Why is Casca frightened as scene 3 of Act I opens?William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
In Act I, Scene Three, of Julius Caesar, thunder and lightning begin the night before the Ides of March. With his sword drawn, a frightened Casca tells Cicero that either the gods are preparing for a civil war, or they are readying themselves to destroy Rome:
O Cicero,/I have seen tempests, when the scolding winds/Have rived he knotty oaks, and I have seen/Th'ambitious ocean swell and rage and foan,/To be exalted with the threat'ning clouds;/But never till tonight, never till now,.../Either there is a civil strife in heaven,/Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,/Incenses them to send destruction. (I,iii,3-13)
Casca further tells Cicero that he has witnessed unusual sights, such a slave going through the streets with his left hand held high,
which did flame and burn/Like twenty torches joined, and yet his hand,/Not sensible of fire, remained unscorched. (I,iii,15-17)
Then, he says that he saw a lion near the Capitol, but it merely growled at him as he passed. Huddled together were several pale women who claimed to have seen men afire. All these things, Casca feels, are bad omens.
Cassius, on the other hand, is not intimidated by the storm, and boldly tells Casca that he has been daring the lightning to strike him. Aghast Casca asks Cassius why he has tempted the "heavens" when the "mighty gods" have sent the foreboding symbols that they have. Insulting Casca's intelligence, Cassius tells him, "You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life/That should be in a Roman you do want" (I,iii,57-58).
In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Casca is frightened because the earth is out of order. During the night Casca has gone through a
...tempest dropping fire.
Either there is a civil strife in heaven,
Or else the world, too saucy with the gods,
Incenses them to send destruction.
Casca has seen what we as readers recognize as omens, indications that affairs are not right in Rome.
He saw a slave whose left hand was on fire, but wasn't--it did not get burned. He saw a lion on the streets of Rome near the Capitol. He saw 100 women who swore they saw
Men, all in fire, walk up and down the streets.
And the previous day, he saw a night owl in the market during the day.
These omens foreshadow the chaotic, unnatural state of politics in Rome, which will lead to the assassination of Caesar.