How can the four omens in Act I, scene 3 of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare be interpreted as foretelling chaos?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The four omens in Act I, Scene 3 portend chaos in the heavens, which, because of the Chain of Being, will connect to the human world and affect it.

During the Elizabethan Age, many believed in the Chain of Being, a perfect order and hierarchy from God down to the most insignificant creatures on earth. So, when the four elements of the universe--fire, air, water, and earth--are disturbed, these terrible events in the heavens, such as Casca describes to Cicero, portend disturbances upon the earth as everything is connected. This is why Casca says,

Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world, too saucy [impudent] with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction. (1.3.11-13)

Furthermore, when these lines are spoken, with their knowledge of the Chain of Being, Elizabethan audiences would quickly understand that there will soon be civil strife in Rome as the earthly connects to the heavenly. Indeed, Casca's words presage what will follow:

  • "scolding winds," which means punishing winds, suggests the battles to come
  • an "ambitious ocean" that tries to rise upward to the heavens suggests Caesar's ambition as well as the ambition of which Marc Antony will accuse Brutus in his funeral oration
  • "threat'ning clouds" are reflective of Antony's subtle urging of mutiny to the plebians at the end of his funeral oration, a mutiny that will lead to civil war between the two factions led by Brutus and Antony
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