In the opening scene of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, what is the purpose of the interchange between Marellus and the commoners?
The very opening scene of William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar presents two Roman tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, chastising commoners whom they consider unruly. Both men are disturbed that the commoners are not dressed in the clothing associated with their jobs. Even more significantly, however, Murellus is offended that the commoners are in the streets to celebrate Caesar, when they once were in the same streets to celebrate Pompey, Caesar’s enemy, who is now dead thanks to Caesar. Murellus obviously admires Pompey and feels contempt for the celebrating commoners:
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.
Murellus’s words to the commoners in this scene are significant for a number of reasons, including the following:
- They are relevant to the theme of disorder, which is a major motif of this play.
- They imply the different ways in which people in this play perceive Caesar.
- They imply the ways in which opinions about Caesar can fluctuate even within the same person or persons.
- They imply the hostility that some people already feel toward Caesar – a hostility that will only grow as the play proceeds.
- They imply the divisions that already exist within Rome – divisions that will ultimately result in civil war.
- They contrast with the flattery of the commoners later in the play by Antony.