Julius Caesar Essay

The era of Julius Caesar was a time when many people’s feelings toward the
government began to change. This was one of the first times in Roman history
when people began to question the power of their ruler. In the play, The Tragedy
of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, we see a brief picture of this Roman
life during the time of the First Triumvirate. In this snap shot, many
unfortunate things occur as a result of these strong feelings towards the
government of that time. 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, and exists as an important, deciding factor in the events and
outcome of the play itself. The setting of the first scene of the play is based
upon superstition. The Feast of Lupercal 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
mysterious sooth-sayers, who are supposedly given the power to predict the
future, roam the streets of Rome. 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 The Tragedy of Julius
Caesar, and a significant force throughout the entire course of the play. Before
the play fully unravels, we see other signs of Caesar’s tragic end. Aside from
the sooth-sayer’s warning, we 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 Calpurnia 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 Calpurnia 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 Calpurnia 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 countryside, 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 two of the conspirators, Titanius and
Brutus’ double suicide. The play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, by William
Shakespeare, clearly reveals how important superstition was to the people of
Rome at the time of Caesar, and to the play itself. Superstition was used by the
people of Rome to somehow change the unfortunate occurrences that inevitably
waited for them in the future. The Romans, with their government in a state of
turmoil, wanted to believe that they were somehow in control of their destiny
and the unfortunate happenings that could occur, when in fact, they were not.

Essential in human existence is the need to believe one has control over one’s
own future. To compensate for their helplessness in their fate, the Romans used
superstition. With superstition intertwined throughout the entire play, we can
reasonably conclude that this irrational belief in why certain events occur and
how to avoid them, is what led to Caesar’s demise and eventual avengement.

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“This was the noblest Roman of them all…. His life was gentle, and the
elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world,
?This was a man!'”


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