44 BC | Rome

Varying Interpretations

Julius Caesar misreads a dream.

[Thunder and lightning. Enter Caesar, in his nightgown.]

Caesar: Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight:
Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out,
“Help, ho! They murder Caesar!” Who’s within!

[Enter a servant.]

Servant: My lord?

Caesar: Go bid the priests do present sacrifice,
And bring me their opinions of success. 

Servant: I will, my lord. [exits

[Enter Calpurnia.]

Calpurnia: What mean you, Caesar? Think you to walk forth?
You shall not stir out of your house today.

Caesar: Caesar shall forth: the things that threatened me 
Never looked but on my back; when they shall see
The face of Caesar, they are vanished.

Calpurnia: Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within.
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets;
And graves have yawned 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:    What can be avoided
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth; for these predictions 
Are to the world in general as to Caesar. 

Calpurnia: When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Caesar: Cowards die many times before their death;
The valiant never taste of death but once. 
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, 
It seems to me most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end, 
Will come when it will come. [Reenter servant.]
    What say the augurers?

Servant: They would not have you to stir forth today.
Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
They could not find a heart within the beast.

Caesar: The gods do this in shame of cowardice:
Caesar should be a beast without a heart
If he should stay at home today for fear.
No, Caesar shall not: danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he:
We are two lions littered in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible:
And Caesar shall go forth. 

Calpurnia: Alas, my lord,
Your wisdom is consumed in confidence.
Do not go forth today: call it my fear 
That keeps you in the house and not your own.
We’ll send Mark Antony to the senate house,
And he shall say you are not well today:
Let me, upon my knee, prevail in this.

Caesar: Mark Antony shall say I am not well,
And, for thy humor, I will stay at home. [Enter Decius.]
Here’s Decius Brutus, he shall tell them so.

Decius: Caesar, all hail! Good morrow, worthy Caesar:
I come to fetch you to the senate house.

Caesar: And you are come in very happy time,
To bear my greeting to the senators
And tell them that I will not come today: 
Cannot, is false, and that I dare not, falser: 
I will not come today: tell them so, Decius. 

Calpurnia: Say he is sick.

Caesar: Shall Caesar send a lie?
Have I in conquest stretched mine arm so far,
To be afeard to tell graybeards the truth?
Decius, go tell them Caesar will not come. 

Decius: Most mighty Caesar, let me know some cause,
Lest I be laughed at when I tell them so.

Caesar: The cause is in my will: I will not come; 
That is enough to satisfy the senate. 
But, for your private satisfaction, 
Because I love you, I will let you know. 
Calpurnia here, my wife, stays me at home: 
She dreamt tonight she saw my statue, 
Which like a fountain with a hundred spouts
Did run pure blood, and many lusty Romans
Came smiling and did bathe their hands in it:
And these does she apply for warnings and portents
And evils imminent, and on her knee 
Hath begged that I will stay at home today.

Decius: This dream is all amiss interpreted; 
It was a vision fair and fortunate:
Your statue spouting blood in many pipes,
In which so many smiling Romans bathed,
Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck
Reviving blood, and that great men shall press
For tinctures, stains, relics, and cognizance.
This by Calpurnia’s dream is signified. 

Caesar: And this way have you well expounded it.

Decius: I have, when you have heard what I can say:
And know it now: the senate have concluded
To give this day a crown to mighty Caesar.
If you shall send them word you will not come, 
Their minds may change. Besides, it were a mock 
Apt to be rendered, for someone to say 
“Break up the senate till another time, 
When Caesar’s wife shall meet with better dreams.”
If Caesar hide himself, shall they not whisper
“Lo, Caesar is afraid”? 
Pardon me, Caesar, for my dear dear love 
To your proceeding bids me tell you this, 
And reason to my love is liable. 

Caesar: How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia! 
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
Give me my robe, for I will go.


William Shakespeare

From Julius Caesar. For this play’s plotting, Shakespeare relied on Thomas North’s 1579 translation of Plutarch’s Lives, although he added in the emperor’s dying lines, “Et tu, Brute?” In the five years between 1599 and 1604, the playwright produced four tragedies, three comedies, and one history play: Henry V, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Troilus and Cressida, All’s Well That Ends Well, Measure for Measure, and Othello