Julius Caesar; Examine in detail paying particular attention to how the passage introduces key elements of the play
The following passage is taken from the first scene of the play ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare. This first scene is vital as it introduces the two classes of people in the Republic of Rome and the relationship between them. Caesar is introduced in this passage to the audience but is not actually seen, which creates a figurative podium increasing the tension around his arrival and suggesting he is of great importance and standing. In this passage key elements such as: the relationship between the commoners and the tribunes, the fickleness of the people and Caesar’s influence.
These elements create a tumultuous mood; the Tribunes’ worry and concern is juxtaposed by the general public who are rejoicing at Caesars arrival. The relationship between the commoners and the Tribunes are introduced in this play. The Tribunes use imperatives when speaking to the commoners, Murellus states “Answer me directly” this shows that he considers himself of a higher class then the people who voted for him. The Cobbler replies by using the title “… sir… ” this shows that the class system in Rome is accepted universally. The Cobbler is witty and of a high intelligence.
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When asked “… what trade… ” by Flavius he replies using a pun which is “… a mender of bad soles… “. The Cobbler is joking with the Tribunes even thought at first the tribunes do not understand his wit. The Commoners speak in prose whereas the Tribunes speak in verse which is evidence of the class and educational differences between them. In 1599 the commoners watching the play in the Globe theatre would have associated their form of Cockney language and colloquialism with the different form of speaking used by the two different classes in the play.
The Cobbler uses another pun when he states that he lives by the “…. awl… ” referring to the tool used to make shoes but also showing his mood at the time as a man who is up for “… the awl… “. Murellus cannot understand the fickleness of the proletariat; he verbally attacks them by listing “… blocks, stones… “. By using the Shakespearian table of hierarchy we see that at the top is Caesar and then the Tribunes; who are accusing the commoners of being rocks and stones, objects that are below any ranking.
Murellus uses a rhetorical question to try and draw some emotion out of the plebs “Knew you not Pompey? ” he asks, trying to show them how fickle they are. Then Shakespeare uses parallelism and a triple-device when Murrells asks three time “… And do you now… “. The scene sets out the play in that it shows the two different classes, the lower-class is rigorous in their support of Caesar and can only see him as a hero, even asking him to become king later in the play, whereas the tribunes fear his power.
This represents a society where instead of the elected leaders following the wishes of their constituents, they instead feel forced to protect them against their own ignorance. The fickleness of the proletariat is also introduced in this passage. This can be seen by the Cobbler’s interaction with the Tribunes. At first the Tribunes misconstrue the Cobbler’s humor as one of ‘saucy’ rudeness, however through his use of puns he communicates the commoner’s jubilation at Caesar’s victory.
He also foreshadows Caesar’s death at the hands of the Tribunes by his metaphor of the ‘sole’ of a shoe as a human soul, suggesting they the Tribunes are soulless. Murellus states to the commoners around him in rhetoric: “Know they not Pompey? ” as though trying to jog their memory about the triumphs of their great leader Pompey. To add insult to injury, they are now accepting and celebrating his killer, Caesar. This shows the changeability of the commoners in respect to their political opinions. The common people are alluded to throughout the play as easily manipulated such as when Cassius describes them as ‘but sheep’.
It is implied here that Caesar is the wolf who is frightening into submission the fickle flock of sheep, namely the common folk. One of the motifs of the play is how the use of rhetoric can change the tide of public opinion, as the river Tiber swells, ‘chafing with its shores”. A number of key elements are represented in this passage, such as the relationship between the proletariats and their superiors and the ever-changing tide of public opinion in respects to the commoners and their support of Caesar in place of Pompey. Julius Caesar’ carries a moral that has lasted through history, namely, of the power struggle between the commoners and those that seek to lead them. This is reminiscent of modern times where the majority rally behind one man of whom they know very little about but adores his every word, whereas the minority of intellectuals can only see faults and the dangers that this man brings. ‘Julius Caesar’ serves as a warning to today’s leaders, thus which is equally applicable in these times as it was in the past.