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The working people of Rome are overjoyed: Julius Caesar has beaten Pompey's sons in battle, and everyone's getting a day off from work to celebrate Caesar's triumphant return. But two Roman officers, Flavius and Marullus, chase the crowds away: how dare the citizens support a tyrant who threatens to undermine hundreds of years of Republican (representative) rule! Don't they know that Caesar wants to be king?
Caesar parades by in full glory, just in time to help celebrate the races on the Feast of Lupercal. A soothsayer bids him "Beware the ides of March" (March 15), but Caesar-anxious not to show fear in public dismisses the man as a dreamer. The procession passes by, leaving behind two Roman Senators: Cassius, a long-time political enemy of Caesar, and Brutus, Caesar's friend. Like other members of the Senate, Brutus and Cassius are aristocrats who fear that Caesar will take away their ancient privileges.
Cassius now goes to work on Brutus, flattering him, reminding him of his noble ancestry, trying all the while to determine just how unhappy Brutus is with Caesar and just how willing Brutus is to join the conspiracy. Does Brutus know where Cassius is leading him? It's hard to tell. Brutus admits only that he's dissatisfied, and agrees to discuss the matter further.
Caesar, now back from the races, tells his friend Antony that he doesn't trust a man like Cassius, with his "lean and hungry look." He has good reason to be suspicious.
Casca tells Brutus and Cassius how the Roman people three times offered Caesar the crown, and how three times he refused it. Perhaps Caesar doesn't want to be king-that's what his friends would argue; but to his enemies, Caesar was merely playing on the gullibility of the people, pretending to be humble in order to win their support.
On a stormy night full of mysterious omens, Cassius converts Casca to his cause and arranges for Cinna, a fellow-conspirator, to throw a message through Brutus' window. The note will, he hopes, win the noble Senator to their side.
Alone in his garden, Brutus tries to justify the part he is about to play in the murder of his friend, Caesar. He decides finally that Caesar's ambition poses a grave danger to the future of the Republic and that Caesar should be destroyed, not for what he is, but for what he's likely to become. The conspirators arrive at Brutus' house and agree to murder Caesar the next day at the Capitol. They would like to murder Antony, too, but Brutus, anxious to keep his hands clean and to preserve his precious honor, insists that Antony be spared.
After the conspirators leave, Brutus' wife Portia enters. She wants to know what's happening. Brutus worries that the news may be too frightening for her to bear, but nevertheless confides in her.