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Julius Caesar

ACT I SCENE IRome. A street.
Enter FLAVIUS, MARULLUS, and certain Commoners.
FLAVIUSHence! home, you idle creatures get you home:
Is this a holiday? what! know you not,
Being mechanical, you ought not walk
Upon a labouring day without the sign
Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou? 5
First CommonerWhy, sir, a carpenter.
MARULLUSWhere is thy leather apron and thy rule?
What dost thou with thy best apparel on?
You, sir, what trade are you? 9
Second CommonerTruly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but,
as you would say, a cobbler.
MARULLUSBut what trade art thou? answer me directly.
Second CommonerA trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe
conscience; which is, indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles. 15
MARULLUSWhat trade, thou knave? thou naughty knave, what trade?
Second CommonerNay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me: yet,
if you be out, sir, I can mend you. 18
MARULLUSWhat meanest thou by that? mend me, thou saucy fellow!
Second CommonerWhy, sir, cobble you.
FLAVIUSThou art a cobbler, art thou? 22
Second CommonerTruly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl: I
meddle with no tradesman’s matters, nor women’s
matters, but with awl. I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon
to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I
recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon
neat’s leather have gone upon my handiwork. 28
FLAVIUSBut wherefore art not in thy shop today?
Why dost thou lead these men about the streets?
Second CommonerTruly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself
into more work. But, indeed, sir, we make holiday,
to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph. 33
MARULLUSWherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome, 35
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climb’d up to walls and battlements, 40
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney-tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome:
And when you saw his chariot but appear, 45
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire? 50
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood? Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees, 55
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.
FLAVIUSGo, go, good countrymen, and, for this fault,
Assemble all the poor men of your sort;
Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears 60

Into the channel, till the lowest stream

Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.
Exeunt all the Commoners.
See whether their basest metal be not moved;
They vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness.
Go you down that way towards the Capitol; 65
This way will I disrobe the images,
If you do find them deck’d with ceremonies.
MARULLUSMay we do so?
You know it is the feast of Lupercal.
FLAVIUSIt is no matter; let no images 70
Be hung with Caesar’s trophies. I’ll about,
And drive away the vulgar from the streets:
So do you too, where you perceive them thick.
These growing feathers pluck’d from Caesar’s wing
Will make him fly an ordinary pitch, 75
Who else would soar above the view of men
And keep us all in servile fearfulness.

Next: Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 1

From Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.

ACT I. In the First Folio The Tragedie of Julius Cæsar is divided into acts but not into scenes, though ‘Scoena (so spelled in the Folios) Prima’ is given here after ‘Actus Primus.’–over the stage. This, the Folio stage direction, suggests a mob.

3. Being mechanical: being mechanics. Shakespeare often uses adjectives with the sense of plural substantives. Cf. ‘subject’ in Hamlet, I, i, 72. Twice in North’s Plutarchoccurs “base mechanical people.”– ought not walk. See Abbott, § 349.

4-5. Shakespeare transfers to ancient Rome the English customs and usages of his own time. In Porter and Clarke’s ‘First Folio’ Julius Cæsar, it is mentioned that Shakespeare’s uncle Henry, a farmer in Snitterfield, according to a court order of October 25, 1583, was fined “viii d for not havinge and wearinge cappes on Sondayes and hollydayes.”

9. You. On ‘you’ as distinct from ‘thou,’ see Abbott,§ 232.

10. in respect of: in comparison with. So in The Psalter (Book of Common Prayer), xxxix, 6. Cf. Hamlet, V, ii, 120.

11. cobbler: This word was used of a coarse workman, or a bungler, in any mechanical trade. So the Cobbler’s answer does not give the information required, though it contains a quibble.

12. directly: in a straightforward manner, without evasion.

15. soles: The First Folio spelling, ‘soules,’ brings out the pun. This ‘immemorial quibble,’ as Craik calls it, is found also in The Merchant of Venice, IV, i, 123: “Not on thy sole, but on thy soul.”

16. Modern editors give this speech to Marullus, but the Folio arrangement is more natural and dramatic, the two Tribunes alternately rating the people, as Knight puts it, like two smiths smiting on the same anvil.

17-18. A quibble upon two common meanings of ‘out’–(1) ‘at variance,’ as in “Launcelot and I are out,” The Merchant of Venice, III, v, 34; and (2) as in ‘out at heels,’ or ‘out at toes.’

25. The text of the First Folio needs no emendation. It is good prose and involves a neat pun.

26. proper: goodly, handsome. This word has often this meaning in Elizabethan literature, and is still so used in provincial England. Cf. The Tempest, II, ii, 63;Hebrews (King James version), xi, 23; Burns’s The Jolly Beggars: “And still my delight is in proper young men.”

27. trod upon neat’s-leather: This expression and “as proper a man as” are repeated in the second scene of the second act of The Tempest.–neat’s-leather: ox-hide. ‘Neat’ is Anglo-Saxon neát, ‘ox,’ ‘cow,’ ‘cattle,’ and is still used in ‘neat-herd,’ ‘neat’s-foot oil.’ See The Winter’s Tale, I, ii, 125. The form ‘nowt’ is still in common use in the North of England and the South of Scotland. Cf. Burns’s The Twa Dogs: “To thrum guitars an’ fecht wi nowte.”

39. Many a time and oft: This form of emphasis occurs also in The Merchant of Venice, I, iii, 107. Cf. Timon of Athens, III, i, 25.

47. That: so that. For the omission of ‘so’ before ‘that,’ see Abbott, § 283.–her. In Latin usage rivers are masculine, and ‘Father’ is a common appellation of ‘Tiber.’ In Elizabethan literature Drayton generally makes rivers feminine, while Spenser tends to make them masculine.

48. To hear: at hearing. A gerundive use of the infinitive.–replication: echo, repetition (Lat. replicare, to roll back).

51. Is this a day to pick out for a holiday?

53. The reference is to the great battle of Munda, in Spain, which took place in March of the preceding year, B.C. 45. Cæsar was now celebrating his fifth triumph, which was in honor of his final victory over the Pompeian, or conservative, faction. Cnæus and Sextus, the two sons of Pompey the Great, were leaders in that battle, and Cnæus perished. “And because he had plucked up his race by the roots, men did not think it meet for him to triumph so for the calamities of his country.”–Plutarch, Julius Cæsar.

57. “It is evident from the opening scene, that Shakespeare, even in dealing with classical subjects, laughed at the classic fear of putting the ludicrous and sublime into juxtaposition. After the low and farcical jests of the saucy cobbler, the eloquence of Marullus ‘springs upwards like a pyramid of fire.'”–Campbell.

61-62. Till the river rises from the extreme low-water mark to the extreme high-water mark.

63. where: whether. As in V, iv, 30, the ‘where’ of the Folios represents the monosyllabic pronunciation of this word common in the sixteenth century. In Shakespeare’s verse the ‘th’ between two vowels, as in ‘brother,’ ‘other,’ ‘whither,’ is frequently mute.–basest metal.–The Folio spelling is ‘mettle,’ and the word here may connote ‘spirit,’ ‘temper.’ If it be taken literally, the reference may be to ‘lead.’ Cf. ‘base lead,’ The Merchant of Venice, II, ix, 19. In this case the meaning may be that even these men, though as dull and heavy as lead, have yet the sense to be tongue-tied with shame at their conduct. ‘Mettle’ occurs again in I, ii, 293; ‘metal’ (First Folio, ‘mettle’) in I, ii, 306.

66. images: These images were the busts and statues of Cæsar, ceremoniously decked with scarfs and badges in honor of his triumph.

67. ceremonies: ceremonial symbols, festal ornaments. Cf. ‘trophies’ in l. 71 and ‘scarfs’ in I, ii, 282. Shakespeare employs the word in the same way, as an abstract term used for the concrete thing, in Henry V, IV, i, 109; and, in the singular, inMeasure for Measure, II, ii, 59. “After that, there were set up images of Cæsar in the city, with diadems on their heads like kings. Those the two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, went and pulled down.”–Plutarch, Julius Cæsar.

69. Lupercal: The Lupercalia, originally a shepherd festival, were held in honor of Lupercus, the Roman Pan, on the 15th of February, the month being named fromFebruus, a surname of the god. Lupercus was, primarily, the god of shepherds, said to have been so called because he protected the flocks from wolves. His wife Luperca was the deified she-wolf that suckled Romulus. The festival, in its original idea, was concerned with purification and fertilization.

71. Cæsar’s trophies: These are the scarfs and badges mentioned in note on l. 66, as appears from ll. 281-282 in the next scene, where it is said that the Tribunes “for pulling scarfs off Cæsar’s images, are put to silence.”

72. the vulgar: the common people. So in Love’s Labour’s Lost, I, ii, 51; Henry V, IV, vii, 80.

75. pitch: A technical term in falconry, denoting the height to which a hawk or falcon flies. Cf. I Henry VI, II, iv, 11: “Between two hawks, which flies the higher pitch.”


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