What role does the mob have in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The high point in the play is Antony's funeral oration in Act 3, Scene 2, in which Antony succeeds in turning the Roman citizens against Brutus, Cassius, and the other assassins of Julius Caesar and causes the enraged mob to drive the conspirators out of Rome. Shakespeare needed to hire a bunch of extras to play the mob members, simply providing each man with something resembling a toga and instructing them to follow the lead of one or two members of his regular company who were professional actors. It is noteworthy that in order to make the best use of these extras, he wrote in two additional scenes in which a large body of plebians appears. One is at the very beginning where "certain Commoners" are confronted by the tribunes Flavius and Murellus and told to get off the streets (1.1.64). The other appearance of the mob members occurs in Act 3, Scene 3, when the innocent poet named Cinna is torn to pieces by the rampaging mob simply because he bears the same name as one of the conspirators (3.3.1-37). This scene is intended to show the irrational behavior of mobs in general as well as to illustrate dramatically how thoroughly Antony has enraged them with his funeral oration. Without the mob, Brutus and Cassius and the other conspirators would have remained in power in Rome and subsequent history might have been entirely different.

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florine | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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  The anonymous mob (first to fourth Plebeian. The fifth seems to have vanished into thin air...) is going to tear Cinna to pieces. Whatever his identity, whether he is the conspirator or not, the frenzied mob will destroy him. The innocent poet, as it were, is not so innocent since 1° he is a bachelor 2° He bears the same name as a conspirator (strangely enough, there are also two Caesars: Julius Caesar and Octavius, the future Roman Emperor bearing the name of Caesar too)3° He is a poet 4° "he makes bad verses."  For the mob, 3° and 4° are probably identical!! The poet is the scapegoat who is evacuated from the city and whose death brings back peace as the sacrificial violence marks the end of the crisis caused by the murder of Caesar. Throughout the play, the audience witnesses the almost methodical elimination of victims until the crisis has come to an end, with the death of Brutus, "the last of the Romans". 

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