Caesar, Antony, Brutus, Cassius, and others enter. Caesar tells his wife, Calpurnia, to stand in Antony’s path when he runs his race. He tells Antony to touch Calpurnia as he runs by, since this is believed to cure a woman’s infertility. Antony agrees.
Caesar believes in superstitions associated with the Lupercalia race, and hopes that adherence to this one will result in an heir—showing that he’s concerned for his succession as emperor.
Caesar hears someone calling shrilly in the crowd—it’s a soothsayer, telling him, “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar summons the soothsayer before him, but then dismisses him, saying that the man is a “dreamer.”
Caesar is superstitious enough to give the soothsayer a hearing, yet also believes himself invulnerable to harm. The question of fate’s role in Caesar’s future will recur throughout the play.
Despite Cassius’s urging, Brutus declines to watch the race. Cassius observes that Brutus has seemed aloof lately. Brutus assures Cassius that he shouldn’t take this personally; he is distracted by his own thoughts, “with himself at war.” Cassius replies that he wishes Brutus could see his own “hidden worthiness,” which so many prominent Romans recognize. Brutus fears that Cassius is trying to lead him astray, but Cassius assures him that he’s no flatterer, and Brutus should trust his perspective.
Brutus has a self-reflective, principle-driven personality. Cassius, on the other hand seems to be motivated solely by self-interest, and he knows how to subtly manipulate a conversation. Here, rather than blatantly flattering Brutus, he appeals to Brutus’s sense of responsibility for the welfare of Rome as a whole.
They hear shouting, and Brutus fears that the people have hailed Caesar as king. When Cassius says that it sounds as if Brutus is against that possibility, Brutus admits that this is true, although he loves Caesar. Brutus urges Cassius to tell him what’s on his mind—whatever it is. If it’s for the good of Rome, he’ll accept it, since he loves honor more than he fears death.
Cassius is attuned to Brutus’s moods and uses that awareness to put words in Brutus’s mouth, steering the conversation in the direction he wants. The exchange also highlights Brutus’s internal conflict between his affection for Caesar and his political ideals. His loyalty to Rome is his greatest motivation.
Cassius says that honor is just what he wants to discuss with Brutus. Both he and Brutus, he argues, were born just as free as Caesar. He recalls a story about racing Caesar across the Tiber River and having to rescue an exhausted Caesar from drowning. Now, Caesar is “become a god, and Cassius is / A wretched creature” who must submit to Caesar’s will. He describes other instances of weakness he’s observed in Caesar.
Again, Cassius steers the conversation in a direction—namely toward honor—that he believes will be effective in swaying Brutus to his side. He argues that he and Brutus are no different from Caesar—and that, in particular, the “godlike” Caesar is no less human than they are.
They hear another burst of applause. Cassius tells Brutus that “the fault […] is not in our stars, / But in ourselves”; that, in other words, it’s their fault if they are beneath Caesar. He argues that the people of Rome should be ashamed if they only have enough room for one great man. Brutus replies that he understands what Cassius is getting at and that they’ll discuss it later. He adds that he would rather be a mere villager than be ruled by a king.
Cassius continues to try to subtly influence Brutus, arguing that it’s their own fault, not fate’s, if they allow Caesar to triumph as king. Brutus seems conflicted, granting some of Cassius’s argument, yet uncomfortable with his insinuations—namely, that they should move against Caesar’s supposed ambition.
The Lupercalia race has ended. Brutus points out to Cassius that Caesar, Calpurnia, and Cicero look angry and distraught. Meanwhile, Caesar tells Antony that he wishes he were surrounded by “fat,” satisfied men, unlike Cassius, who has a “lean and hungry” look—that is, he’s dangerous. Nevertheless, Caesar doesn’t fear him, “for always I am Caesar.”
Caesar perceives Cassius’s ambition, showing that he is politically savvy and perhaps ambitious himself. But Caesar also believes he’s invulnerable to Cassius’s schemes, suggesting that Caesar is arrogant.
Caesar and his train exit, but Brutus tugs on Casca’s cloak, detaining him. He asks Casca why Caesar looked so sad. Casca explains that Caesar was offered a crown by Antony three times; each time, Caesar refused it, but he appeared less reluctant to accept it each time. After the third refusal, Caesar swooned from “the falling sickness.” Casca observes that the rabble responded to Caesar as they would to “the players in the theater.”
Unlike the other characters, Casca speaks in prose instead of in verse, an indication that he adheres to Cynic philosophy, in contrast to Brutus’s Stoicism and Cassius’s Epicureanism. In keeping with that outlook, he interprets Caesar’s behavior as only reluctantly declining the honor of kingship. Like his deafness, Caesar’s epilepsy contrasts with his self-perception as invulnerably powerful. The people respond to Caesar’s behavior as to a celebrity’s, without awareness of the moment’s political gravity.
Casca says that when Caesar perceived that the people were glad he’d refused the crown, he asked Casca to cut his throat. When he recovered from his swoon, he said that his words should be attributed to his illness. Cicero also made a speech in Greek, which Casca was unable to understand, and Murellus and Flavius were executed for defacing Caesar’s statues. Casca categorizes all of this as “foolery.”
Cicero’s speech highlights the importance of language and rhetoric in influencing public opinion. It’s suggested, though, that most people are unable to understand him, and that public opinion is in fact divided—with rebellion like Murellus’s and Flavius’s being firmly suppressed.
Brutus and Cassius agree to meet tomorrow to talk further. Cassius urges him to “think of the world” until then. After Brutus leaves, Cassius muses that Brutus is noble, but that even the noblest can be seduced. Tonight, Cassius will leave a few letters for Brutus, as if written by different citizens, praising Brutus’s reputation and hinting at Caesar’s ambition. Cassius this thinks this will surely help cause against Caesar.
Cassius continues to appeal to Brutus’s sense of duty toward Rome, which he symbolically equates with “the world” as a whole. Privately, he believes that the success of his cause depends on “seducing” and tricking Brutus, whose integrity far surpasses his own.