Why do the tribunes Flavius and Marullus chase the commoners in Act 1, Scene i of Julius Caesar?

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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Act I, Scene i of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar opens with two minor officials (rather like constables), the tribunes  Marullus and Flavius, confronting a boisterous crowd of supporters of Julius Caesar who has just returned to Rome from Spain, triumphant, after defeating the sons of his old adversary, Pompey the Great. Marullus and Flavius, adamant defenders of the status quo against the upstart Caesar, chastise the commoners for their volatility, Marullus especially, calling them “You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!” (I, i, 34); this is an image which will be repeatedly applied to the commoners throughout the play. The two then resolve to go about the city removing the crowns from the statues of Caesar, and to drive the crowd back to their homes. This opening scene typifies a literary stratagem Shakespeare uses on a regular basis, which reveals the fundamental conflicts of the drama to follow in the words and actions of minor characters.

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