In William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, what do the words conspirator, encompass, torrent, blunt, and countenance mean?

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All of the words specified are used in Act I Scene II of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.  It would not, therefore, take long to locate them in the text and analyze the context in which they are used while also consulting a dictionary.

The first word listed, “conspirator,” is the exception, occurring first in Act II Scene I, when Brutus’ servant Lucius informs Brutus that he has visitors. Inquiring as to the identities of these unexpected visitors, Lucius replies that the men are concealing their faces, “their hats . . .pluck’d about their ears, and half their faces buried in their cloaks . . .”  Dismissing his servant, Brutus than suggests aloud that these visitors are, in fact, those Roman officials conspiring against Caesar: 

“They are the faction. O conspiracy,

Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,

When evils are most free? O, then by day

Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough

To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy;

Hide it in smiles and affability:

For if thou path, thy native semblance on,

Not Erebus itself were dim enough

To hide thee from prevention.


“Conspirators” refers to individuals who work in secret as a team to harm another individual or to undermine a system or government to which they are opposed. Because conspiracy is at the heart of Shakespeare’s play, the word occurs frequently in the text, as in the following exclamation by a member of the public upset about the assassination of Caesar, which occurs in Act III Scene I, and seeks justice against the murderers:

Third Citizen:

"Away, then! come, seek the conspirators."

The next word specified is “encompass,” which occurs in Act I Scene II, and refers to a building or environment that surrounds someone or something, as in “the forest encompasses the cabins.” In the play, it is used once in the following passage, in which an angry and determined Cassius vents against the arrogance and growing megalomania of Caesar:

“Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed,

That he is grown so great? Age, thou art shamed!

Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!

When went there by an age, since the great flood,

But it was famed with more than with one man?

When could they say till now, that talk'd of Rome,

That her wide walls encompass'd but one man?

Now is it Rome indeed and room enough,

When there is in it but one only man.”

In this context, the word is used to suggest that Caesar’s ego has reached such extraordinary proportions that he seems to imagine that the entirety of Rome was built to honor him and him alone.

The next word is “torrent,” which is generally defined as a massive or overwhelming force of nature, such as very heavy rainfall or a series of massive waves that overwhelm a vessel. In Act I Scene II, “torrent” is used by Cassius in his conversation with Brutus to describe the rough waters into which he (Cassius) went swimming with Caesar, at the latter’s prodding, and who was unable to swim under such strong currents and required Cassius’ help to survive:

“I was born free as Caesar; so were you:

We both have fed as well, and we can both

Endure the winter's cold as well as he:

For once, upon a raw and gusty day,

The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,

Caesar said to me 'Darest thou, Cassius, now

Leap in with me into this angry flood,

And swim to yonder point?' Upon the word,

Accoutred as I was, I plunged in

And bade him follow; so indeed he did.

The torrent roar'd, and we did buffet it

With lusty sinews, throwing it aside

And stemming it with hearts of controversy;

But ere we could arrive the point proposed,

Caesar cried 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!'”

“Blunt” is a commonly used word to describe comments that are straightforward to the point of sounding insulting and angry.  Again, in Act I Scene II, Brutus refers to the recently departed Casca as “blunt” in response to the latter’s undiplomatic acceptance of Cassius’ invitation to dinner:

What a blunt fellow is this grown to be!

He was quick mettle when he went to school.”

The word reappers in Act III Scene II when Marc Antony, addressing a citizenry angry about the assassination of its beloved leader, distinguishes himself from the eminently articulate Brutus by noting:

“I am no orator, as Brutus is;

But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man . . .”

Finally, “countenance” refers to a facial expression or appearance, but also can mean “to agree or disagree” with something, as in “I could not countenance his comments, as I disagreed with what he had to say.” In Act I Scene II, Brutus, in addressing Cassius, who is meticulously attempting to recruit Brutus to the cause of killing Caesar, states:


Be not deceived: if I have veil'd my look,

I turn the trouble of my countenance

Merely upon myself.”

Later, Act II Scene III, Casca, the “blunt” conspirator from earlier, refers to Brutus, who enjoys a level of respect from the citizenry that is the envy of the others, as follows:

“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.”

 In other words, the noble Brutus has feelings that differ markedly from those of the main conspirators, and his demeanor is a reflection of his more noble being. 

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

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