Julius Caesar Act 1 Scene 1 Summary

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will discuss Act 1, Scene 1 of ''Julius Caesar,'' which establishes the context for the scenes to follow and clues us in to the events that happen prior to the beginning of the play.

Tribunes and Commoners

Act 1, Scene 1 opens with two tribunes, or Roman officers who are chosen to protect the masses, on a street in Rome. The two tribunes, Flavius and Marullus, confront the commoners (ordinary persons, people who are not part of the Roman government in this case) who are in crowding the street. Trying to keep order in the city, the tribunes decide to send the commoners away. Flavius says, ''Hence! home, you idle creatures get you home: / Is this a holiday?'' He tells the commoners that they should not be out on a workday without wearing their work clothes, and assumes that they are all irresponsibly leaving their work.

The tribunes have a frustrating conversation with a cobbler, a person who repairs shoes as their trade. Flavius asks what his trade is, why he is not working, and why he is wearing his nice clothes. The cobbler, in typical Shakespearean style, responds with a series of puns (plays on words) that undermine the tribunes' position without them being aware of it. After some frustrating conversation between Marullus and the cobbler, the cobbler tells them that he is ''a mender of bad soles'' making a pun that implies he also tries to fix bad ''souls,'' and that he can help Flavius and Marullus with this.

Example of Roman tribunes and commoners
Example of Roman tribunes and commoners

Setting the Scene

When the tribunes ask the cobbler why he is leading the rest of the commoners through the streets, he replies that he is merely trying to get them to wear out their shoes so he has more business. He then says, ''But, indeed, sir, we make holiday,/ to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.'' The commoners are in support of Caesar because of the oppression they received under their previous ruler, Pompey. Marullus is very upset by this, claiming the commoners are terrible for celebrating Caesar's conquest of Pompey when they had just been singing Pompey's praises days before. Flavius sends the commoners away to avoid more conflict.

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