Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Ides Of March

According to William Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar was on his way to the Capitol, when he was suddenly accosted by a voice in the crowd.


Caesar:
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.
Soothsayer:
Beware the ides of March.
Caesar:
What man is that?
Brutus:
A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Caesar:
Set him before me; let me see his face.
Cassius:
Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.
Caesar:
What say’st thou to me now? Speak once again.
Soothsayer:
Beware the Ides of March.
Caesar:
He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.
Julius Caesar – Act 1 Scene 2

It was William Shakespeare who made the phrase ‘the Ides of March’ popular through his play, Julius Caesar.

Can you imagine the scene being enacted? It is the festival of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman holiday. The dictator, Julius Caesar, steps out in all his glory, surrounded by his coterie, when he hears the voice of a soothsayer issue from the crowd. “Beware the Ides of March,” intones the voice.



The Ides of March fall on the 15th of March, according to the Julian Calendar instituted by Caesar himself.

Shakespeare builds up the suspense and stirs the imagination of his audience through omens and portents that play such a significant role in his plays. The day before the assassination, Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, screams out thrice in her sleep, “Help, ho. They murder Caesar!” When she wakes up, she pleads with her husband not to go to the Senate, as she had seen blood flow from Caesar’s statue, and the Roman senators washing their hands in his blood. There have been many dreadful omens witnessed by the Romans the night before.

 “A lioness hath whelped in the streets; 
And graves have yawn'd, and yielded up their dead; 
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds, 
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol; 
The noise of battle hurtled in the air, 
Horses did neigh and dying men did groan, 
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets. 
O Caesar! These things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.”

Caesar, who is superstitious, asks his priests to offer the sacrifice of a bull to determine what these omens augur, and is distressed when they inform him that the sacrificial bull was found to have no heart.

Casca, one of the conspirators, also describes a number of evil omens – a thunderstorm “raining fire” on Rome, a slave whose hand remains “unscorch’d” despite being burnt, a lion striding along the streets, “a hundred ghastly women” who lamented about “men in fire” walking through Rome, and a “bird of night” that sat “howling and shrieking” in the city marketplace at noon.



Unfortunately, Caesar’s arrogance impels him to reinterpret a few of the omens. He takes the omen of the sacrificial animal to mean that he would be a coward if he refused to go to the Capitol on that fateful day.

When he does decide that he would not go to the Capitol, especially after Calpurnia’s dreadful dream, Decius, who had come to escort him, persuades him to change his mind by playing on Caesar’s arrogance. He flatters Caesar by saying how the people of Rome receive their lifeblood from the strength of Caesar, which is what, according to him, Calpurnia’s dream signifies. He also tempts Caesar saying that the senators had planned to offer him the crown, thus playing on his ambition.
The straw that breaks the camel’s back is when he slyly adds,
“If Caesar hide himself, shall they not whisper
 “Lo, Caesar is afraid?”
Thus persuaded, Caesar makes his way to the Capitol. On his way to the theatre of Pompey, he meets the seer and jokingly remarks to him, “The Ides of March are come,” a hint that the prophecy has not come true. The seer replies, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone,” a grim reminder that the day is not over yet.



Caesar arrives at the Capitol, where he is stabbed thirty-three times by the conspirators, and his heart breaks as he witnesses his favourite, Brutus, and exclaims, “Et tu, Brute?” He falls at the base of Pompey’s statue, an act which is described by his friend, Mark Antony, as “the most unkindest cut of all”.







Thus, beware of the Ides of March!




5 comments:

  1. Wow! Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Deepti. I feel I was there in the crowd and I had gasped as the seer had uttered those dreaded words. Keep dipping thine quill in the ink that is as dark as the night on the moor and pen some more beautiful words on ye Bard's other characters like Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth and others, Lady Deepti. ..........Mani Menon

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    1. Mani, thank you so much for those honeyed words and for all the encouragement! This is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays!

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  2. Excellently portrayed Deepti. Takes me back to my classes

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    1. Sutapa, thank you so much! That means a lot!

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    2. Thank you so much, Sutapa! That means a lot!

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