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Caesar has returned to Rome from his conquests in Gaul and brought his army with him, crossing the Rubicon River in total disregard of the law forbidding it. He already holds a position of great power in Rome because he has his soldiers behind him and he is enthusiastically supported by the masses, who are tired of the chaotic conditions in the city and believe they need a monarchy to restore order. Caesar is pretending to be humble and democratic. Shakespeare illustrates this as early as Act 1, Scene 2. Casca describes Caesar's performance:
I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown, yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets and, as I told you, he put it by once. But for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it. Then he offered it to him again; then he put it by again. But, to my
thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it. And then
he offered it the third time; he put it the third time by; and
still as he refused it, the rabblement hooted and clapped
their chopped hands and threw up their sweaty nightcaps
and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar
refused the crown, that it had almost choked Caesar, for he
swounded and fell down at it. And for mine own part, I
durst not laugh for fear of opening my lips and receiving the
Evidently the whole thing was prearranged between Caesar and Mark Antony, who is Caesar's most loyal follower. In this scene of the play both Brutus and Cassius are in agreement that Caesar is supremely ambitious and is sure to become a king, if not an emperor, unless something is done to stop him. Brutus is reluctant to become part of the conspiracy Cassius is desperately trying to organize. For one thing, Brutus and Caesar are good friends. But finally Brutus is persuaded that it is his duty to lead in the assassination plot. In his soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 1, he tells himself:
But 'tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Caesar does not really show his true colors until the Ides of March, when he goes to the Senate House--in spite of his wife's ominous dreams, in spite of all the bad omens, in spite of the Soothsayer's warning--expecting to be offered the kingship. Then Caesar speaks with such arrogance that there can be no doubt of his high ambitions. The kingship will be only another round in his "ambition's ladder." He will want to become emperor of Rome, as his nephew in fact did after Caesar's death. As an example of Caesar's lofty ambition the following quote is appropriate:
I could be well moved, if I were as you;
If I could pray to move, prayers would move me;
But I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks;
They are all fire and every one doth shine;
But there's but one in all doth hold his place.
So in the world, 'tis furnish'd well with men,
And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive;
Yet in the number I do know but one
That unassailable holds on his rank,
Unshaked of motion...
Caesar's nephew Octavius went on to become emperor after his victory over Mark Antony in Egypt, as dramatized in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, and later to become a god. Caesar would have probably followed the same agenda if he had lived, and he might have finally had his grandiose ambitions satisfied if he had finally achieved the status of an immortal divinity.
Shakespeare only hints at Julius Caesar's ambition until the Ides of March, but there are many such hints. Then on the Ides of March, Caesar shows by his actions and speech that the conspirators' fears of the future under the rulership of this remarkable, strong-willed man are fully justified. The audience feels that the death of Caesar, as foretold by the Soothsayer and all the omens, was inevitable and appropriate. Then Antony's famous funeral oration, as imagined by Shakespeare, turns the sympathies of the audience around again.
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