WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE: Julius Caesar
Either *7 Read this excerpt, and then answer the question that follows it:
Cicero: Good even, Casca. Brought you Caesar home?
Why are you breathless? and why stare you so?
Casca: Are not you mov’d, when all the sway of earth
Shakes like a thing unfirm? O Cicero,
I have seen tempests when the scolding winds
Have riv’d the knotty oaks, and I have seen
Th’ ambitious ocean swell, and rage, and foam,
To be exalted with the threat’ning clouds;
But never till to-night, never till now,
Did I go 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.
Cicero: Why, saw you any thing more wonderful?
Casca: A common slave – you know him well by sight –
Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn
Like twenty torches join’d; and yet his hand,
Not sensible of fire, remain’d unscorch’d.
Besides – I ha’ not since put up my sword –
Against the Capitol I met a lion,
Who glaz’d upon me, and went surly by
Without annoying me; and there were drawn
Upon a heap a hundred ghastly women,
Transformed with their fear, who swore they saw
Men, all in fire, walk up and down the streets.
And yesterday the bird of night did sit,
Even at noon-day, upon the market-place,
Hooting and shrieking. When these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet, let not men say
‘These are their reasons – they are natural’,
For I believe they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon.
Cicero: Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time;
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
Comes Caesar to the Capitol to-morrow?
Casca: He doth; for he did bid Antonius
Send word to you he would be there to-morrow.
Cicero: Good night, then, Casca; this disturbed sky
Is not to walk in.
Casca: Farewell, Cicero. [Exit Cicero.
Cassius: Who’s there?
Casca: A Roman.
Cassius: Casca, by your voice.
Casca: Your ear is good. Cassius, what night is this!
Cassius: A very pleasing night to honest men.
Casca: Who ever knew the heavens menace so?
How does Shakespeare make this such a strikingly dramatic moment in the play?
Shakespeare utilizes two key features in this scene to make it dramatic. First, he uses the setting. The fact that these two conspirators are meeting in the darkness of the night immediately adds to the suspense of the scene. Furthermore, the implication that Cassius and Cicero cannot even make out the face of Casca adds to the secrecy of the meeting. Second, Shakespeare draws in the cultural superstition of the day to increase the dramatic understanding of the scene. For his Elizabethan audience, the unnatural occurrence described in this dialogue (the lion at the Capital, men walking around in fire, the owl seen during the day, etc) all foreshadow the coming of an equally unnatural event, in this case the murder of Caesar.