In Act I of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar, what reasons does Cassius have for desiring Caesar’s downfall? What does Caesar think of Cassius? Why is it important for Cassius to have Brutus join the conspiracy against Caesar? What does Cassius say he may do if Caesar becomes king? Which way out of the situation does he mention, and how do the common people seem to feel about Caesar?
Act I of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar makes clear that opposition to Caesar’s coronation as king runs strong among some Romans. The Roman Senate remains a bastion of republican support, and the notion of one of their own assuming the position of monarch is highly anathema to them, even to those, like Brutus, who hold Julius Caesar in great personal affection. It is Brutus’ affection for and loyalty to Caesar, however, that makes him so important to Cassius’ conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. Shakespeare provides a number of suggestions during Act I to suggest wide-spread support for Caesar among the common citizens of Rome. In the beginning of the play, Flavius and Murellus, walking along the city’s streets, stop to engage commoners in conversation. The second of these commoners, in responding to Flavius’ query as to why he is not in his shop, responds:
". . .indeed, sir, we make holiday, to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.”
Soon after, Brutus and Cassius discuss this very same phenomenon, in which the citizens of Rome seem to have become so infatuated with their leader that they are willing to see him become a king:
Brutus: “I do fear, the people
Choose Caesar for their king.
Cassius: Ay, do you fear it?
Then must I think you would not have it so.”
Cassius has already set in motion the conspiracy intended to prevent Caesar’s accession to a throne. His reason for wanting Caesar eliminated is this grave concern with the direction in which Rome seems to be moving. He fears Caesar’s growing power, but knows that he cannot act without support among members of the Senate. The egalitarian nature of the Senate is at risk of being undermined by Caesar’s growing popularity among the masses and his regal, autocratic ambitions. In “feeling Brutus out” regarding the latter’s sentiments toward Caesar’s political ascent, he appeals to their common background, heritage and standing. More importantly, Cassius makes no effort to conceal his hatred for Caesar:
“. . .this man is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature and must bend his body,
If Caesar carelessly but nod on him."
Cassius then proceeds to tell Brutus a story designed to diminish Caesar’s image in his friend’s mind. As noted, Cassius is convinced that he needs Brutus’ support precisely because Brutus is such a close friend to Caesar, albeit one similarly concerned about Caesar’s imperial ambitions. In discussing the need to have Brutus involved, Cassius and Casca discuss their colleague as follows:
Casca: O, he sits high in all the people's hearts:
And that which would appear offence in us,
His countenance, like richest alchemy,
Will change to virtue and to worthiness.
Cassius: Him and his worth and our great need of him
You have right well conceited.
With respect to Caesar’s view of Cassius, Shakespeare makes clear that there is no love there. He sees the general as a threat to be feared, noting that “. . . Cassius has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”
Caesar has accurately identified Cassius as a potential threat, but he does not suspect that his close friend Brutus would engage in conspiracies at his expense. Also, Brutus’ reputation for integrity and for republicanism make him the perfect coconspirator; if one so well-respected as he is involved, there must be merit in the action, no matter how vile that action may be.
When Caesar was alive, Cassius would be treated badly by him and never valued him. Cassius got fed up with this and the fact that Caesar thought he was all that and thought he was invincible. Cassius, being mistreated for years, decided that he can convince people that he is being ambitious. Brutus is very easy to convince so he knew that Brutus was generally a noble man would agree.