In act 1, scene 3, Cassius says of Caesar, "I know he would not be a wolf / but that he sees the Romans are but sheep." Explain what he means.

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In act one, scene three, Cassius threatens to kill himself if Julius Caesar is crowned king in order to avoid being one of his oppressed subjects. Cassius then tells Casca,

I know he [Caesar] would not be a wolf But that he sees the Romans are but sheep. (Shakespeare, 3.1.105-107)

Cassius is essentially comparing the Roman populace to vulnerable, ignorant sheep, who are willing to allow Caesar to become a powerful king. Cassius fears that the ignorant masses are being fooled and manipulated by Julius Caesar, who has selfish intentions of becoming a dangerous tyrant. Cassius firmly believes that if Caesar were to be crowned king, he would become as dangerous and malevolent as a wolf and the Roman citizens would suffer under his oppressive reign. Overall, Cassius is comparing the Roman citizens to ignorant, easily-led sheep, giving Caesar the power to rule over them as a dangerous tyrant. He is saying that if the citizens were not so ignorant and easily manipulated, they would not allow Caesar to become a dangerous threat to the Republic.

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In this scene from The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Casca and Cassius are concerned about Caesar’s rise to power. The conspiracy is still in its early stages, and the conspirators have not yet decided what to do.

In this scene, Cassius says:

I know he would not be a wolf

But that he sees the Romans are but sheep.

He is expressing his contempt for the common people of Rome by calling them sheep. Sheep are generally considered to be unintelligent animals at are easily led. Cassius believes that Caesar has fooled the people into supporting his ambitions to grab dictatorial power. Their support will allow him to assume power and become dangerous, like a wolf. Of course, Cassius is concerned that Caesar will be a danger to him, rather than to the common people who support him.

Notice that in the same monologue Cassius also calls the people “hinds” (dogs), weak straws, trash, rubbish, and offal. This is consistent with the senators’ view of the people throughout the play.

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