The Feast of the Lupercal is celebrated on February 15, 44 B. C. in Rome. This is the setting for the beginning of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. There is another reason for celebration. Caesar has returned to Rome after defeating Pompey’s sons in Spain. It is rumored that he will be offered the crown of Rome.
There are factions in Rome that are disgruntled about Caesar’s return. When he fought both Pompey and his sons, Caesar impacted the government and brought civil war to Rome. There were many who loved Pompey and disapproved of his murder.
In Act 1, Scene I, the commoners and tradesmen are out in the streets readying for the festivities and to see Caesar in the streets. Two tribunes confront the plebeians and ask them to go home and remember Pompey. Marullus tells them to ask forgiveness of the gods for their thankless actions toward Pompey.
The tribunes Flavius and Marullus are protectors of the common man’s rights. Today their job is to keep civil disorder from breaking out. After the commoners disperse, the tribunes discuss what they should do. Statues of Caesar have been placed along the streets. Crowns and robes cover the statues. They make the decision to go and take off the decorations from the statues so Caesar will know that everything is not good.’
Let no images
Be hung with Caesar's trophies. I'll about,
And drive away the vulgar from the streets;
So do you too, where you perceive them thick.
Will make him fly an ordinary pitch…
Marullus fears that this will disrupt the celebration of the people as well. These ritual festivities were important to the social order of the government. Marullus seems to sense that by entering into this civil disorder he is committing a crime.
This fear foreshadows what happens. In Act 1, Scene ii, Casca tells Cassius and Brutus that the tribunes Marullus and Flavius, Caesar’s political enemies, have been caught disrobing the statues. They have been put to silence.
Shakespeare does not explain the meaning of this phrase. Historically from Roman and Elizabethan times, there are three possibilities:
- the tribunes could be executed
- they could be tortured and their positions taken from tgem
- they could be silenced by having their tongues cut out.
The truth will not be known since Shakespeare left the reader to decide.