Flavius and Murellus, two tribunes, talk with some commoners, including a carpenter and a cobbler, to find out why crowds of people are flooding the streets of Rome. After a pun-filled exchange, the cobbler reveals that they are celebrating Caesar’s triumphal return.
Before delving into political intrigue, the play opens with the perspective of working-class Romans, who are happy to join in public celebrations even if they aren’t primarily interested in politics. Their wordplay sets the tone for Shakespeare’s clever use of language throughout the play.
Murellus asks why they celebrate Caesar—do they not remember Pompey? Didn’t they once anticipate Pompey’s triumphal procession with equal joy, yet now they celebrate Pompey’s death at Caesar’s hands? Murellus tells the commoners to beg the gods’ forgiveness for their ingratitude.
Pompey had previously co-ruled with Caesar, but then they became enemies; Caesar has just defeated Pompey’s faction. The general public is fickle in their attitudes toward their leaders, suggesting that the coming drama surrounding Caesar will be more like distant entertainment that doesn’t touch commoners’ daily lives.
As the commoners leave and Flavius and Murellus part ways, Flavius encourages his friend to remove any decorations he finds on images of Caesar. Murellus hesitates, given that it’s the feast of Lupercal, but Flavius tells him that doesn’t matter. They agree to drive other commoners off the streets so the popular enthusiasm won’t go to Caesar’s head.
Lupercal was an ancient Roman feast of purification and fertility, so Murellus fears offending the gods. But for Flavius, the bigger concern is that Caesar might become arrogant, using the support as an excuse for seizing greater power.