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A Most Important Minor Character- Cinna in Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

Updated on January 8, 2014
The play Julius Caesar
The play Julius Caesar | Source

William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is one rendition of the timeless tale of the conspiracy and murder of Julius Caesar. Although Julius Caesar is based this conspiracy and murder, the actual events surrounding this mutiny are a mystery; therefore, Shakespeare employs numerous literary devices in his play to make the story more appealing for the audience. Among the many devices is the use of minor characters. In Julius Caesar minor characters primarily add to the emotional concerns of major characters. One such minor character is Cinna, the poet, who only shows up in Scene Three, Act Three and is initially mistaken the Cinna who conspired to murder Caesar. Cinna’s seemingly insignificant role is often cut from productions of Julius Caesar because his function as a character in the play is vastly overlooked. Shakespeare would not have added a character for no reason or with little effect. Cinna, the poet, and his death, is vital to the play, not only because his existence shows how ignorant the people of Rome are and adds intense emotional character to the angry mob of Romans, but also because his performance in Act Three, Scene Three displays the magnitude of Rome’s shift from a republic to a dictatorship.

The dialogue in Act Three, Scene Three illustrates the difference between Cinna, the poet, and the angry mob of Romans seeking to punish Brutus and his conspirators. Cinna, the poet, begins the

scene by saying:

I dreamt to-night that I did feast with Caesar,

And things unluckily charged my fantasy:

I have no will to wander forth of doors,

Yet something leads me forth.

(III. iii. 1-4)

In this instance, Cinna speaks in perfect poetry as a presumably educated poet. He also speaks of his uneasy feelings and premonition of his impending doom. When the mob arrives, they speak in dialect and demand Cinna, the poet, to answer their every question. For example, near the end of the scene, Fourth Plebeian says, “It is no matter, his name’s Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going” (III, iii, 34-36). There is no rhyme or meter, like those that permeates most other lines of the Shakespeare’s plays. In fact, the citizens in this scene do not speak in poetic stanzas at all. Their words are straightforward and to the point. The lack of poetic verses in the mob’s conversation depicts them as uneducated. Furthermore, Fourth Citizen’s outburst, as previously mentioned, is evident that the common people are vastly irrational. They are willing and do kill Cinna, the poet, simply because his name is the same as Cinna, the conspirator. The mob does not take into account that Cinna, the poet, is as innocent as any of them in the plot to kill Caesar. In this scene, Cinna, the poet, appears to be far more educated and rational than the mob comprised of common Roman people.

In addition, at this point in the play, the character of the angry mob shows that the Roman people do need leadership. In the previous scene, when Brutus and Mark Antony are speaking, the people are displayed as a group who goes along with whoever is talking. When Brutus was talking the people readily agreed with him and praised him for his role in murdering Caesar. Yet, when Mark Antony takes the stage, to cunningly oppose Brutus and the conspirator’s actions, the mob eagerly marches off to avenge Caesar’s death by wandering through the streets of Rome with torches to look for those who conspired against Caesar. Despite Cinna, the poet’s, pleas that he is “not Cinna the conspirator” (III. iii. 33), a member of the mob, Third Plebeian, yells, “Tear him, tear him!” (III, iii, 37). The mob’s irrational thinking illustrates the Roman people’s inability to govern themselves in an orderly, lawful manner without a leader. This further implies the need for Rome to become a dictatorship. The people of Rome appear unable to govern themselves in a Republic. Cinna’s role emphasizes the need for Rome to become a dictatorship

Facsimile of the first page of Julius Caesar from the First Folio, published in 1623
Facsimile of the first page of Julius Caesar from the First Folio, published in 1623 | Source

Although Cinna, the poet, is only present in the play during a short scene, his presence is nonetheless important to the play as a whole. Cinna, the poet, illustrates how uneducated and illogical the common people of Rome were during Caesar’s time. The ignorance of the people made them susceptible to the opinion of apparently anyone who stood up and addressed them. As the play illustrates, the common people’s lack of knowledge is dangerous. Cinna’s scene shows how vulnerable and irrational an unguided mob of Romans could be during a time of crisis. Furthermore, Caesar’s death brought about uncertainties in leadership and prompted mass hysteria. As the scene illustrates, the mob’s lack of organization without a leader emphasizes Rome’s need for a dictatorship, rather than a Republic. Cinna’s scene is vastly important to the play because it allows the audience to be aware of the common Roman people and question whether or not a Republic is the best way for Rome to be led. In addition, without Cinna, the poet, there is no comparison for rational and irrational thought. Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and all the characters and scenes in his original play are important for understanding the political atmosphere in Rome at that time and how the common people of Rome are coping with that change.

© 2014 morningstar18


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