How is Julius Caesar characterized in Act One of Julius Caesar?
Julius Caesar is portrayed as arrogant and ambitious.
During the first act, we learn through others’ perspectives of Caesar and Caesar’s actions that he is arrogant and ambitious. In the first scene, Marullus and Flavius complain about Caesar being celebrated after the civil war with Pompey. They are complaining about Caesar’s celebrating war over other Romans in triumph.
Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome,
To grace in captive bonds his chariot-wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? (Act 1, Scene 1)
Marullus and Flavius try to prevent the townspeople from celebrating Caesar’s victory, since it was over another Roman. They are just simple craftsmen and pretty much just want a holiday and do not care what it is for. However, this scene is an example of how Julius Caesar was not popular with everyone in Rome. Some thought it was in bad taste to celebrate the triumph, and felt that Caesar was being arrogant.
The arrogance of Caesar is further portrayed by Caesar during the Feast of Lupercal. In this scene, we see how Caesar orders Antony around, and that Antony follows his will, saying, “When Caesar says 'do this,' it is perform'd” (Act 1, Scene 2). Caesar also demonstrates his arrogance when the soothsayer warns him and he ignores it.
Caesar seems to feel as if he does not need to listen to this warning, and does not take it seriously. In modern times, we do not think much of this. However, in Ancient Rome to not listen to a prediction or superstition would have been considered folly. Most men would have paid attention to it. Even when this warning is repeated, he will not heed it.
Another example of the arrogance of Caesar is presented to us in the incident with Mark Antony and the crown. Antony offers Caesar a crown three times, and three times he refuses it, with the people cheering. Casca and Cicero consider the entire incident distasteful. They see it as an example of Caesar pandering to the masses.
During the conversation between Brutus and Cassius, we learn that the feeling that Caesar is arrogant and ambitious is prevalent in their circle. Cassius tries to feel Brutus out, to see if he is interested in joining the conspiracy to kill Caesar.
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings. (Act 1, Scene 2)
Cassius is telling Brutus that Caesar considers everyone else beneath him, and that they have an opportunity to make their own choices rather than follow with the status quo. If they do not do something about it, it is their own fault.
Brutus explains to Cassius that he too is worried about Caesar. He is aware that the feeling is widespread. Caesar is popular with the people, but not with the senate. Cassius, Cicero, and the other members of their faction feel that he has too much power and still wants more.
Through Caesar’s own words and actions and the descriptions of Caesar by others around him, Shakespeare presents Caesar as arrogant and ambitious. It sets the stage to explain why there is a conspiracy to kill him. Caesar has political enemies, and they are preparing to make their move.