Before the play begins - Assets

Before the play begins - Assets
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978-1-107-61551-9 - Julius Caesar
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Julius Caesar
Before the play begins
The origins of the Roman Republic
The size of the Roman world
When the Roman Senate granted Julius Caesar the title
of dictator of Rome for life, it effectively signalled the end
of the Roman Republic that had governed the city and its
territories for more than four hundred years.
As the centuries passed, the Roman Republic secured
control of the rest of Italy, then Greece, Spain and North
Africa, until it had conquered most of the countries
surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
The Republic had been founded when the inhabitants
of Rome drove out the tyrannical Tarquin kings and set
up their own form of government, in which they could
elect their own leaders rather than being ruled by
hereditary kings.
But as Rome’s wealth increased, so the quality of its
ruling classes declined. The patrician class became more
interested in luxurious living than in public service, and
power gradually gravitated into the hands of a few men
who could use their wealth and private armies to control
the power of the Roman Senate and eliminate their
political enemies.
The Republican government
At first, control of the Republic was entirely in the hands
of the patricians, Rome’s aristocratic class. Only patricians
could be elected members of the Senate, or parliament,
and only patricians could be chosen as heads of state,
or consuls. To prevent any one man obtaining too much
power, there were always two consuls elected at any one
time, who could rule for one year only. Consuls were
primarily military commanders who would lead Rome’s
armies in war. In times of great emergency a dictator
(supreme commander) was appointed in place of the
consuls, but for a period of no more than six months.
In time the plebeians, the ordinary citizens of Rome,
campaigned for and achieved the right to have their
say in how they were to be ruled. They were allowed
to elect two tribunes to represent them in government
and protect their interests. Eventually the plebeians gained
their own assembly, and the right to propose laws and
to require one of the two consuls to be chosen from
their own class. But despite these concessions, the
patricians still retained overall control of government,
while the plebeians – who were far greater in number
than the patricians – remained poor, discontented and
ready to riot.
Two such great rivals were Caesar and Pompey.
Although for a while it suited the two men to form an
uneasy political alliance, it was inevitable that they would
eventually come to blows. In the bitter civil war that
followed, Pompey was defeated and fled to Egypt, where
he was murdered. In 48 BC, the Senate appointed Caesar
as ‘dictator’ (i.e. made him head of government) and
granted him many other powers and honours. There was
even a statue of him placed in one of the Roman temples
with the inscription ‘To the Unconquerable God’. Caesar
was now sole ruler of Rome and its territory. He was king
in all but name.
Caesar was, however, surprisingly merciful to most of
his defeated Roman opponents (including Brutus and
Cassius) and gave a number of them responsible positions
in his new regime. But the great unanswered question
was how he would use his supreme power over the
government of the Republic. Would he use it to reform
and strengthen the old Republican system, which had so
clearly failed to maintain control of Rome’s vast territory?
Or did he intend to establish a new monarchy with
himself as the first king or emperor?
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Julius Caesar
Some of the patricians were genuinely fearful that Caesar
secretly intended to return Rome to monarchical rule.
One such was Marcus Brutus, once a supporter of
Pompey but now a close friend of Caesar. Brutus was
a committed Republican and boasted a distinguished
ancestor who had helped expel the Tarquin kings and
establish the original Republic. Some patricians became
so desperate that in 44 BC they conspired to assassinate
Caesar before he could make himself king. One of the
leaders of this conspiracy was Caius Cassius, another
former supporter of Pompey in the recent civil war.
This is the point at which Shakespeare begins his story.
◆◆ Working in a small group, research each of the
elements of the above summary that appear in bold
font. Prepare a mini-presentation on the context of
the play, including additional details and images to
accompany the text. Share this with your class.
Julius Caesar and the Elizabethans
The figure of Julius Caesar held a particular fascination
for the Elizabethans. Some admired his military skill, strong
leadership and generous treatment of former enemies.
Others condemned him for his ruthlessness, for his
weakening of the powers of the Senate and above all
for his ambition.
Some Elizabethans may also have felt that the play
reflected contemporary anxieties about what England
might become following the death of the childless
Elizabeth. They were divided in their attitude to the
conspirators. If some felt Caesar’s murder was justified
to help preserve the Republic, others believed it to
be a wicked act, or at the very least a major political
misjudgement resulting in the very thing the conspirators
were trying to prevent: the collapse of Rome’s Republican
governmental system. Brutus in particular enjoyed a
double reputation. He was seen as an honest man of
principle and a champion of liberty. Yet by joining the
conspiracy he became also the man who treacherously
murdered his friend and benefactor.
Whatever the Elizabethans may or may not have
thought of Julius Caesar and the rights or wrongs of
his assassination, less than fifty years after Shakespeare
wrote his play the English people executed their king
and set up their own Republican form of government
under Oliver Cromwell.
▼ The Roman Republic c. 44 BC
Black Sea
Extent of Roman control c. 44 BC
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Julius Caesar
Pompey and the Senate! Caesar and the people!
(in groups A and B of four or five each)
There has been a terrible civil war. Pompey and Caesar –
heroes always named in one breath – have fought each
other for supreme power in Rome, and Caesar has won.
All of you are Romans after the war. Group A still
supports Pompey’s views, believing in a more democratic
type of government, through the elected assembly of the
Senate. Group B supports Caesar, upholding the direct
personal rule of a dictator.
Use the opinions and details on the relevant
scroll on the right to make a list of the benefits of
senatorial (Group A) or one-person (Group B) rule
as you see it. Include the views of both patricians
and plebeians.
After making their lists, Groups A and B should
choose one person from their group who will speak
at Caesar’s celebratory ‘triumph’. The other group
members should help the nominated speaker to
prepare a 60-second speech outlining the group’s
views to the assembled crowd.
In your group, find and watch clips of political
addresses. Suggest how the speaker might build
into their own delivery any effective performance
techniques that you identify. As the speaker practises
the speech, the rest of the group should offer
constructive feedback on what is good and what
could be improved!
Make placards, banners, badges and leaflets to
distribute, or create other types of publicity material
to be used at the triumph. Show clearly where your
loyalties lie and either what you want to celebrate
about Caesar’s success or what you fear might
happen under his rule.
Then stage the triumph, allowing each group the
chance to present their arguments. If you can, film it!
Play the recording back and judge which group made
the stronger case.
A The Pompeyite point of view
Pompey believed in the Senate. He fought for the
Senate, he died for the Senate. One-person rule
is dangerous – what’s to stop Caesar becoming
a tyrant now that the Senate has made him
permanent head of government and granted him
many special powers? Let’s face it, he’s even being
worshipped like a god now that one of his statues
has been erected in the temple. One ruler may
serve us well, but what will happen when that
person dies? Do we want to return to the days
of the monarchy when power was handed on
unopposed and we had no say in who ruled us?
That’s one of the reasons we killed the last king
we had – four hundred years ago!
B The Caesarite point of view
People in Rome are poor. Only the rich get
votes in the Senate. Yes, the rich look after
themselves. But with Caesar, you ask and you
get. He listens and then he takes action – and
he’s richer than the Senate, because he’s been
off on his conquests again. Yes, it’s true that he
saw off Pompey, but look how decent he’s been in
forgiving the other rebels like Brutus and Cassius.
They’ve now taken up positions of responsibility
in his government, so we can trust him to put the
good of the people first. Let him rule! Let him be
a dictator! We need a strong man after the wars.
But we’ll never let him be king, of course.
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Julius Caesar
Caesar’s triumph
Study this photograph from a modern production of Julius Caesar.
How effective do you think it is in suggesting the kind of admiration
that Caesar was held in by some of his public? Why?
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Julius Caesar
List of characters
Caesar and his supporters
Caesar’s wife
The ruling Triumvirate after Caesar’s death
The conspirators against Caesar
Family and followers
PORTIA Brutus’s wife
LUCIUS Brutus’s boy servant
Personal followers
of Brutus
Cassius’s slave
Officers of Brutus
and Cassius
Other Romans
Tribunes critical
of Caesar
Who try to
warn Caesar
*non-speaking parts
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Two Tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, ask some tradespeople why they are taking the day off. A Cobbler gives
riddling replies.
1 Tribunes versus common people (in fours)
The opening of the play immediately establishes a sense of conflict.
The Tribunes Flavius and Murellus (officials of the Roman government) are
loyal to the defeated Pompey. They are angry that the common people
celebrate Caesar’s triumph in carnival mood. The Cobbler (which can also
mean a person who plays with words) responds to the Tribunes’ wrath with
witty wordplay at their expense.
• Take the parts of Flavius, Murellus, the Cobbler and the Carpenter, and
read lines 1–30 together. Experiment with different ways of bringing out
the Tribunes’ disapproval and the common people’s celebration.
manual workers, craftsmen
▼ Which line do you think is being spoken in the photograph below?
rule measuring ruler
apparel clothes
in respect of compared to
cobbler mender of shoes or
one who mends clumsily
directly clearly, plainly
soles (a pun on ‘souls’)
naughty worthless
be not out don’t be angry
if you be out if you (your shoes)
Setting the scene
are worn out
mend repair (shoes) or
reform (souls)
Shakespeare does not give any overt stage directions. The script
has to be searched for references to the time of day, the location
and the weather, for example, and then the director has to decide
how to stage the play. They could choose to highlight in the staging
a particular idea that runs throughout the play; to make the location
specific, even familiar to their audience; or to go for a more neutral
setting. Some directors choose to open this play with a powerful
statement about the triumph of Caesar over Pompey.
• In groups, discuss your reactions to the staging shown in the
picture above.
• Begin a Director’s Journal to record your ideas about the staging
of Julius Caesar, as if you were a director. Make a note in the
journal outlining your discussion. Add any of your own ideas for
staging afterwards.
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Julius Caesar
Act 1 Scene 1
Rome A street
Enter flavius, murellus, and certain commoners over the stage
Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home!
Is this a holiday? What, know you not,
Being mechanical, you ought not walk
Upon a labouring day without the sign
Of your profession? Speak, what trade art thou?
Why, sir, a carpenter.
Where is thy leather apron and thy rule?
What dost thou with thy best apparel on?
You, sir, what trade are you?
COBBLER Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am but, as you would
say, a cobbler.
MURELLUS But what trade art thou? Answer me directly.
COBBLER A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe conscience, which
is indeed, sir, a mender of bad soles.
What trade, thou knave? Thou naughty knave, what trade?
COBBLER Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me; yet if you be out, sir,
I can mend you.
MURELLUS What mean’st thou by that? Mend me, thou saucy fellow?
COBBLER Why, sir, cobble you.
Thou art a cobbler, art thou?
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The tradespeople celebrate Caesar’s triumph over Pompey. The Tribunes accuse them of ingratitude to Pompey,
who was once the people’s favourite.
Language in the play
awl tool for piercing leather
Rhetorical questions (in groups of four or five)
recover resole and cure
neat’s leather cattle hide
gone walked
Murellus’s lines 31–50 make much use of rhetorical questions
(questions that do not need an answer). The questions are intended
to influence the thoughts of the listeners and make them reflect on
their actions.
a Share out the lines, making sure everyone has at least one
rhetorical question. Practise speaking the lines, deciding where
to speak harshly and where to speak softly. Surround another
group and deliver the lines. Then they do the same to your group.
Afterwards, talk together about the effect the lines have
on the listeners.
tributaries conquered peoples
forced to pay tax
b As you read on, keep a note of how many times rhetorical
questions are used as a device to persuade a listening audience
and what the effect of these questions might be.
Pompey a great Roman general
(see p. 173)
triumph procession celebrating
Caesar’s victory over Pompey’s
sons in Spain in March 45 BC
1 Stop the party! (in large groups)
a Murellus and Flavius want to manipulate the common people and one
way in which they do this is by using vivid language. They paint pictures
with their words. In your group, read through Murellus’s description of
the crowd’s reaction to Pompey (lines 36–46). Create a tableau (frozen
picture) of this moment. Then discuss why Murellus chose to remind
them of these previous celebrations.
b Ordinary Romans were deeply superstitious. Every action or decision
was taken after consultation with the augurers, who performed rites
and sacrifices to find out the will of the gods (see p. 171). Read the
Tribunes’ differing accounts of what the crowd should do next in lines
52–4 and 56–9. Decide how the Tribunes are playing on the crowd’s
superstition in these lines and swap your ideas with another group.
2 How do the common people react? (in pairs)
Tiber river, sacred to Romans,
that flows through Rome
replication echo
attire clothes
cull out pick, choose
blood blood relatives
(Pompey’s sons whom Caesar
had defeated)
intermit prevent
light on fall upon
The common people exit at line 59 – but Shakespeare gives no clue as
to their mood. Are they subdued, resentful, angry or something else?
• Improvise a conversation or write an exchange of text messages
between two of the crowd after this brush with the furious Tribunes.
Do kiss … of all rises to the top
of its banks
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Julius Caesar Act 1 Scene 1
Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the awl. I meddle with no
tradesman’s matters, nor women’s matters; but withal I am indeed,
sir, a surgeon to old shoes: when they are in great danger I recover
them. As proper men as ever trod upon neat’s leather have gone upon
my handiwork.
But wherefore art not in thy shop today?
Why dost thou lead these men about the streets?
Truly, sir, to wear out their shoes, to get myself into more work.
But indeed, sir, we make holiday to see Caesar and to rejoice in his
Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home?
What tributaries follow him to Rome
To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?
You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things!
O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome,
Knew you not Pompey? Many a time and oft
Have you climbed up to walls and battlements,
To towers and windows, yea, to chimney tops,
Your infants in your arms, and there have sat
The livelong day, with patient expectation,
To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome.
And when you saw his chariot but appear
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way,
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood?
Be gone!
Run to your houses, fall upon your knees,
Pray to the gods to intermit the plague
That needs must light on this ingratitude.
Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault
Assemble all the poor men of your sort,
Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears
Into the channel till the lowest stream
Do kiss the most exalted shores of all.
Exeunt all the Commoners
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The Tribunes leave, intending to stop further celebration. Caesar comes to the Lupercal races, in which Antony is
to run. He orders Antony to touch Calpurnia in the race to cure her infertility.
1 Caesar and the crowd – high and low (in threes)
Caesar does not appear in Scene 1. But the loyal Pompeyite Flavius makes
clear in lines 67–8 that he plans to take all the decorations off Caesar’s
statues. He is also anxious that Caesar should not be allowed to ‘soar above
the view of men / And keep us all in servile fearfulness’. This bird image
emphasises the sense of superiority that Flavius fears in Caesar.
• In your groups, make a list of all the words used by the Tribunes in this
first scene to describe the ‘lowness’ of the common people.
• Then decide whether the Cobbler seems aptly described by these
terms. In your view, is he likely to feel ‘servile fearfulness’?
basest metal inferior natures (with
wordplay on metal/mettle; lead, the
basest metal, is inert but malleable)
Capitol Senate house or
government building (see p. 172)
Disrobe the images
pull decorations off the statues
ceremonies garlands, decorations
feast of Lupercal festival held
on 15 February (see p. 172)
trophies arms or other spoils of
war taken from the enemy
vulgar common people
Caesar’s triumphal progress (in groups of six to eight)
Plan how Caesar’s entrance and exit (lines 1–24) can be staged.
• How will you manage the Tribunes’ exit at the end of the
previous scene (to follow Caesar back on stage shortly
• How will you enact the stage direction at the start of this scene?
• What is the behaviour of the ‘great crowd’?
• How do the different characters speak to, and about, Caesar?
• How does Caesar address his wife and how sensitive is he about
her childlessness?
• What sort of person is the Soothsayer?
• How will you use music in the scene? (Consider Caesar’s remark
at line 16 and the ‘Sennet’ stage direction at line 24.)
Make your choices, and then present your version of lines 1–24.
▼ Comment on the atmosphere created by
the entrance of Caesar in this production.
Stand you … sterile curse
a runner’s touch was said to cure
infertile women
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