Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare begins on February 15, 44 B. C. in Rome. It is the Feast of the Lupercal. This holiday is a celebration of fertility. Act 1, Scene i, takes place in a street of Rome.
The craftsmen have taken the day off for two reasons: they are celebrating the holiday, and they want to see Caesar as he walks through the streets. Caesar has come back to Rome as a hero having defeated Pompey in Egypt. Pompey’s head was given to Caesar by the Pharaoh. Caesar, then, followed Pompey’s sons into Spain where he again routed the opposing armies.
Caesar returned with slaves, captives offered for ransom, and money placed in the government treasury. To commemorate his triumph, Caesar named himself dictator for life. It is obvious to those that know Caesar that he has a lust for power. He wants to be the Emperor of Rome.
Everything is not peaceful in Rome. At one time, Pompey had been an associate of Caesar. Their dissolution as friends led Caesar to begin the Civil War and kill Pompey. Pompey had been popular in Rome. He had many followers. These soldiers and senators are not happy with Caesar and believe that he has gained his popularity stepping in the blood of Pompey.
This is the political situation in Rome. Caesar has his followers and his enemies. No one knows for sure who is honest in their acclaim of Julius Caesar.
When the workmen come out into the streets, they are met by two tribunes: Flavius and Marullus. Tribunes were elected officials whose responsibility was to protect the civil rights of the people and to keep civil disorder at bay.
These tribunes are immediately off put by the workers in the street. They ask the common men what they are doing in the street and not at work. As a result, two workmen have a confrontation with the tribunes. In particular, a rather "saucy" cobbler uses his clever wit to make the tribunes look foolish.
Using the humorous device of the pun, the cobbler engages in a vis-à-vis confrontation. The tribune asks what the profession of the worker is. The worker answered that he was a cobbler, or a mender of bad soles [pun intended]. In addition, he calls himself a surgeon to old shoes—he recovers them.
Marullus learns that the workers are on their way to see Caesar as he walks through the streets.
The tribunes say that Caesar has done nothing to warrant a celebration. He accuses the workmen of having hearts of stones. Marullus reminds them of Pompey. Many times these same people had climbed to the tops of the houses and buildings in order to get a view of Pompey. When the people saw the chariot of Pompey, the people shouted so loudly for him that the Tiber was shaken.
Now, these fickle people put on their best clothes and come to make a holiday and honor the man who enters Rome over the dead body of Pompey. Both tribunes tell the commoners to go home and pray for forgiveness.
After the common people leave, Flavius and Marullus make plans to go through the street and send more people to their homes. In addition, they will go around to Caesar’s statues and take off the decorations.
Go you down that way towards the Capitol:
This way will I. Disrobe the images,
If you find them deck’d with ceremonies.
They will remove the flowers and signs. This would have been considered treason; if they are caught, it will be a serious crime.