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Queensland, Australia
I'm an Australian author of Contemporary Romance, Romantic Action/Adventure, and Historical fiction. I live in Queensland, Australia. www.noelleclark.net

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Beware the Ides of March

In the year 1599, William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, played at the Globe Theatre in London. It was popular with audiences, and highlighted the topic of the differences in the Julian and Gregorian calendars, which over time, had got out of sync. It seems to me a bit like the predicament we currently have in Australia – when most of the country moves to Daylight Savings time, my home state – Queensland – stays in standard time. The English had the Julian calendar, a version created by Julius Caesar, whereas the Catholic countries in Europe used the Gregorian calendar. Then, as now, the difference in the calendar (or time in the case of modern day) caused much confusion.
The Ides was a name given to the 15th of the months of March, May, July and October. (It was the 13th on the other months). These dates marked divisions in the annual calendar where debts should be paid; they also once coincided with the full moon, but the calendar and the moon phases somehow got out of whack.

The Death of Caesar (1798) by Vincenzo Camuccini

But in 44 BC, Brutus and Cassius assassinated Julius Caesar on the Ides of March. It’s not clear who,
but someone warned Caesar not to attend the meeting in the Senate that day. He ignored them, and was viciously, and fatally, stabbed to death by his political rivals. It was a momentous time in Roman history, and played a huge part in the evolution of the Roman Empire.

A later artist's conception of the funeral of Julius Caesar, who was killed on the Ides of March in 44 B.C.
(Illustration by C. Vottrier, Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy)

Shakespeare wrote about topical subjects that would resonate with his audiences. His plays were for the entertainment of the populace. So, in his play Julius Caesar, he included the warning by the soothsayer:

Caesar:  Who is it in the press that calls on me?
I hear a tongue shriller than all the music
Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.
Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.
Caesar: What man is that?
Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.
Ref: Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15-1

The popularity of Shakespeare’s plays brought the expression, ‘beware the Ides of March’, into common usage as a warning of a fateful day. In fact, the expression was already in use as a reference to assassination. Therefore, the audiences would not have needed to be told anything other than ‘beware the Ides of March’ to know that an assassination was going to take place in the next scene of the play.
Reverse side of a coin issued by Caesar's assassin Brutus in the fall of 42 BC, with the abbreviation EID MAR (Ides of March) under a "cap of freedom" between two daggers
For the political assassins – Brutus and Cassius – their act had mixed results. Half the population of Rome were glad Julius Caesar was dead, the other half mourned the death of their leader. As in modern days, political rivalry can bring out the worst in some, especially those who take it upon themselves to forcibly and permanently remove an opponent.

As a social commentator, Shakespeare was the master. He knew his audience so well, writing plays that resonated with their lives, their knowledge, and their sensibilities.



  1. Timely, as two of our southern states go to the polls today. Poor old Labor may well be telling one another: Beware the ides of March.
    The Bard is one of my favourite writers too, Noelle.

    1. I wonder if the parties knew of the significance of the date? :-) Will be interesting to see the outcome. Thanks for visiting, Susanne.

  2. Jesus H'ing Christ Noelle...My first role on stage.. The soothsayer. 'The Ides of March have come.' Ooh cue big voice and hair everywhere here. 'Aye Caesar, but not gone,...' My lord , does this take me back, Great post

    1. What an important role to have as your debut! The soothsayer, to me, epitomises the conscience. He couldn't stop Caesar from attending, but he had a moral obligation to at least warn him. Glad you liked the post. :-) and thanks for sharing. Got any pics of you in that role?