merchant," "Hie thee, gentle Jew."

152. Pompey's theatre. See note on "Pompey's porch" in line 126 above.

154, 155. three parts of him is. See note on "There's two or three" in line 138 above. Such expressions as this were really not bad grammar in Shakespeare's English.

159. his countenance: his approval, his countenancing support. alchemy. This was the art by which men for centuries tried to turn the base metals, such as lead and iron, into gold. From the Greek Midas, who was able to turn everything he touched into gold, down to modern times, literature is full of references to alchemy and the alchemist.

162. You have right well conceited: you have formed an excellent idea of Brutus and our great need of him.

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. < >.

Scene Questions for Review

microsoft images 1. Compare the Cassius of this scene with the Cassius of Scene 2, especially the manner of his winning Casca and Brutus.

2. What would probably be the effect upon the audience of the thunder and lightning during this scene? Of the "portentous things" described by Casca?

3. What are some of the superstitions associated with the owl? (Line 26.)

4. What does the last speech of Casca (157-160) add to our knowledge of Brutus?

5. From what you now have seen of Cassius, describe his appearance in some detail.

6. How far has the plot been developed by this first act?

7. In what ways has Shakespeare aroused your interest and curiosity?

8. Judging by this first act, what part would you assign to the leading actor in your company of players? What to the next?


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any thing more wonderful (14) ... "This may be interpreted as 'anything that was more wonderful,' or 'anything more that was wonderful.' The former seems the true interpretation. For the 'wonderful' things that Casca describes, Shakespeare was indebted to the following passage from Plutarch's Julius Caesar, which North in the margin entitles "Predictions and foreshews of Cæsar's death": "Certainly destiny may easier be foreseen than avoided, considering the strange and wonderful signs that were said to be seen before Cæsar's death. For, touching the fires in the element, and spirits running up and down in the night, and also the solitary birds to be seen at noondays sitting in the great market-place, are not all these signs perhaps worth the noting, in such a wonderful chance as happened? But Strabo the philosopher writeth, that divers men were seen going up and down in fire, and furthermore, that there was a slave of the soldiers that did cast a marvellous burning flame out of his hand, insomuch as they that saw it thought he had been burnt; but when the fire was out, it was found he had no hurt. Cæsar self also, doing sacrifice unto the gods, found that one of the beasts which was sacrificed had no heart: and that was a strange thing in nature, how a beast could live without a heart." This passage is worth special attention, as Shakespeare uses many of the details again in II, ii, 17-24, 39-40. Cf. Hamlet, I, i, 113-125." (Henry Norman Hudson)


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