Julius Caesar By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 3

Summary

Cinna the poet is on his way to attend Caesar's funeral when he is accosted by a group of riotous citizens who demand to know who he is and where he is going. He tells them that his name is Cinna and his destination is Caesar's funeral. They mistake him, however, for the conspirator Cinna and move to assault him. He pleads that he is Cinna the poet and not Cinna the conspirator, but they reply that they will kill him anyway because of "his bad verses." With Cinna captive, the crowd exits, declaring their intent to burn the houses belonging to Brutus, Cassius, Decius, Casca, and Caius Ligarius.

Analysis

What is surprising about this relatively short scene is its complexity. The purpose of these thirty-eight lines is not simply to show the way in which mob mentality has overtaken Rome — how far ordered society has disintegrated — although violence and intimidation are well represented here in the threateningly rhythmic incantation of the plebeians' questions. The reader can imagine them surrounding Cinna the poet, closing in on him, firing questions from all sides. Cinna's terror is evident in his confused response. This is the realm of mob rule.

More interesting, however, is why Shakespeare chose to have the plebeians attack an artist. Cinna the poet is being asked to account for himself, not only as a citizen, but as a poet, and he does not pass muster. The plebeians initially attack him as a conspirator, but when they find out who he really is, they are still perfectly prepared to kill him, this time "for his bad verses." Shakespeare has not created a scene of simple mistaken identity. He is asking the reader to examine the position of the poet in this society. To whom must the artist account for his work? What responsibility does he have in making a good and well-ordered society? Who is best able to judge him? These questions were often in the Elizabethan audience's mind. The artist was quite regularly asked to justify himself and his work, and the debate about whether he was dangerous to a stable and moral society was a common one. That the artist would feel the pressure of these demands is metaphorically evident in this scene. Dismembered at the hands of the mob, Cinna the poet is torn as easily as the paper on which those "bad verses" were written.

Glossary

to-night last night.

unluckily charge my fantasy fill my mind with fears.

bear me a bang receive a blow from me.

turn him going send him off.

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