What message does Casca intend to convey by mentioning Julius Caesar's epileptic fit in act 1 from Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare?

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In Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, each scene in the play has a specific purpose.  Act I, Scene ii, supplies some of the most important information in the play. 

The audience learns information that will impact the rest of the assassination:

  • Major characters are introduced
  • The assassination is discussed.
  • Caesar is offered the crown.
  • Caesar accepts the crown.
  • He has an epileptic seizure.
  • Casca is present at the epileptic seizure

Casca is one of the conspirators against Caesar. His purpose in the play is to provide information.  He tells the characters and the audience about things that happen on and off stage.  When Caesar departs from the scene with Cassius and Brutus, Casca describes what happens. 

Casca describes Caesar refusing the crown three times.  After refusing it the last time, Caesar falls down, which he suggests is because of the smells and bad breath of the mob that surrounds him.  Casca covers his own face in an effort to keep from taking in this bad air.

Caesar refused the crown, that it had almost choked Caesar, for he swounded and fell down at it. And for mine own part, I durst not laugh for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air. He fell down in the market-place and foamed at mouth and was speechless. 

Casca thought that it was funny that Caesar fainted or fell down. Of course, he felt that Caesar was overheated or overwrought by the experience.  He did not associate his falling down with epilepsy.  He was really telling it to make fun of Caesar.

Brutus realizes that Caesar has the “falling sickness” which was the name ascribed to epilepsy in the Elizabethan times.  Caesar has a seizure, and Brutus tries to justify  the seizure as a result of  the insult of refusing the crown by saying Julius has epilepsy.

The information supplied by Casca implies an epileptic as one who is not responsible for his actions. Cassius has already seen Caesar have a spell while at war.  He believes that his disease makes him weak and unworthy to be the emperor of Rome.

Factual information

Even though Shakespeare's plays are fiction, they were often based on historical events. Julius Caesar really did have epilepsy because there are six documented episodes. The final episode occurred before he left home for the capitol on the Ides of March, 44 BC. During that time, Julius Caesar had headaches, personality changes, and depression. 

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