What role does the supernatural play in Julius Caesar?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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From act 1 on, creepy sightings foretell a world out of joint. Casca, for example, runs into Cicero in act 1, scene 3, and describes to him some of the supernatural events he has recently witnessed. In one, a slave's hand was on fire as if lit by "twenty torches," yet it did not burn. Casca also passed a lion in the street, which walked by him without bothering him. In yet another instance, "a hundred ghastly women" were frightened because they saw men in flames.

Casca interprets all these supernatural happenings as omens of bad events coming to Rome. Cicero, however, says that while these events may be real, we can't presume to know what they mean:

Indeed, it is a strange-disposèd time.
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
Of course, bad times are about to descend on Rome, and one of the themes in this play is the problem of how to interpret the signs from beyond. Julius Caesar, for example, should have paid attention to his wife's terrifying dream of violence, blood, and shrieking ghosts. She doesn't want Caesar to go to Senate the day following the dream, but he disregards her—and is assassinated.
Later, Brutus's fall is foretold through the supernatural appearance of Caesar's ghost in his tent.
In Shakespeare, killing the rightful leader of a country upsets the cosmos. In this play, supernatural occurrences are meant to be taken seriously as warnings of bad times to come. They add an eerie, otherworldly cast to what otherwise might simply be a play about politics and civil war.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Shakespeare knew his Elizabethan audiences and how to entertain them while also writing drama for the ages. He understood the power of the supernatural to engage the imagination, to thrill and intrigue through mysterious aberrations in the natural world that defy rational explanation. The characters and the conflicts in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar are those of the “real” world, but elements of the supernatural are found throughout the play, heightening the drama and contributing to the suspense.

The presence of the supernatural is introduced almost immediately in the play through the Soothsayer, who warns Caesar,...

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