Census Takers In Ancient Rome?

Teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar this month reminded me of the current brouhaha over the supposed intrusiveness of the 2010 federal census.  In Act III, Scene 3, a minor character runs afoul of an angry mob that has been whipped up to a homicidal frenzy by the Machiavellian machinations of Marc Antony.  In the following confrontation, the rowdy gang’s aggressive questioning sounded like something right out of some characterizations of how this year’s census will work:

SCENE III. A street.

 

Enter CINNA the poet

CINNA THE POET

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

And things unlucky charge my fantasy:

I have no will to wander forth of doors,

Yet something leads me forth.

 

Enter Citizens

First Citizen: What is your name?

 

Second Citizen: Whither are you going?

 

Third Citizen: Where do you dwell?

 

Fourth Citizen: Are you a married man or a bachelor?

 

Second Citizen: Answer every man directly.

 

First Citizen: Ay, and briefly.

 

Fourth Citizen: Ay, and wisely.

 

Third Citizen: Ay, and truly, you were best.

Of course, Cinna cooperates and ends up beaten to death, anyway, so perhaps this is less a satire and more a cautionary tale…

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