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March 15, 44. B. C.---This is the day that Julius Caesar hopes that the Senate will crown him the emperor of Rome. Shakespeare’s drama Julius Caesar portrays the assassination of Caesar. In Act II, Scene ii, Caesar awakes to his wife Calpurnia’s screaming in her sleep.
During the night, there was a terrible storm. Caesar comments that nothing was peaceful. He remarks that Calpurnia had cried out that “Help, ho! They murder Caesar!”
Because of the unusual events of the night and morning, Caesar decides to send his servant to the augers or priests to sacrifice an animal and read its entrails which would give indications about the future.
Calpurnia comes into find Caesar getting ready to go to the Senate. As his wife, Calpurnia feels comfortable in telling the great Caesar not to go out of the house on this day. He has already received warnings about this day. Why take a chance?
Caesar in his arrogance tells his wife that he has never turned his back on his enemies. When he turns to face them, the threats run away.
Calpurnia tries again to persuade him not to go. She recounts what happened in the streets of Rome on the previous day. Someone has come to the house to tell about the things that happened.
- A lioness gave birth in the streets
- The dead have risen from their graves
- Soldiers on fire were fighting in the clouds in battle
- The soldier’s blood rained down on the city
- The noises of battle could be heard from the sky—horses and dying men
- Ghosts screeched through the streets
Calpurnia tells Caesar that she is afraid. The signs indicate that a great man is going to die.
The servant returns with the results of their prophecies:
They would not have you to stir forth today.
Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
They could not find a heart within the beast.
Caesar interprets the prophecy which means that the government is missing its leader. He must go and assume his place of leadership. After further discussion and for the sake of his wife’s well being, Caesar agrees not to go.
One of the conspirators comes to Caesar’s house to make sure that he is ready to go to the senate. Caesar tells him that he is not going. Decius questions Caesar about why he will not attend. This irritates Caesar; but he tells him his reasons:
He tells Decius that Calpurnia had a dream and that she asked him to stay at home. She recalled that she saw Caesar’s statue which had a hundred holes spouting blood. The Roman senators were bathing their hands in Caesar’s blood. Calpurnia took this as a sign that it would be dangerous for Caesar to go out today.
…On her knee
hath begg’d that I will stay at home today.
To make sure that Caesar comes to the Senate, the quick-witted Decius reinterprets the dream. He tells Caesar that this is a favorable dream. Caesar’s statue pouring out blood from the many pipes with smiling Romans bathing their hands in it signifies that Rome draws its life blood from the great Caesar. Many Romans will want to bathe their hands in this blood because of its healing powers.
Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck
Reviving blood, and that great men shall press
For tinctures, stains, relies, and cognizance.
This by Calpurnia’s dream is signified.
Immediately, the other conspirators arrive which encourages Caesar to join them. After their hospitality at Caesar’s house. They set out then for the assassination that changed the Roman world.
Calpurnia is the wife of Julius Caesar. She has a dream in which blood pours from a statue of her husband and the people of Roman wash their hands in it. She also a premonition that Caesar will die in her arms. Her dream is one of many omens in Shakespeare's play, harbingers of future tragic events, in this case, Caesar's death at the hands of his own people. She warns Caesar not to go to the Senate, but he ignores her warning and is murdered by Cassius, Brutus, and the rest of the conspirators.
Plutarch describes Calpurnia's dreams in his "Life of Julius Caesar," including the following:
After this, while he was sleeping as usual by the side of his wife, all the windows and doors of the chamber flew open at once, and Caesar, confounded by the noise and the light of the moon shining down upon him, noticed that Calpurnia was in a deep slumber, but was uttering indistinct words and inarticulate groans in her sleep; for she dreamed, as it proved, that she was holding her murdered husband in her arms and bewailing him.
Caesar's wife's dreams about her husband's assassination are only additional omens foreshadowing the actual event. Shakespeare relentlessly builds up suspense from the beginning of the play to the moment when the conspirators all close in on him and hack him to death. Shakespeare gladly used anything he could find in Plutarch to help him build suspense. Plutarch was the kind of historian who liked such anecdotes as the ones about Calpurnia's dreams. He collected them from whatever sources were available. They add a spice to Plutarch which is missing in much historical writing.
What is most interesting about Calpurnia's dreams, both as history and as drama, is the way in which they show how the unconscious mind can receive and process information which eludes the conscious mind. Psychologists have known for many years that there is such a thing as unconscious learning. Calpurnia undoubtedly sensed that there was something suspicious about the ways in which many of Caesar's visitors were behaving. A number of these men were concealing their guilty knowledge of what fate they had in store for Caesar. Women are credited with having "feminine intuition." Calpurnia must have intuitively picked up clues from men's glances, facial expressions, body language, and tones of voice which were so subtle she was not even conscious of perceiving them but which her unconscious mind remembered and translated into explicit dreams to sound a warning. No doubt the ancients, including Plutarch, would have viewed these dreams as messages from the gods, but Sigmund Freud explained that dreams originate in the human mind.
Calpurnia may have had other reasons for dreaming about her husband being assassinated. After all, she must have been aware of his ambitions, and she must have also been aware that he had many enemies in Rome. It would be simple logic to deduce that an attempt might be made on Caesar's life on the day when he expected to be crowned king. She may have been alarmed and suspicious just because everything looked so auspicious and everyone around Caesar was being so friendly.
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