What is the meaning of the symbol “the bird of night” in Julius Caesar?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Omens play a major role within Julius Caesar. Caesar's death is heralded by prophetic dreams and utterances, most notably the dreams of his wife, Calpurnia, as described in act 2, scene 2. Additionally, it is worth pointing out Cassius's dreams of defeat at Philippi and Brutus's encounter with Caesar's ghost. It would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the supernatural in Julius Caesar.

With that in mind, we can consider Casca's misgivings in act 1, scene 3. As he relates to Cicero,

never till tonight, never till now,
Did I go through a tempest dropping fire.
Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction.

Consider these last three lines in particular: for Casca, the abnormal weather suggests a world in turmoil, thrown out of its natural order.

Cicero replies to these words by asking whether he's seen anything more extraordinary than this, and here Casca lists a series of strange and extraordinary occurrences, one of which occurred when "the bird of night did sit, / Even at noonday, upon the marketplace, / Howling and shrieking."

For Casca, this is one disturbing omen in a concerning series of them, which suggests to him that the world has fallen into disorder. Meanwhile, there is the conspiracy against Caesar, as well as his murder (which will occur later in the play). That murder seems to be the source of this cosmic disorder and the event which these various omens are pointing toward.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Act I Scene III

Casca speaks:

And yesterday the bird of night did sit
Even at noon-day upon the marketplace,
Hooting and shrieking. 
The discussion takes place on the eve of the Ides of March. Casca, speaking to Cicero, describes bad omens he has witnessed. Hearing an owl hooting and screeching in the middle of the day is unusual, and he considers it a bad omen, especially when considered among other omens he saw. Owls, crows and ravens were considered bad omens at the time. Cicero dismissed Casca's omens, insisting that natural explanations exist even when things appear to be unnatural.
Later in the scene, Casca meets with Cassius and they discuss the omens. Cassius says that the bad omens mean trouble for Julius Caesar. Numerous omens point to Caesar's death in the play. The "bird of night" is one of those warnings that tell the audience to prepare for the tragedy soon to befall Caesar.
Among the themes, we find the impact a sick society experiences with the death of their king, as seen in the above quote. This suggests that the growing number of omens may result from the agitation, guilt and potential danger they face.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial