Here’s the moment in Shakespeare’s play where Caesar gets the warning from the soothsayer. And ignores it. Because wouldn’t we all ignore a warning from a random-crazy-person in the street? Especially if we live in an urban environment and have to deal with a lot of nutty people constantly? What, Caesar’s gonna be like, “OMG, tell me more”? No. And therein lies his ruin.
It is also hard to listen to anything anyone says when you are constantly bombarded by “flourishes”, as Caesar is.
SCENE II. A public place
Enter CAESAR; ANTONY, CALPURNIA, PORTIA, DECIUS BRUTUS, CICERO, BRUTUS, CASSIUS, and CASCA; a great crowd following, among them a SOOTHSAYER
Peace, ho! Caesar speaks.
Here, my lord.
Stand you directly in Antonius’ way,
When he doth run his course. Antonius!
Caesar, my lord?
Forget not, in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say,
The barren, touched in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse.
I shall remember:
When Caesar says ‘do this,’ it is perform’d.
Set on; and leave no ceremony out.
Ha! who calls?
Bid every noise be still: peace yet again!
Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music,
Cry ‘Caesar!’ Speak; Caesar is turn’d to hear.
Beware the ides of March.
What man is that?
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Set him before me; let me see his face.
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
What say’st thou to me now? speak once again.
Beware the ides of March.
He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
A psychic told me some years ago that I would meet my future husband the following year, and he would be blonde. Although I did end up dating someone that following year who happened to be blonde, it ended … not really poorly … but weirdly. In fact, I refer to him as Jackass McGee. So Caesar writing The Soothsayer off as a nutter is understandable.
I just re-read Julius Caesar, in my ongoing Shakespeare Chronological Reading project. The conspiracy scene is one of my favorites in the play: Act II Scene 1.
The conspirators go visit Brutus at his house, and they stand in the orchard, and decide to do the deed on the morrow.
Here’s a fun exercise: read it out loud and notice how often Shakespeare uses the letter “s” in the scene, or an “s” sound. First of all, all of their names have “s”s in them. There’s an “s” sound in almost every sentence. So when you hear the language, just the sound of it, never mind what the words that they’re actually saying, it sounds like a bunch of snakes hissing. It SOUNDS like gossip. “Psst.” “Psst.” “Whissssper …” “Whisssper” “Psst …”
“S” is a sound that carries. If people are whispering over the water cooler about the layoffs coming down, they’re pretty safe in not being overheard if they say vowel sounds: “o” or “e” doesn’t really carry, but an “S” will ricochet across an office as though there is a megaphone attached to it.
That’s the effect that Shakespeare has achieved in the sounds in this scene. The theme of the scene is in the language itself. Ssssssssss gives an impression of a crowd of men whispering “psst”, the hissing ‘psst” whisper of conspiracy.
Sir, ’tis your brother Cassius at the
Who doth desire to see you.
Is he alone?
No, sir, there are more with him.
BRUTUS. Do you know them?
No, sir; their hats are pluck’d about
And half their faces buried in their cloaks,
That by no means I may discover them
By any mark of favour.
BRUTUS. Let ‘em enter.
They are the faction. O conspiracy!
Sham’st thou to show thy dangerous brow by
When evils are most free? O! then by day
Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough
To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, con-
Hide it in smiles and affability:
For if thou path, thy native semblance on,
Not Erebus itself were dim enough
To hide thee from prevention.
Enter the Conspirators, CASSIUS, CASCA,
DECIUS,CINNA, METELLUS CIMBER,
I think we are too bold upon your rest:
Good morrow, Brutus; do we trouble you?
I have been up this hour, awake all
Know I these men that come along with you?
Yes, every man of them; and no man
But honours you; and every one doth wish
You had but that opinion of yourself
Which every noble Roman bears of you.
This is Trebonius.
He is welcome hither.
This, Decius Brutus.
BRUTUS. He is welcome too.
This, Casca; this, Cinna;
And this, Metellus Cimber.
They are all welcome.
What watchful cares do interpose themselves
Betwixt your eyes and night?
Shall I entreat a word?
[BRUTUS and CASSIUS whisper.
Here lies the east: doth not the day
O! pardon, sir, it doth; and yon grey
That fret the clouds are messengers of day.
You shall confess that you are both
Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises;
Which is a great way growing on the south,
Weighing the youthful season of the year.
Some two months hence up higher toward the
He first presents his fire; and the high east
Stands, as the Capitol, directly here.
Give me your hands all over, one by
And let us swear our resolution.
And so, in honor of the Ides of March, here’s the “moment before” the poor ignored SOOTHSAYER comes back into the picture: Act II, scene iv. The sense of foreboding grows. Portia can feel the wrongness in the air.
Come hither, fellow: which way hast thou been?
At mine own house, good lady.
What is’t o’clock?
About the ninth hour, lady.
Is Caesar yet gone to the Capitol?
Madam, not yet: I go to take my stand,
To see him pass on to the Capitol.
Thou hast some suit to Caesar, hast thou not?
That I have, lady: if it will please Caesar
To be so good to Caesar as to hear me,
I shall beseech him to befriend himself.
Why, know’st thou any harm’s intended towards him?
None that I know will be, much that I fear may chance.
Good morrow to you. Here the street is narrow:
The throng that follows Caesar at the heels,
Of senators, of praetors, common suitors,
Will crowd a feeble man almost to death:
I’ll get me to a place more void, and there
Speak to great Caesar as he comes along.
I must go in. Ay me, how weak a thing
The heart of woman is! O Brutus,
The heavens speed thee in thine enterprise!
Sure, the boy heard me: Brutus hath a suit
That Caesar will not grant. O, I grow faint.
Run, Lucius, and commend me to my lord;
Say I am merry: come to me again,
And bring me word what he doth say to thee.