Summary and Analysis
Act I: Scene 3
That evening, Cicero and Casca meet on a street in Rome. There has been a terrible storm, and Casca describes to Cicero the unnatural phenomena that have occurred: An owl hooted in the marketplace at noon, the sheeted dead rose out of their graves, and so on. Cicero then departs and Cassius enters. He interprets the supernatural happenings as divine warnings that Caesar threatens to destroy the Republic. He urges Casca to work with him in opposing Caesar. When Cinna, another conspirator, joins them, Cassius urges him to throw a message through Brutus' window and to take other steps that will induce Brutus to participate in the plot. The three conspirators, now firmly united in an attempt to unseat Caesar, agree to meet with others of their party — Decius Brutus, Trebonius, and Metellus Cimber — at Pompey's Porch. They are confident that they will soon win Brutus to their cause.
Scene 3 opens with the natural world reflecting the unrest of the state. Casca, soon to be a conspirator, is unnerved by what is going on. Cicero, a senator and thus a representative of the status quo, is, on the other hand, blissfully unaware of the danger at hand. It is Casca's task to describe the omens he has seen for Cicero. Cicero's response to that impulse is as follows:
Indeed, it is a strange-disposed time;
But men may construe things after their fashion,
Clean from the purpose of the things themselves.
Cicero suggests that each person will interpret events for their own purposes, and this is, in effect, what happens. Cassius enters the scene and the opening exchange between Casca and Cassius is an interesting one. Cassius asks "Who's there?" and Casca answers "A Roman," identifying himself as a man loyal to the idea of being a Roman — not necessarily one who supports the state as it stands now, but one who embodies all the glories of Rome's past. Cassius recognizes Casca's voice and the latter compliments his ear, reminding the reader, by contrast, of Caesar's deaf ear and his inability to hear, both literally and metaphorically. Thus the reader is left with two contrasting images: Cassius as strong, intuitive, clever; Caesar as weak, deluded, and rather unintelligent.
It is Cassius' cleverness that comes to the fore now. In order to convince Casca of the worth of his cause, Cassius does just as Cicero, the great orator, has suggested men would — he interprets and manipulates the omens for his own purposes. In his hands, all of these frightening events are happening because the heavens "hath infus'd them with these spirits, / To make them instruments of fear and warning / Unto some monstrous state." The monstrous state, Casca is meant to believe, is Caesar's Rome. Cassius tells Casca that there is a man who is "most like this dreadful night, / That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars / As doth the lion in the Capitol." Casca asks directly if Cassius means Caesar but, not wanting to reveal himself too quickly and not wanting to leave the possibility open that his words could be turned against him, Cassius allows Casca to draw his own conclusions. Having established the problem, Cassius comes up with a solution. He points out that Caesar is just a man, not a god, and that all of these terrible visions can be overcome by a true, idealized Roman who calls on the spirits of his ancestors for strength and perseverance. Once again, Cassius has found the best way to persuade his listener — in this case, he has called on Casca's image of himself as a noble and loyal Roman, and given him an opportunity to act on it.
Casca joins the plot and the conspirators' faction is enlarged, but to be successful, the person they really need is Brutus. Brutus is well-regarded, wields a great deal of power and, after Caesar is overthrown, has the strength to manage that chaotic and potentially dangerous group, the people. "O, he sits high in all the people's hearts; / And that which would appear offence in us, / His countenance, like richest alchymy, / Will change to virtue and to worthiness." Act I ends in gloom and darkness with the state beginning to splinter. The daylight that Cassius perceives on the horizon is, paradoxically, a light that will show the cracks all the more clearly.
sway to rule over or control.
wonderful that causes wonder.
not sensible not having appreciation or understanding.
drawn upon a heap huddled.
ghastly ghostlike, pale, or haggard.
prodigies extraordinary happenings, thought to foretell good or evil fortune.
unbraced with doublet (a man's closefitting jacket with or without sleeves) open.
from quality and kind behaving unnaturally.
ordinance an established or prescribed practice or usage.
thews muscles or sinews.
bondman slave, one who is not entirely free of a master.
hinds female red deer.
offal refuse or garbage.
fleering sneering or jeering.
be factious join our faction.
Pompey's Porch the portico of a theater built in 55 B.C. by Pompey.
element the sky.
incorporate a party to.
praetor a magistrate of ancient Rome, next below a consul in rank. Brutus was the chief praetor.
hie to hurry or hasten.
countenance approval, support, or sanction.
alchymy an early form of chemistry, with philosophic and magical associations, studied in the Middle Ages. Its chief aims were to change base metals into gold and to discover the elixir of perpetual youth.