Is Shakespeare's Portrayal of the Common People of Rome Realistic? Essay

Is Shakespeare’s portrayal of the common people of Rome realistic? Why did the common people of Rome kill Cinna the poet? Shakespeare’s portrayal of the common people of Rome is realistic since he shows how people act when they are part of a crowd. The image of disordered society also influences the act of Rome populace since there are no rules. Shakespeare realized that people tend to follow the crowd; therefore, he uses this point to exemplify mob mentality which is prevalent throughout the play.

In Act I, the commoners are cheering for Caesar after the defeat of Pompey, Marullus, a tribune, reminds them of how they had similarly cheered for Pompey in the same streets. The people once wait “with patient expectation, to see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome” (I. i. 42-43) This shows how the crowed seems to be easily swayed in their allegiance. This illustrates how fickle the people are and how they are able to quickly change loyalties to whoever is in power. Not much has changed in modern times.

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Most people still tend to follow whoever is in charge because they feel it is safer to stick with what everybody else is doing. This is an example of mob mentality. Mark Antony understands this fact about the people and uses it to his advantage when the conspirators later assassinate Caesar. The commoners’ new loyalty to Caesar is similar to the ease with which Cassius convinces Brutus (with no real evidence) that Caesar wants to be king and should therefore be murdered. This is another example of mob mentality.

In Act III, Scene II, Brutus is the first to speak to the crowd after the death of Caesar. Although Shakespeare portrays the commoners of Rome as people who can be easily persuaded, he also shows how they are reasonable. The crowd decides that they will listen to Brutus before deciding on anything. One commoner yells out, “I will hear Brutus speak. “ while another says “…When severally we hear them rendered. ” Brutus then speaks to the commoners and explains why Caesar had to be killed for the good of Rome. He manages to convince them that Caesar was too ambitious and would have ruined Rome.

The people, with their minds made up, begin to chant that they want Brutus to be the new ruler, forgetting all about how they’d recently been singing Caesar’s praises. They call Caesar out as a tyrant and that “… We are blest that Rome is rid of him. ” This lasts until Antony speaks. Antony is a far better judge of human nature than Brutus and he uses that to his advantage. He tells the crowd of Caesar’s good works and his concern for the people. Within minutes, Antony manages to turn the crowd against Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators, once again demonstrating the fickleness of the crowd.

The scene at the beginning of Act I where Marullus and Flavius reprimand the commoners for being fickle foreshadows the events of Act III. Antony’s speech causes the people of Rome to become enraged. Brutus first sways them to the plight of the conspirators, but Antony manages to convince them to riot in the end. They become worked up and eager to cause violence. This causes them to kill the poet Cinna in Act III, Scene III. Cinna is in the wrong place at the wrong time. The mob demonstrates an act of herd behaviour, which is when individuals in a group act together without planned directions.

They ask Cinna for his name and after learning what it is, they immediately attack him even Cinna explains that he is Cinna the poet, not Cinna the conspirator. The crowd, hungry for blood, kill the innocent poet anyway, explaining that they should. This shows how the crowd, in the heat of the moment, acts irrationally. They realise that he is the wrong Cinna, but they are so enraged, they slay him anyway. Still driven by fury, the commoners then decide to torch the homes of Brutus, Cassius, Decius Brutus, Casca and Ligarius.

In the play Julius Caesar, Shakespeare uses scenes to comment on the nature of mob mentality. The scenes where the crowd is easily persuaded to switch allegiance is a realistic portrayal of the common people of Rome. Today, people are still as easily convinced to change their minds. The scene where Cinna the poet is killed shows a juxtaposition of both violence and irrational thought. Violence in that they kill an innocent man, and irrational thought for the completely unjustified excuse for doing so. This insight into the phenomena of mob mentality is accurate and still rings true in modern times.


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