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The play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare was based on actual events. The assassination of Caesar took place on March 15, 44 B.C. in the Roman Senate. Most of the characters that Shakespeare used in his play were based on actual people.
In Act I, the date is February 15, 44 B.C. It is the Feast of the Lupercal. The Romans placed great importance on this event because it was a celebration of fertility and harvest. Roman farmers needed the gods to help with the growth of their crops and the reproduction of their animals.
Part of the celebration was a footrace which ran through the streets of Rome. Caesar, who has recently returned from a victorious battle over the sons of Pompey, is to be offered the crown as Emperor of Rome.
At one time, Pompey was Caesar’s friend. They argued and eventually met in battle. Caesar defeated Pompey, who was also killed. These are the events which lead to the beginning of this play.
Most of the Shakespearean plays began with humorous dialogue. The intention was to get the crowd involved and enthusiastic about the serious events that would come later in the play.
Act I, Scene I, takes place in a street of Rome. Some of the craftsman are not in their shops as usual but are on their way to see Caesar as he walks through the streets. In addition, it is a holiday. The workmen are met by two tribunes: Marullus and Flavius. The tribunes were elected and served as protectors of the rights of the people. Today, they are trying to keep civil disorder from breaking out.
The tribunes have been supporters of Pompey; therefore, they do not like Caesar. They believe that he has gained his status by killing Pompey.
The dialogue begins with Flavius asking the craftsman why they are out in the streets. In Shakepeare’s time, a craftsman was supposed to wear something on him that would indicate his type of work.
Marullus gets into a heated discourse with a cobbler who is a maker and mender of shoes. The Elizabethan audience would have thought this conversation hilarious. They enjoyed puns, which are plays on words. In addition, the audience would have enjoyed the craftsman “out thinking” the government official.
The following brief dialogue demonstrates a pun made by the cobbler and also tells the tribunes exactly why the common men are not in their workshops.
Flavius: But wherefore art not in thy shop today?
Why dost thou lead these men about the streets
Cobbler: Truly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself into more work. (This is the pun.The cobbler is encouraging the other men to walk around wearing out their shoes, so that the cobbler will have more work and make more money.)
But indeed, sir, we make holiday, to see Caesar
and to rejoice in his triumph.
This information about Caesar infuriates Marullus who feels that Pompey has been considered a great Roman leader. The common people have cheered Pompey as he went through the Roman streets. Now, they are celebrating Caesar’s victory and killing of Pompey and his sons. The tribunes find this behavior appalling. They tell the workman to return to their homes.
After the crowd disperses, Flavius and Marullus decide to try to send other people home. They also know that decorated statues of Caesar have been placed along the streets. The tribunes decide that they will go to the statues and take down the decorations which are honoring Caesar. This is dangerous work.
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