The drama Julius Caesar begins on February 15, 44. B.C. in Rome. Caesar has returned from battle triumphant. He chased the sons of Pompey into Spain and then North Africa where he crushed their armies.
In about 48 B.C., Caesar crossed the Rubicon River and began a Civil War with Pompey and his armies. The two armies fought into Egypt where again Caesar’s army triumphed. Pompey’s head was brought to Caesar by the Pharaoh as a present.
Pompey had been a popular leader. Because of the murder of Pompey and also Caesar’s continued lust for power, many Roman officials disliked Caesar intensely. Recently, Caesar had named himself dictator for life of Roman. Many of the senators resented this step since it defeated the idea of having the senators work to make the policies of Rome.
In Act I, Scene i, it is the Feast of the Lupercal, February 15, 44 B.C. This holiday celebrated fertility; in addition, Caesar was to be honored for his latest contributions to the Roman treasury. The people were lining the streets in the hope of seeing the greatest Roman who had lived.
Caesar’s statues were decorated with flowers and crowns to show the support of the people. The Romans associated statues with the gods and important political figures.
The scene begins with two tribunes entering the scene. The tribunes were government officials whose purpose was to protect the rights of the people. On this day, Flavius and Marullus were trying to prevent civil disorder [too much celebrating] in the streets.
After an encounter with some workmen, the tribunes tell the men to return to their homes. The tribunes were hostile toward these men because these tribunes were not supporters of Caesar. They had followed Pompey. One of the things that Marullus tells the workmen is that it was not long before that these same men stood on the rooftops and waited for Pompey to come triumph into the city. Now they are here to celebrate his murderer.
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey!
When you saw his [Pompey] chariot but appear
Have you made a universal shout!
Flavius tells the works men to go home and pray for forgiveness. After they leave, the tribunes decide to go along the streets and send as many commoners home as possible. In addition, they decide to tear down all of the decorations off the statues. If they tribunes are caught, they certainly will be punished. These celebrations were important to the people and the government. By defacing the statues, this would have been a great affront to Caesar.
Flavius remarks that by taking down the decorations it will be making Caesar fly a little lower. He uses a bird metaphor to accentuate his point:
These growing feathers pluck’d from Caesar’s will
Will make him fly an ordinary pitch.
In Act II, Casca tells Brutus and Cassius that Marullus and Flavius have been put to silence.