The Sunday News
SUPERNATURAL means anything that is not according to the usual course of nature. This definition includes the miraculous and the spiritual. In the study of this play we see the use of omens, portents and other superstitions as well as the supernatural, like ghosts.
In Julius Caesar, superstitions exist in the following areas; Caesar’s instructions to Calpurnia to stand in Antonio’s way during the festival of Lupercalia. Caesar impresses on Antony the observance of all the ritual. He tells Antony not to forget in the haste to touch his wife for the elders say that barren women when touched in that holy race may have their curse of sterility removed. Immediately thereafter the Soothsayer calls out to Caesar and tells him to, “Beware the ides (15th) of March.”
Caesar dismisses him as a dreamer ignoring the warning of some danger which might happen to him on that date. We have the superstitious terrors created by the storm on the night preceding Caesar’s death. There has been a terrible storm which has brought fear to some characters. Brutus and Cicero are indifferent to the storm. Cicero concurs that these are strange times. But men may accept things quite differently than the truth as per their thought process, contrary to their real purpose.
To Cassius the storm is a forewarning. To Casca the storm has sinister meanings. Casca is afraid of the storm and asks Cassius, “What night is this?” Cassius responds saying, “a pleasing night to honest men.” This statement is loaded with meaning as he wants to infect Casca with the air of conspiracy. He says those who have known the earth so full of faults, also know that those are really meant for the authors of those flaws and for his own part, he has walked about the streets submitting himself to the perilous night and has bared his bosom to thunderbolts and presented himself in the direction of the flash of the lightning.
Casca is surprised to hear Cassius’ daring stance and asks him why he tempted the heavens so much? It is befitting for men to fear and tremble at such dreadful symbols of the anger of gods that are about to fall on us. Cassius is blunt with Casca telling him that he is dull, he lacks those sparks of life which every son of Rome should have, if he has them, he does not use them well.
But if Casca considers the true cause of these gliding ghosts, strange behaviour of birds and beasts acting against nature, old people behaving like fools and children calculating like old men, he will realise that all this means the gods are hinting at some unnatural state of things that exist in Rome. Things are upside down in Rome; the natural order of things has changed in Rome. Cassius offers to name to Casca a man almost like that dreadful night, that thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars like lions in the Capitol; a man not mightier than both of them, has grown prodigiously in power, which portends that some ill is about to fall upon the state.
Casca understands Cassius well and asks whether he means Caesar. Cassius is non-committal and says, “Let it be who it is.” He mourns the fact that as Romans they are as strong as their ancestors, but the brave spirit of their fathers is dead in them and is replaced and governed by the submissive spirits of their mothers. Caesar is shaken by thunder and lightning. He says, “Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night.” There is no peace tonight in the heaven or earth.”
His fears stem from his wife Calpurnia who thrice cried out in her sleep, “Help, ho! They murder Caesar.” Caesar proves that he is superstitious when he sends a servant to go and tell the priests to offer sacrifice to the gods and bring him their opinions of success. Calpurnia suggests to Caesar that he should not stir out of his house that day because of her fearful dreams concerning his safety. Caesar’s arrogance is exhibited here when he tells Calpurnia that he shall go forth for the things that threatened him, never looked at him but on his back, and when they see Caesar’s face, they shall disappear.
Calpurnia tells him that she has never cared about omens but now they scare her. Besides, what they had heard and seen is nothing compared to the even more terrible sights seen by the watchmen. A lioness whelped in the streets; graves have opened up and exposed their dead; fierce fiery warriors fought upon the clouds, pouring blood upon the Capitol, the noise of battle roared in the air. Horses neighed, dying man groaned, and ghosts shrieked and squealed about the streets.
Casca sums up the prodigies and the unnatural happenings. He says he met a common slave known well, by sight, who held up his left hand, which did flame and burn like 20 torches joined together, and yet his hand, insensitive of fire, remained unburned. Before putting his sword back to its sheath, he saw a lion at the Capitol which fiercely stared at him and arrogantly passed by without hurting him. There was a bunch of women, all in panic, who swore they saw men, all in fire walk up and down the streets.
The day before an owl sat at the market place and shrieked even at noon. Casca concludes by saying that when these prodigies happen at the same time, men cannot say that such occurrences have nothing unnatural about them. All these, he believes portend something terrible. Critics are of the opinion that, the prodigies and omens symbolise the general evil that prevails in the world. We are either able to overcome this evil and retain our goodness, or succumb to evil and become bad.
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