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Calpurnia’s Desperation, Decius’ Cleverness

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  • Category: Roman

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One of the most pivotal moments in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar was when Decius, a conspirator against Caesar, convinced Caesar to leave his house by reinterpreting Calpurnia’s horrific dream. Originally, Caesar planned to stay home because of his wife’s plea. However, Decius arrived and successfully convinced Caesar to depart to the Senate. Shakespeare uses different appeals, details, strategies, and understandings of Caesar to make Decius’ argument more persuasive than Calpurnia’s in convincing Caesar whether or not to go to the Senate. After a flood of strange events from the preceding night and her nightmares of Caesar’s murder, Calpurnia insists that Caesar heed to the Soothsayer’s prophecy to beware the ides of March. Calpurnia emphasized the grimness of the omens by using alliteration, parallelism, logical appeals, and a terrified tone. She interprets the comets lighting up the night sky seen as a prophecy of his death, reasoning that the heavens proclaim the death of only great men.

She envisioned lustful, smiling Romans washing their hands in Caesar’s blood. Though it failed to work because her language and tone did not suit Caesar’s way of thinking. Caesar firmly believed that while cowards imagine their death frequently, brave men die only once. Therefore Caesar thought that listening to his wife and staying back was the act of a coward, which he never wanted to consider himself to be. Engulfed by his stubborn pride, Caesar maintains that he will not stay home out of fear. Despite failing to convince Caesar with logic, Calpurnia tries again using an emotional approach by desperately begging him on her knees and requesting him to send Antony to the Senate in his place. Caesar relents and agrees not to go to the Senate to ease Calpurnia’s worry, not because of her argument. However, Decius soon arrives and manages to trick Caesar into going to the Senate house. He laces his arguments with alliteration (to highlight his use of flattery), and directly play upon Caesar’s emotions.

At first Caesar tells him that he is not feeling well and has decided to stay home, but Decius understands that Caesar is ambitious, prideful, and susceptible to flattery, he also realizes that he must also play upon those qualities of Caesar in order to bring him to the Capitol. After catching up on Calpurnia’s dream, Decius cleverly addresses Calpurnia’s opposition by using quick wit to distort it by saying that the dream had been “misinterpreted”. Decius further explains that the blood spouting in the dream was a symbol of Caesar’s blood rejuvenating Rome. The details of Decius’s interpretation of the dream had a better meaning that went along with his appeals to Caesar’s pride and ambition, but he didn’t stop there. Decius informs Caesar that the Senate decided to crown Caesar that day, but taunts him by mentioning that they might change their minds if he is not present. Decius continues to use Cesar’s fear of negative opinion and his pride by ridiculing him, telling him that the people would judge him to be a coward for giving into his wife’s fear.

Caesar is now fully convinced by Decius and agrees to go to the Senate. Calpurnia seems to throw a few compliments at Caesar, but not enough to grab his attention since he constantly rebuffs her. It doesn’t help that Calpurnia kept telling Caesar he should be afraid and not go. She wasn’t aware that telling him would only make his stubborn pride drive him to prove her wrong. Caesar had decided to give in to her fears and stay home only after Calpurnia fell onto her knees and overwhelmed him with pleads. Though Caesar relents, Calpurnia couldn’t appease nor convince Caesar whereas Decius could.

Decius happens to understand and know Caesar much better than Calpurnia. Decius knows what Caesar likes to hear and understands how to appeal to his pride, and how to use his unspoken fear of being looked at as a coward against him. Caesar fell prey to Decius’ flattery when Decius reinterpreted Calpurnia’s dream, because Decius explained it in a way that highlights Caesar’s importance to Rome and causes Caesar to be blinded by his own conceit. When Caesar heard such a positive interpretation from Decius, along with Decius mentioning that the Senate thought of offering Caesar the crown, he calls Calpurnia’s fears foolish and announces that he will go to the Senate.

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