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Reports & Essays: Literature - Shakespeare

"AND""OR"

Julius Caesar
By William Shakespeare In the play of Julius Caesar, we see a brief picture of Roman life during the time of the First Triumvirate. In this snap shot, we see many unfortunate things. Shakespeare gives us the idea that many people try to circumvent what the future holds, such as unfortunate things, by being superstitious. Superstition seems to play a role in the basic daily life of most Roman citizens. For instance, the setting of the first scene is based upon superstition, the Feast of Lupercal. This feast is in honor of the god Pan, the queen of fertility. During this time, infertile females are supposed to be able to procreate, and fertile ones are supposed to be able to bear more. It is also a supposed time of sexual glorification and happiness. Other scenes depict how throughout Rome, roaming the streets are mysterious sooth-sayers, who are supposedly given the power to predict the future. Dictating what is to come through terse tidbits, these people may also be looked upon as superstitious. In the opening scene, one sooth-sayer, old in his years, warns Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March," an admonition of Caesar's impending death. Although sooth-sayers are looked upon by many as insane out of touch lower classmen, a good deal of them, obviously including the sayer Caesar encountered, are indeed right on the mark. Since they lack any formal office or shop, and they predict forthcomings without fee, one can see quite easily why citizens would distrust their predictions. Superstition, in general elements such as the Feast of Lupercal, as well as on a personal level such as with the sooth-sayers, is an important factor in determining the events and the outcome of Julius Caesar, a significant force throughout the entire course of the play. Before the play fully unravels, we see a few of signs of Caesar's tragic end. Aside from the sooth-sayer's warning, we also see another sign during Caesar's visit with the Augerers, the latter day "psychics". They find "No heart in the beast", which they interpret as advice to Caesar that he should remain at home. Caesar brushes it off and thinks of it as a rebuke from the gods, meaning that he is a coward if he does not go out, and so he dismisses the wise advice as hearsay. However, the next morning, his wife Calphurnia wakes up frightened due to a horrible nightmare. She tells Caesar of a battle breaking out in the heart of Rome, "Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol," with Caesar painfully dying, such that "...The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes." Although Caesar realizes Calphurnia is truly concerned about his well-being, he seeks another interpretation, coming to the conclusion that the person who imagines the dream may not be the wisest one to interpret it's meaning. Later Caesar tells his faithful companion Decius about it, and he interprets it quite the contrary, "That it was a vision fair and fortunate," and indeed, today is an ideal day to go out, since this is the day "To give a crown to mighty Caesar." Perhaps Decius is implying here that today is a day where much appreciation and appraisal will be given to Caesar, surely not the endangerment of his well-being as Calphurnia interprets it. Caesar predictably agrees with him, as most citizens enjoy believing the more positive of two interpretations. After Caesar's assassination at the hand of Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators, Brutus and Cassius are chased into the country side, where we see a few superstitious signs of their forthcoming painful death in battle. In a dream, Brutus sees Caesar's "ghost", interpreted as an omen of his defeat. He also looks upon the ensign, and instead of the usual stock of eagles, ravens and kites replace them, construed as another sign of their loss at Phillipi. Not surprisingly, Caesar's death is avenged in the end, with the two of the conspirators' double suicide. As superstition is inter-twined within the basis of the entire play, we can reasonably conclude that it is because of this irrational belief of why certain events occur and how to avoid them, that Caesar is retired and eventually avenged. In the words of Caesar's devoted follower and companion Mark Antony, "His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to the world, 'This was a man!'"

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