Discuss what the various responses to omens, nightmares and other supernatural events show about the struggle between fate and freewill in Julius Caesar?

Topics: Julius Caesar, Roman Republic, Augustus Pages: 5 (1868 words) Published: October 30, 2009
One of the major concerns presented by Shakespeare in Julius Caesar is the struggle between fate and free will. This struggle is evident throughout the play through Shakespeares continual presentation of the supernatural. The supernatural is present in many different forms in the text, for example through omens, nightmares and sacrifices. Shakespeare believed that life was a combination of fate and freewill, he presents this idea to the audience through different events that occur throughout the play, events such as the Feast at the Lupercal, the Soothsayers prophecy, the animal sacrifice, Calpurnias dream and the presence of animals and Caesars ghost. These events build dramatic tension throughout the play, illustrating the struggle of fate versus freewill.

The Romans believed in superstition and that people lived the life that was chosen for them by the Gods. For example, one of the earliest encounters with supernatural elements in Julius Caesar is the Feast at Lupercal. This was a holiday celebration whereby priests would sacrifice goats and a dog and run through the city dressed in loincloths made of goatskin carrying a februa. Women would place themselves in a position where they would be struck by the februa. In Roman superstition this was suppose to ensure fertility. This ceremony is a significant moment in the play as a whole as it demonstrates Caesars desire for a male heir. This shows Caesars ambition and how he was a man who was willing to attempt to create his own fate. Caesar tells Calpurnia to stand in front of the priest and shake off their sterile curse. Caesars words here are ironic as it is more likely to be his rapid aging that is the curse as apposed to anything Calpurnia could be blamed for. This event is a contrast to Calpurnias next appearance in the play, whereby she warns Caesar not to go to the Senate and Caesar ignores her and the signs and goes anyway. These events demonstrate how life is a combination of fate and freewill.

Another important event in the opening scenes of Julius Caesar is Caesars encounter with the Soothsayer. He warns Caesar to beware the ides of March. This builds dramatic tension, as while Caesar can ignore the prophecy claiming, he is a dreaming, the audience can not. The warning seems too direct to be ignored. In the approaching scenes dramatic irony is created as the audience learns of the conspirators plans. At this early stage of the play however ignoring the prophecy demonstrates how he is tempting fate and how his freewill allows his to ignore this important warning. The importance of the Soothsayers words are emphasised when Caesar is killed, this upsets the natural order of Rome and sends Rome into a state of anarchy. Shakespeare introduces an increasing number of storms and unnatural phenomena to testify to the breakdown of the natural order.

Sacrifice was pivotal to the lives of Romans, and it was considered to be a bad omen if the sacrifice did not go to plan. For example, in Julius Caesar, an animal is sacrificed to establish whether or not Caesar should go to the Senate but they could not find a heart within the beast. An Elizabethan audience would have recognised this as an ominous sign. The sacrifice helps to build to the climax of the play as the bad omens suggest that Caesar is going to die soon. The dramatic irony here is apparent as the audience is aware of the conspirators plans to kill Caesar, but Caesar is completely oblivious to this, instead choosing to believe in his own morality. Caesar claims that Danger knows full well that Caesar is more dangerous than he. Caesars use of the third person to address himself illustrates his arrogance and hubris; by putting himself on par with the Gods he makes himself vulnerable and open to danger. It is evident through Shakespeares use of dramatic irony that Caesar is to be killed, but Caesars words here help the audience to understand Brutus motives for killing Caesar. In Caesars previous speech he says...
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