In Julius Caesar, what is significant about Marullus's reference to Pompey?  

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act I, Scene 1, the Romans have assembled "to make holiday and rejoice" in Caesar's triumphant return after his victories. But, Marullus, a tribune, calls the crowd of citizens "worse than senseless things" because they have forgotten that Caesar has just defeated the sons of the great Pompey, whom they all once cheered. In fact, Pompey at one time was in a political alliance with Caesar, known as the First Triumvirate that dominated politics in Rome for years. But, Caesar and Pompey's relationship deteriorated and political realignments in Rome led to conflicts between the two leaders, and, eventually Pompey was defeated by Caesar in 48 B. C. and later murdered.

This allusion to Pompey by Marullus serves three purposes:

  1. It points to the desire for power that is in Julius Caesar, who would kill his own political ally and, then, his sons.
  2. It also points to the fickleness of the Roman crowd, a condition that Brutus fails to consider when he allows Marc Antony to speak after Caesar's death, allowing Antony to sway the plebians against the conspirators and foments them to civil war.
  3. It foreshadows the conflicts to come as Marullus worries that the citizens may bring on calamity for their ingratitude. He tells the people,

Run to your houses, fall upon your knees
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude. (1.1.54-56)

In addition, Flavius encourages the plebians to strip the statues covered with decorations, but Marullus is worried that they cannot do so because it is the Roman festival of Lupercal.