What is the role of the public in the following plays by shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens  and Coriolanus) and how did Shakespeare show that role? 1-Julius Caesar  2- Timon of...

What is the role of the public in the following plays by shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens  and Coriolanus) and how did Shakespeare show that role?

1-Julius Caesar  2- Timon of Athens   3- Coriolanus 

I would like a detailed answer please. Thanks.

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The role of the public in the three plays by Williams Shakespeare – Julius Caesar, Timon of Athens, and Coriolanus (believed to have been co-written with Thomas Middleton) – varies, but is important in each as a barometer, especially in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, by which the main characters calculate their actions. 

Julius Caesar:

Taking the easiest of the three to assess first, Julius Caesar, the role of the public is most prominent at the play’s opening, when Flavius and Marullus, two Roman Tribunes who will lead the conspiracy against Caesar, stroll through the markets of Rome and encounter members of the public, with whom they become engaged in conversation:


SCENE I. Rome. A street.

Enter FLAVIUS, MARULLUS, and certain Commoners...

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl: I
meddle with no tradesman's matters, nor women's
matters, but with awl. I am, indeed, sir, a surgeon
to old shoes; when they are in great danger, I
recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon
neat's leather have gone upon my handiwork.


But wherefore art not in thy shop today?
Why dost thou lead these men about the streets?

Second Commoner

Truly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself
into more work. But, indeed, sir, we make holiday,
to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.

From their exchanges with “commoners,” the two prominent Roman figures determine that the window of opportunity to address the growing power of Caesar may be closing.  The public is increasingly viewing Caesar through a dangerously narrow prism that Rome’s exalted leader may exploit for his imperial reasons.  If the public is enchanted with Caesar, he may be too popular to oppose.  This opening scene sets the stage for the intrigues that follow.


In the case of Coriolanus, the public again plays a prominent role.  Caius Martius, who will become known as Coriolanus, is a prominent general in the Roman army whose military successes have emboldened him politically to the point where he increasingly poses a threat to the existing political establishment and to the welfare of the people.  He is loathed by the public for his control of the grains needed for basic sustenance and, as the play progresses, Coriolanus becomes increasingly contemptuous of the masses.  The following conversation between Coriolanus, Cominius, commander-in-chief of the Army, Menenius, a senator, and a Tribune called Junius Brutus, during which the general vents his displeasure at the people, who remain under the impression that Rome is a republic:

Act iii scene i


Well, on to the market-place.


Whoever gave that counsel, to give forth
The corn o' the storehouse gratis, as 'twas used
Sometime in Greece,--


Well, well, no more of that.


Though there the people had more absolute power,
I say, they nourish'd disobedience, fed
The ruin of the state.


Why, shall the people give
One that speaks thus their voice?


I'll give my reasons,
More worthier than their voices. They know the corn
Was not our recompense, resting well assured
That ne'er did service for't: being press'd to the war,
Even when the navel of the state was touch'd,
They would not thread the gates. This kind of service
Did not deserve corn gratis. Being i' the war
Their mutinies and revolts, wherein they show'd
Most valour, spoke not for them: the accusation
Which they have often made against the senate,
All cause unborn, could never be the motive
Of our so frank donation. Well, what then?
How shall this bisson multitude digest
The senate's courtesy? Let deeds express
What's like to be their words: 'we did request it;
We are the greater poll, and in true fear
They gave us our demands.' Thus we debase
The nature of our seats and make the rabble
Call our cares fears; which will in time
Break ope the locks o' the senate and bring in
The crows to peck the eagles.

That the public does not take kindly to Coriolanus’ views is an understated, as they attack him and it is only through the efforts of his friends that he escapes the mob’s wrath.

Timon of Athens:

Timon of Athens presents a considerably more cynical view of the public, as the enormous generosity of the title character is exploited until Timon is left financially destitute.  As with Julius Caesar, the stage is set in the opening of the play, as various tradesman, identified by their occupation, converse regarding their host’s charitable nature:


How shall I understand you?


I will unbolt to you.
You see how all conditions, how all minds,
As well of glib and slippery creatures as
Of grave and austere quality, tender down
Their services to Lord Timon: his large fortune
Upon his good and gracious nature hanging
Subdues and properties to his love and tendance
All sorts of hearts; yea, from the glass-faced flatterer
To Apemantus, that few things loves better
Than to abhor himself: even he drops down
The knee before him, and returns in peace
Most rich in Timon's nod.


Nay, sir, but hear me on.
All those which were his fellows but of late,
Some better than his value, on the moment
Follow his strides, his lobbies fill with tendance,
Rain sacrificial whisperings in his ear,
Make sacred even his stirrup, and through him
Drink the free air.

In this play, the public is the enemy, every acquaintance approaching the vulnerable Timon with hand out, anticipating an example of his largess.  Timon’s financial difficulties following his absent-minded practice of doling out his wealth exposes him to the craven nature of the masses and, when he stumbles on a treasure of gold while living as a hermit, he uses his new-found wealth to exact his revenge.

Speculation regarding the potential joint-authorship of Timon of Athens may provide a clue as to why the public was treated so poorly in this particular play relative to its representation in the others.  In Julius Caesar, the public is merely misguided; it is not necessarily evil.  In Coriolanus, it is determined to counter the autocratic behavior of the vindictive general.  In Timon, however, it is greedy and pathetic.  Could be Middleton’s influence, but we’ll never know.

Further Reading:
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Julius Caesar, the public plays a pivotal role in Act III as their reactions to the speeches of Brutus and Marc Antony indicate much about the power of logic versus the power of rhetoric; also, from the reaction of the crowds, much is revealed about the characters of the two speakers. Moreover, the ensuing revolt after Marc Antony's speech indicates the powerful role of the public, who at first offer Caesar a crown and are later stirred into revolution after his death.

After Caesar is killed, Brutus wishes to speak to the Romans, but not heeding the warning of Cassius, Brutus grants Marc Antony permission to address the public after him, and this act proves a mistake. At first, he has the Plebians agreeing with him that what he patriotically did is something that others would also do.

...to him I say that Brutus's love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:  Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I love Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men?....Who is here so vile , that will not love his country?

Brutus claims that he has committed the patriotic act that others would do in stopping a tyrant, and he asks a logical question to which the crowd replies "None, Brutus, none!"

But, the crowd is swayed against him afterwards when Marc Antony speaks, casting doubt upon the reputation of Brutus and the other conspirators as well on their claim that Caesar was tyrannical. He accomplishes this with repetition and rhetorical questions:

He [Caesar] was my fiend, faithful and just to me,
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome;
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.

Then, Marc Antony shows the people the body of Caesar with its many wounds and he uses emotional words to stir them to revolt.

                   ...But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar's that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

The crowd then shouts "We'll mutiny!" And at this point Rome enters into civil war. Because of the public's revolt, Antony and Octavius and Lepidus form an army that battles that of Brutus and Cassius at much cost to the Roman state.

kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, Scene II, Caesar, Antony, Brutus, Cicero, Calpurnia, Portia, and others are in “a public place.”  A soothsayer calls out to Caesar, who inquires as to the source of this strange summons from the masses:

Who is it in the press that calls on me?

I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,

Cry 'Caesar!' Speak; Caesar is turn'd to hear.

The soothsayer, responding to Caesar’s prompt, warns ominously, “Beware the ides of March.”

Later, after Caesar and others have departed the scene, Brutus and Cassius are alone.  The two discuss the state of affairs in Rome, specifically, the growing public adulation towards the increasingly imperial Caesar.  Continuing to hear audible signs of the public’s sentiments favoring the autocratic Caesar, Brutus remarks,

“What means this shouting? I do fear, the people 

Choose Caesar for their king.

To which Cassius replies:

"Ay, do you fear it? Then must I think you would not have it so."

This exchange builds on the one from Act I, Scene I, involving Flavius and Marullus and their impromptu conversations with “commoners,” all of whom express their admiration and devotion to Julius Caesar, who is slowly but surely developing what we would today call “a cult of personality” impervious to warnings such as that uttered by the aforementioned soothsayer.

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Julius Caesar

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