Explain the purpose of Act I, Scene i, in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. 

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare would have been performed in the Globe Theater. to a standing room only crowd.  The play is based on actual history from 44 B. C. Often, in his plays, Shakespeare would admonish society for foolish decisions or events that impacted the course of  history.  This is the case in this historical tragedy.

Shakepeare would often  use a prologue that used an actor to set the scene for the play. In this play, the information comes from this short scene in which the plebians or working class encounter a pair of Roman soldiers. 

This scene would have been hilarious to the 16th century audience.  The pun,  which is a play on words,  would have been funny to them and they would have  laughed hysterically at the jokes made by the "cheeky" cobbler. 

The scene begins with the soldiers Flavius and Marullus encountering workmen on the streets.  These soldiers do not support Caesar in his quest to become the emperor of Rome.  However, the workmen have stopped their labors to watch Caesar proceed through the streets of Rome on his way to the Coliseum.

Another important part of the setting is that this is the day of the Feast of the Lupercal. In the Roman times, the celebration was  for the animals to be fertile and bring forth spring babies. It  promoted the fertility of the woman if one desired to have a baby. Remember, also,  that this is exactly one month before the Ides of March, which is an important date for Julius Caesar.

Most of the scene is an encounter between the soldiers and a tradesman.

  •  Not everyone in government likes Caesar.  
  •  If a person were a tradesman, he was to carry the tools of his trade with him.
  • The cobbler plays word games with the soldier.  There were several meanings for the word cobbler: a mender of shoes, a maker of shoes, a poor worksman, or a bungler.
  • Marullus initially does not understsnd what the cobbler means by using the word cobbler.

Marullus: But what trade art thou? Answer me directly.

Cobbler: A trade, sir, that, I hope, I may use with a safe con-
science, which is indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.

The pun involves the use of the word "soles" or "souls"  He can fix the shoes and possibly fix the souls of men who are troubled (possibly implying the troubled soldiers).

  • The soldier still does not understand what the cobbler means.  He threatens him and accuses him of deceit.
  • Dangerously, the cobbler explains that he can mend Marullus. 
  • Flavius, the other soldier, speaks up and understands his trade.
  • The cobbler tells the soldiers that he works with the awl ( a pun with the word all).  He does not stick his nose into other people's business (as are the soldiers).
  • Furthering his joke, he says that he is a surgeon to old shoes and that he re-covers  (a pun of the words re-cover and recover) them.
  • Again the soldiers ask why the tradesmen are out in the streets and not working. 
  • The cobbler jokes that he is drumming up business by having people walk around wearing down their shoes.

Finally, the cobbler admits that the workmen are waiting to see Caesar. 

Flavius and Marullus scatter the tradesmen telling them to go home. With derision,  the audience would learn why the soldiers dislilke Caesar. Marullus, a supporter of Pompey, reminds the crowd that Caesar was responsible for Pompey's death.

The soldiers make a terrible decision.  They will go around and take off the decorations from the statues of Caesar.  This will cost them their lives. 


laurto | Student

Scene one, act one introduces the main characters and the prophecy of Caesar's death. In scene one, act one,  we learn the intentions of the characters and we first learn of the conspiracy. It is in this part where the soothsayer says to Caesar "Beware the Ides of March" and Caesar chooses to ignore this, as he does with many moments in the play that could have saved his life. 

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Julius Caesar

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