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Superstition in Julius Caesar

Instructor: Bryan Cowing

Bryan is a freelance writer who specializes in literature. He has worked as an English instructor, editor and writer for the past 10 years.

Superstition is different between cultures and times. In this lesson, we will look at several examples of superstition in William Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar''.

Friday the Thirteenth

Seven years of bad luck. That is what you get when you break a mirror. Maybe it is because microscopic shards of glass fly into the air and adhere themselves to your skin and then work their way into your cells and change how you behave. Or maybe the whole seven years of bad luck thing is just a superstition. The same goes for seeing black cats, picking up a coin that is heads down and anything involving the number 13. In Caesar's time, superstition was just as common as it is now.

Calpurnia's Curse

One of the first examples of superstition is when Caesar asks his friend to touch his wife while he is competing in a race. Caesar says 'Forget not in your speed, Antonius, / To touch Calpurnia, for our elders say / The barren, touched in this holy chase, / Shake off their sterile curse.' In other words, Caesar believes that Mark Antony can cure Calpurnia's fertility issues by touching her. The fact that Caesar calls their lack of children a 'curse' even further shows that he does not believe there is a logical explanation. He is superstitious about his wife.

Casca's Overreaction

One of the most detailed examples of superstition in Julius Caesar is the storm in Act 1 scene 3. One character, in particular, Casca, is overwhelmed by what he sees. He is worried about the storm and says that 'Or else the world, too saucy with the gods, / Incenses them to send destruction.' Cicero asks if Casca is that afraid of the storm or if he has seen anything more serious. Casca describes several other instances that suggest bad luck.

Casca tells Cicero that he saw a slave's hand burst into flames without causing the man any pain. He also says that he crossed a lion in the street that simply looked at him and walked away. He goes on to say that he also spoke to a group of women who were terrified after seeing men running through the streets while they were on fire. Lastly, he says that an owl was out during the day and was hooting. The first things Casca describes sound pretty scary, and it is easy to understand why he might be worried about people on fire and lions roaming the street. The last item he mentions - the owl- is a perfect example of superstitious overreaction. Out of all the things Casca lists, the owl is the least worrisome. The fact that it is listed among other truly disturbing events shows that Casca has a deep superstition about an owl being spotted during the day.

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