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Julius Caesar

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.
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.
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. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.

SCENE III. Rowe added “with his sword drawn” to the Folio stage direction, basing the note on l. 19.
A month has passed since the machinery of the conspiracy was set in motion. The action in the preceding scene took place on the day of the Lupercalia; the action in this is on the eve of the Ides of March.

1. brought: accompanied. Cf. Richard II, I, iv, 2.

3-4. sway of earth: established order. “The balanced swing of earth.”–Craik. “The whole weight or momentum of this globe.”–Johnson. In such a raging of the elements, it seems as if the whole world were going to pieces, or as if the earth’s steadfastness were growing ‘unfirm.’ “‘Unfirm’ is not firm; while ‘infirm’ is weak.”–Clar.

11-13: Either the gods are fighting among themselves, or else they are making war on the world for being overbearing in its attitude towards them. For Shakespeare’s use of ‘saucy,’ see Century.

13. destruction: Must be pronounced as a quadrisyllable.

14. any thing more wonderful: 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 Cæsar, 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.

21. Who: See Abbott, § 264.–glaz’d. Rowe’s change to ‘glar’d’ is usually adopted as the reading here, but ‘glaze’ is used intransitively in Middle English in the sense of ‘shine brilliantly,’ and Dr. Wright (Clar) says: “I am informed by a correspondent that the word ‘glaze’ in the sense of ‘stare’ is common in some parts of Devonshire, and that ‘glazing like a conger’ is a familiar expression in Cornwall.” See Murray for additional examples.


23. Upon a heap: together in a crowd. ‘Heap’ is often used in this sense in Middle English as it is colloquially to-day. The Anglo-Saxon héap almost always refers to persons. In Richard III, II, i, 53, occurs “princely heap.” So “Let us on heaps go offer up our lives” in Henry V, IV, v, 18.

26. the bird of night: The old Roman horror of the owl is well shown in this passage (spelling modernized) of Holland’s Pliny, quoted by Dr. Wright (Clar): “The screech-owl betokeneth always some heavy news, and is most execrable … in the presages of public affairs…. In sum, he is the very monster of the night…. There fortuned one of them to enter the very sanctuary of the Capitol, in that year when Sextus Papellio Ister and Lucius Pedanius were Consuls; whereupon, at the Nones of March, the city of Rome that year made general processions, to appease the wrath of the gods, and was solemnly purged by sacrifices.”

30. These: such and such. Cf. “these and these” in II, i, 31. Casca refers to the doctrine of the Epicureans, who were slow to believe that such pranks of the elements had any moral significance in them, or that moral causes had anything to do with them, and held that the explanation of them was to be sought for in the simple working of natural laws and forces. Shakespeare deals humorously with these views in All’s Well that Ends Well, II, iii, 1-6.

32. climate: region, country. So Richard II, IV, i, 130. Cf. Hamlet, I, i, 125: “Unto our climatures and countrymen.”

35. Clean: quite, completely. From the fourteenth century to the seventeenth ‘clean’ was often used in this sense, usually with verbs of removal and the like, and so it is still used colloquially. For ‘from’ without a verb of motion, see Abbott, § 158.

42. what: what a. For the omission of the indefinite article, common in Shakespeare, see Abbott, § 86. In the Folios the interrogation mark and the exclamation mark are often interchanged.

49. thunder-stone: thunder-bolt. It is still a common belief in Scotland and Ireland that a stone or bolt falls with lightning. Cf. Cymbeline, IV, ii, 271: “Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone.”

50. cross: zigzag. So in King Lear, IV, vii, 33-35:

To stand against the deep, dread-bolted thunder?
In the most terrible and nimble stroke
Of quick, cross lightning?

60. cast yourself in: throw yourself into a state of. In previous editions of Hudson’s Shakespeare Jervis’s conjecture ‘case’ for ‘cast’ was adopted. The change is unnecessary. Cf. Cymbeline, III, ii, 38: “Though forfeiters you cast in prison.”

63-68. The construction here is involved, and the grammar confused, but the meaning is clear enough. The general idea is that of elements and animals, and even human beings, acting in a manner out of or against their nature, or changing their natures and original faculties from the course in which they were ordained to move, to monstrous or unnatural modes of action.

64. from quality and kind: turn from their disposition and nature. Emerson and Browning use ‘quality’ (cf. l. 68) in this old sense of ‘disposition.’ ‘Kind,’ meaning ‘nature,’ is common in Shakespeare.

65. There seems no necessity for changing the reading of the Folios. This conjunction of old men, fools, and children is found in country sayings in England to-day. So in a Scottish proverb: “Auld fowks, fules, and bairns should never see wark half dune,” White’s reading was first suggested by Mitford.

67. preformed: originally created for some special purpose.

71. monstrous state: abnormal condition of things. ‘Enormous state’ occurs with probably the same general meaning in King Lear, II, ii, 176. As Cassius is an avowed Epicurean, it may seem out of character to make him speak thus. But he is here talking for effect, his aim being to kindle and instigate Casca into the conspiracy; and to this end he does not hesitate to say what he does not himself believe.

75. This reads as if a lion were kept in the Capitol. But the meaning probably is that Cæsar roars in the Capitol, like a lion. Perhaps Cassius has the idea of Cæsar’s claiming or aspiring to be among men what the lion is among beasts. Dr. Wright suggests that Shakespeare had in mind the lions kept in the Tower of London, “which there is reason to believe from indications in the play represented the Capitol to Shakespeare’s mind.” It is possible, too, that we have here a reference to the lion described by Casca in ll. 20-22.

77. prodigious: portentous. As in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, V, i, 419: “Never mole, hare lip, nor scar, Nor mark prodigious.”

81. thews: muscles. So in Hamlet, I, iii, 12, and 2 Henry IV, III, ii, 276. In Chaucer and Middle English the word means ‘manners,’ though in Layamon’s Brut (l. 6361), in the singular, it seems to mean ‘sinew’ or ‘strength.’ See Skeat for a suggestive discussion.

83. with: by. So in III, ii, 196. See Abbott, § 193.

107-108. The idea seems to be that, as men start a huge fire with worthless straws or shavings, so Cæsar is using the degenerate Romans of the time to set the whole world a-blaze with his own glory. Cassius’s enthusiastic hatred of “the mightiest Julius” is irresistibly delightful. For a good hater is the next best thing to a true friend; and Cassius’s honest gushing malice is surely better than Brutus’s stabbing sentimentalism.

112-115. The meaning is, Perhaps you will go and tell Cæsar all I have said about him, and then he will call me to account for it. Very well; go tell him; and let him do his worst. I care not.

117. Fleering: This word of Scandinavian origin seems to unite the senses of ‘grinning,’ ‘flattering’ (see Love’s Labour’s Lost, V, ii, 109, and Ben Jonson’s “fawn and fleer” in Volpone, III, i, 20), and ‘sneering,’ and so is just the right epithet for a telltale, who flatters you into saying that of another which you ought not to say, and then mocks you by going to that other and telling what you have said.–Hold, my hand:stay! here is my hand. As men clasp hands in sealing a bargain. In Rowe’s text the comma is omitted.

118. Be factious: be active. Or it may mean, ‘form a party,’ ‘join a conspiracy.’–griefs:grievances. The effect put for the cause. A common Shakespearian metonymy. Cf. III, ii, 211; IV, ii, 42, 46.

123. undergo: undertake. So in 2 Henry IV, I, iii, 54; The Winter’s Tale, II, iii, 164; IV, iv, 554.

125. by this: by this time. So in King Lear, IV, vi, 45.

126. Pompey’s porch: This was a spacious adjunct to the huge theater that Pompey had built in the Campus Martius, outside of the city proper; and there, as Plutarch says in Marcus Brutus, “was set up the image of Pompey, which the city had made and consecrated in honour of him, when he did beautify that part of the city with the theatre he built, with divers porches about it.” Here it was that Cæsar was stabbed to death; and though Shakespeare transfers the assassination to the Capitol, he makes Cæsar’s blood stain the statue of Pompey. See III, ii, 187, 188.

128. element: sky. Twice Shakespeare seems to poke fun at the way in which the Elizabethans overdid the use of ‘element’ in this sense, in Twelfth Night, III, i, 65, and in 2 Henry IV, IV, iii, 58.

129. favour: appearance. So in I, ii, 91. Johnson’s emendation, though pleonastic, makes least change upon the text of the Folios.

135. incorporate: closely united. Shakespeare uses this word nine times,–four times as an adjective and five times as a verb. With regard to the omission of -ed in participial forms, see Abbott, § 342.

143. in the prætor’s chair: “But for Brutus, his friends and countrymen, both by divers procurements and sundry rumours of the city, and by many bills[A] also, did openly call and procure him to do that he did. 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 Prætor, was full of such bills: ‘Brutus, thou art asleep, and art not Brutus indeed.'”–Plutarch, Marcus Brutus.

144. Brutus may but find it: only Brutus may find it.

148. For a discussion of singular verbs with plural subjects, see Abbott, § 333. Cf. l. 138, l. 155; III, ii, 26.–Decius Brutus. As indicated in the notes to the Dramatis Personæ, this should be ‘Decimus Brutus.’ Shakespeare found the form ‘Decius’ in North’s Plutarch, who translated from Amyot, in whose French version the blunder was originally made. Decimus Brutus is said to have been cousin to the other Brutus of the play. He had been one of Cæsar’s ablest, most favored, and most trusted lieutenants, and had particularly distinguished himself in his naval service at Venetia and Massilia. After the murder of Cæsar, he was found to be written down in his will as second heir.

159. countenance: support.–alchemy: the old ideal art of turning base metals into gold. So in Sonnets, XXXIII, 4: “Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy.” Cf.King John, III, i, 78.

162. conceited: formed an idea of, conceived, judged. ‘Conceit’ as a verb occurs again in III, i, 193, and in Othello, III, iii, 149.


How to cite the explanatory notes:Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.