In the play, The Tragedyof Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, we see a brief picture of this Romanlife during the time of the First Triumvirate. In this snap shot, manyunfortunate things occur as a result of these strong feelings towards thegovernment of that time. Shakespeare gives us the idea that many people try tocircumvent what the future holds, such as unfortunate things, by beingsuperstitious. Superstition seems to play a role in the basic daily life of mostRoman citizens, and exists as an important, deciding factor in the events andoutcome of the play itself. The setting of the first scene of the play is basedupon superstition. The Feast of Lupercal is in honor of the god Pan, the queenof fertility.
During this time, infertile females are supposed to be able toprocreate, and fertile ones are supposed to be able to bear more. It is also asupposed time of sexual glorification and happiness. Other scenes depict howmysterious sooth-sayers, who are supposedly given the power to predict thefuture, roam the streets of Rome. Dictating what is to come through tersetidbits, these people may also be looked upon as superstitious. In the openingscene, one sooth-sayer, old in his years, warns Caesar to “Beware the Idesof March,” an admonition of Caesar’s impending death. Although sooth-sayersare looked upon by many as insane, out of touch lower classmen, a good deal ofthem, obviously including the sayer Caesar encountered, are indeed right on themark.
Since they lack any formal office or shop, and they predict forthcomingswithout fee, one can see quite easily why citizens would distrust theirpredictions. Superstition, in general elements such as the Feast of Lupercal, aswell as on a personal level such as with the sooth-sayers, is an importantfactor in determining the events and the outcome of The Tragedy of JuliusCaesar, and a significant force throughout the entire course of the play. Beforethe play fully unravels, we see other signs of Caesar’s tragic end. Aside fromthe sooth-sayer’s warning, we see another sign during Caesar’s visit with theAugerers, the latter day “psychics”.
They find “No heart in thebeast”, which they interpret as advice to Caesar that he should remain athome. Caesar brushes it off and thinks of it as a rebuke from the gods, meaningthat he is a coward if he does not go out, and so he dismisses the wise adviceas hearsay. However, the next morning, his wife Calpurnia wakes up frighteneddue to a horrible nightmare. She tells Caesar of a battle breaking out in theheart of Rome, “Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol,” with Caesarpainfully dying, such that “. . .
The heavens themselves blaze forth the deathof princes. ” Although Caesar realizes Calpurnia is truly concerned abouthis well being, he seeks another interpretation, coming to the conclusion thatthe person who imagines the dream may not be the wisest one to interpret it’smeaning. Later Caesar tells his faithful companion Decius about it, and heinterprets it quite the contrary, “That it was a vision fair andfortunate,” and indeed, today is an ideal day to go out, since this is theday “To give a crown to mighty Caesar. ” Perhaps Decius is implyinghere that today is a day where much appreciation and appraisal will be given toCaesar, surely not the endangerment of his well being as Calpurnia interpretsit. Caesar predictably agrees with him, as most citizens enjoy believing themore positive of two interpretations. After Caesar’s assassination at the handof Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators, Brutus and Cassius arechased into the countryside, where we see a few superstitious signs of theirforthcoming painful death in battle.
In a dream, Brutus sees Caesar’s”ghost”, interpreted as an omen of his defeat. He also looks upon theensign, 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’sdeath is avenged in the end, with two of the conspirators, Titanius andBrutus’ double suicide. The play, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, by WilliamShakespeare, clearly reveals how important superstition was to the people ofRome at the time of Caesar, and to the play itself.
Superstition was used by thepeople of Rome to somehow change the unfortunate occurrences that inevitablywaited for them in the future. The Romans, with their government in a state ofturmoil, wanted to believe that they were somehow in control of their destinyand 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 one’sown future. To compensate for their helplessness in their fate, the Romans usedsuperstition.
With superstition intertwined throughout the entire play, we canreasonably conclude that this irrational belief in why certain events occur andhow to avoid them, is what led to Caesar’s demise and eventual avengement. “This was the noblest Roman of them all. . . .
His life was gentle, and theelements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world,?This was a man!'”