The era of Julius Caesar was a time when many peoples feelings toward the government began to change. This was one of the first times in Roman history when people began to question the power of their ruler. In the play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, we see a brief picture of this Roman life during the time of the First Triumvirate. In this snap shot, many unfortunate things occur as a result of these strong feelings towards the government of that time. Shakespeare gives us the idea that many people try to circumvent what the future holds, such as unfortunate things, by being superstitious. Superstition seems to play a role in the basic daily life of most Roman citizens, and exists as an important, deciding factor in the events and outcome of the play itself.
The setting of the first scene of the play is based upon superstition.The Feast of Lupercal is in honor of the god Pan, the queen of fertility. During this time, infertile females are supposed to be able to procreate, and fertile ones are supposed to be able to bear more. It is also a supposed time of sexual glorification and happiness. Other scenes depict how mysterious sooth-sayers, who are supposedly given the power to predict the future, roam the streets of Rome. Dictating what is to come through terse tidbits, these people may also be looked upon as superstitious. In the opening scene, one sooth-sayer, old in his years, warns Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March,” an admonition of Caesar’s impending death. Although sooth-sayers are looked upon by many as insane, out of touch lower classmen, a good deal of them, obviously including the sayer Caesar encountered, are indeed right on the mark. Since they lack any formal office or shop, and they predict forthcomings without fee, one can see quite easily why citizens would distrust their predictions. Superstition, in general elements such as the Feast of Lupercal, as well as on a personal level such as with the sooth-sayers, is an important factor in determining the events and the outcome of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, and a significant force throughout the entire course of the play.
Before the play fully unravels, we see other signs of Caesar’s tragic end. Aside from the sooth-sayer’s warning, we see another sign during Caesar’s visit with the Augerers, the latter day “psychics”. They find “No heart in the beast”, which they interpret as advice to Caesar that he should remain at home. Caesar brushes it off and thinks of it as a rebuke from the gods, meaning that he is a coward if he does not go out, and so he dismisses the wise advice as hearsay. However, the next morning, his wife Calpurnia wakes up frightened due to a horrible nightmare. She tells Caesar of a battle breaking out in the heart of Rome, “Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol,” with Caesar painfully dying, such that “…The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” Although Caesar realizes Calpurnia is truly concerned about his well being, he seeks another interpretation, coming to the conclusion that the person who imagines the dream may not be the wisest one to interpret it’s meaning. Later Caesar tells his faithful companion Decius about it, and he interprets it quite the contrary, “That it was a vision fair and fortunate,” and indeed, today is an ideal day to go out, since this is the day “To give a crown to mighty Caesar.” Perhaps Decius is implying here that today is a day where much appreciation and appraisal will be given to Caesar, surely not the endangerment of his well being as Calpurnia interprets it. Caesar predictably agrees with him, as most citizens enjoy believing the more positive of two interpretations.
After Caesar’s assassination at the hand of Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators, Brutus and Cassius are chased into the countryside, where we see a few superstitious signs of their forthcoming painful death in battle. In a dream, Brutus sees Caesar’s “ghost”, interpreted as an omen of his defeat. He also looks upon the ensign, and instead of the usual stock of eagles, ravens and kites replace them, construed as another sign of their loss at Phillipi. Not surprisingly, Caesar’s death is avenged in the end, with two of the conspirators, Titanius and Brutus double suicide.
The play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, clearly reveals how important superstition was to the people of Rome at the time of Caesar, and to the play itself. Superstition was used by the people of Rome to somehow change the unfortunate occurrences that inevitably waited for them in the future. The Romans, with their government in a state of turmoil, wanted to believe that they were somehow in control of their destiny and the unfortunate happenings that could occur, when in fact, they were not. Essential in human existence is the need to believe one has control over ones own future. To compensate for their helplessness in their fate, the Romans used superstition. With superstition intertwined throughout the entire play, we can reasonably conclude that this irrational belief in why certain events occur and how to avoid them, is what led to Caesars demise and eventual avengement.
“This was the noblest Roman of them all.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, This was a man!”