Julius Caesar Act 1, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis
by William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scenes 1–3 Summary and Analysis

Scene 1

Roman tribunes Flavius and Marullus spot a group of commoners on the street and chide them for idling on a working day. When Marullus asks one of the men what he does for a living, the cobbler describes himself obliquely as a “mender of bad soles,” which enrages Marullus. The man finally explains that he is a cobbler, repairing the worn-out soles of slippers for a living. The cobbler tells Marullus that he and the other workmen “make holiday, to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.” Marullus is incredulous at their celebration of Caesar, since he has returned to Rome with no tributaries or conquest. Marullus also finds the commoners’ adoration of Caesar inexplicable, as they once loved Pompey, whom Caesar killed and displaced, with equal fervor. Marullus orders the crowd to go home and “pray to the gods to intermit the plague,” likely to befall them for their ingratitude toward Pompey. The commoners depart. Flavius asks Marullus to move toward the Capitol and “disrobe” statues of any decorations or banners in honor of Caesar. When Marullus questions the disrobing, saying that today is the fertility feast of Lupercal in honor of the god Pan, Flavius answers that the acts are necessary to quell both Cesar’s ego and his growing popularity.

Scene 2

On another Roman street, thronged by commoners and senators, Caesar asks his wife, Calpurnia, to stand directly in the way of Mark Antony, who is set to begin the traditional footrace to the Coliseum as part of Lupercal festivities. Since it is believed that a childless, or “barren,” woman will become fertile on being touched by the winner of the race, Caesar instructs Anthony to touch Calpurnia during the race, to which Antony responds:

When Caesar says “do this,” it is perform'd.

A soothsayer calls out to Caesar from the crowd and asks him to “beware the ides of March.” Cesar dismisses the soothsayer as a “dreamer.” As the procession, including Caesar and Antony, leave for the Coliseum, Cassius and Brutus linger behind. Cassius tells Brutus that he has lately noted a new coldness in his manner. Brutus responds that his melancholy is not directed at Cassius but toward himself, as he has been “vexed” recently by thoughts which he dares not share with others.

Cassius hints that he understands and shares Brutus’s “vexations.” Their conversation is interrupted with shouts and a sudden blaring of trumpets from the Coliseum. Brutus says he “fears” the people have chosen Caesar for their king. Cassius says if Brutus fears Caesar’s kingship, he must be opposed to it, to which Brutus replies that even though he loves his friend Caesar, he would not want him to be crowned emperor. Encouraged by Brutus’s ambivalence toward Caesar’s growing power, Cassius goes on to build a case for Caesar’s ordinariness. He recalls Caesar’s physical weakness and his proneness to “fits,” or epilepsy, and wonders aloud why such a feeble man should stride through Rome like “a Colossus.” Brutus tells Cassius that he can understand the subtext of his conversation but wants to discuss it further only at “a time / Both meet to hear and answer such high things.”

Cesar and his retinue pass the stage with Casca. Brutus notes the “angry spot” on Caesar’s brow and how subdued his train appears. Cassius plucks Casca’s sleeve, indicating that he should stay back. Noticing Cassius, Cesar tells Antony he is wary of Cassius’s “lean and hungry look” and sullen disposition and does not want the man around. Cesar exits with his retinue. Casca explains to Brutus and Cassius the reason behind Caesar’s apparent displeasure: he was offered the Crown of Rome thrice and refused it thrice, “every time gentler than the others.” Angered by the crowd’s cheering of his refusal, Caesar “swooned” and suffered an epileptic fit. Casca also informs them that Marullus and Flavius have been executed for dishonoring Caesar's statues. Casca exits,...

(The entire section is 1,546 words.)