In Act I of "Julius Caesar," what are the moods and loyalties of the Roman mob compared to other groups of people?

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boxergrad15 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I of this Shakespeare play, two Roman tribunes called Marullus and Flavius are rebuking the Roman commoners who've left their jobs for the day in order to attend a celebration of Julius Caesar's defeat of Pompey. Previously, Pompey had been the most popular military figure in Rome, with a large theatre and government building in Rome bearing his name and image to celebrate him in the greatest way. Caesar had always been a rival of Pompey's, though they had often collaborated for mutual endeavors. Caesar's armies became strong enough to overcome Pompey's forces, but Pompey was murdered before the civil war between the two armies had ended. The play begins with Caesar's triumphant return to Rome after this event, and many officials in Rome who viewed Caesar as a traitor for challenging Pompey were upset to see the commoners rejoicing in his victory.

Marullus admonishes the commoners in the streets with a stirring monologue:

"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,
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,
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?"
(Act I, scene i)

Marullus is begging the mob to remember that they once loved and celebrated Pompey even more than they're now celebrating Caesar, and he goes on to condemn them for their cruelty:

"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,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude."
(Act I, scene i)

With this, the commoners do seem changed, if only for a moment, sulking away as Marullus and Flavius plan to remove the banners celebrating Caesar from the public spaces. Later in the play, we learn that the two tribunes have been "put to silence" for this action, which is a clear indicator of where the power lies in Rome once Caesar arrives.

Susan Woodward eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the opening of Julius Caesar, the crowds are cheering Caesar's triumphant return to Rome after the defeat of Pompey.  Marullus and Flavius are reprimanding the crowd for their cheers because, not long ago, they were cheering just as loudly for Pompey when HE passed in the streets.  This illustrates how fickle the people are and how they are able to quickly change loyalties to whoever is in power.  Marullus and Flavius are tearing down the decorations that adorn the statues of Caesar because they are not afraid to speak out.  The general population, however, seems to welcome each new leader with open arms (and a holiday off from working...).  Mark Antony understands this fact about the people and uses it to his advantage when Caesar is later assassinated by the conspirators.  The first to speak to the crowd after the death of Caesar is Brutus, and he manages to convince them that Caesar was too ambitious and would have ruined Rome.  They begin to chant that they want Brutus to be the new ruler (forgetting all about how they'd recently been singing Caesar's praises)... until Antony speaks.  Within minutes, Antony manages to turn the crowds against Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators, once again demonstrating the fickleness of the crowd.  The scene at the beginning of Act I with Marullus and Flavius' reprimands foreshadow the events of Act III.

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Julius Caesar

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