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In Julius Caesar, what signs, omens, premonitions are evident in Act 2, Scene 2?

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h400 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 9, 2013 at 10:53 PM via iOS

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In Julius Caesar, what signs, omens, premonitions are evident in Act 2, Scene 2?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 11, 2013 at 2:38 AM (Answer #1)

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There are many mysterious and ominous signs, omens, and premonitions evident in Act 2, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar. Calpurnia describes some of them to her husband Caesar while attempting to dissuade him from leaving the safety of his home.

Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead;
Fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol;
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar! these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.

Calpurnia herself has been having bad dreams all night long. Caesar tells Decius Brutus:

Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home:
She dreamt to-night she saw my statua,
Which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts,
Did run pure blood: and many lusty Romans
Came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings, and portents,
And evils imminent; and on her knee
Hath begg'd that I will stay at home to-day.

Caesar has sent to have augurers determine whether he is in danger. A servant returns with their findinigs.

They would not have you to stir forth to-day.
Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
They could not find a heart within the beast.

Caesar seems reluctant to stay at home in spite of all the signs that would appear to be warning him to do so. He believes he will be offered the kingship of Rome that very day, and he is afraid that if he fails to show up, the senators will change their minds, possibly feeling insulted or persuaded that he does not really want it.

After the tremendous amount of foreshadowing, it might be thought that the actual assassination is anticlimactic. In Act 3, Scene 1, the only description of the actual stabbing is as follows:

CASCA first, then the other Conspirators and BRUTUS stab CAESAR


There have been two previous acts in which most of the dialogue has been about killing Caesar. When it finally happens, it is over quickly, and the conspirators are confused and disorganized after the event. It seems likely that Shakespeare wanted his big climactic scene to be Marc Antony's magnificent funeral oration and the subsequent mutiny of the Roman mob which turns the play completely around.

Shakespeare knew that action on the stage usually looks faked and unimpressive. A group of men stabbing Caesar with wooden swords and wooden daggers would be a letdown for the audience after all the foreshadowing and foreboding and discussion. Shakespeare's dramas depend on words, not actions. He must have realized that Antony's speech, as reported by Plutarch, was one of the most significant events in Roman history, and Shakespeare must have been eager to try his hand at recreating that speech in English and in iambic pentameter for his audience. All the premonitions and omens, the warnings to beware the Ideas of March, and all Calpurnia's dreams may have been beguiling the audience into thinking that the actual assassinatiion of Caesar, when it finally came, would be the great climax. Then, after disappointing them, Shakespeare had his Antony begin awkwardly and tentatively with his "Friends, Romans, Countrymen," leading into the most thrilling scene Shakespeare ever created.

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