The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

Image credit: Simon & Schuster

SETTING: Ancient Rome, toward the end of the Roman republic, 44 b.c.
PUBLISHER: - Edward Blount and William Jaggard, London
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  • Introduction (Genre)
  • The Title
  • The Setting 
  • Plot
  • Summary of Acts and Scenes
  • Point of View
  • Characters 
  • Narrative Style
  • Style
  • Other Playwright’s Styles
  • Language (Figures of Speech)
  • Themes
  • Motifs 
  • Is a Republic Better than a Monarchy?
  • Key Questions and Answers

Julius Caesar is a tragedy, as it tells the story of an honorable hero who makes several critical errors of judgment by misreading people and events, leading to his own death and a bloody civil war that consumes his nation. Brutus is by all accounts (including those of his enemies) a noble Roman, and serves as the primary tragic hero of this play. He is virtuous, scrupled, and cares most of all for the welfare of the Roman Republic, whose democratic ideals he earnestly values and strives to protect. In many ways, Brutus is the ultimate patriot; he places his country above all else, even his deep love of Caesar. But in failing to question the motives of others and assuming everyone is as virtuous and selfless as he is, Brutus makes fatal errors. He lets Cassius manipulate him into killing Caesar without determining if Caesar is actually as ambitious as Cassius claims. Brutus also fails to recognize Marc Antony’s insincerity when Marc Antony claims to support the conspirators. Because of Brutus’s errors of judgment Mark Antony triumphs, paving the way for the very outcome Brutus feared most: Rome governed by tyranny. After realizing his mistakes, Brutus commits suicide.

Julius Caesar is based on actual historical events that would have been very familiar to an educated member of Shakespeare’s audience. Writers over the centuries have been divided over whether the assassination of Caesar represented an idealistic assertion of Republican ideals or the blackest act of betrayal and treason. Shakespeare’s choice to tell this story in the form of a tragedy shapes his representation of what these events mean. For example, one of the conventions of tragedy is that the hero is tempted into committing a dark or forbidden act, a mistake with terrible and irrevocable consequences. While Shakespeare does not portray Caesar as an admirable character, the fact that the story is told in the form of the tragedy makes us see the killing as a nightmarish and terrible act. While on one level, Brutus’s motivations seem high-minded and reasonable, much of what happens in the first two acts seems designed to signal that Brutus is being tempted into a fatal mistake. Cassius pushes Brutus down this path, and Cassius is consistently portrayed as dishonest, vindictive, and manipulative—and he specifically misleads and manipulates Brutus. The fact that Brutus undertakes such a momentous action as killing Caesar while being so blinded to what’s going on around him suggests that it was a tragic mistake.

Like Brutus, Caesar also fits the mold of a tragic hero, though he has a considerably smaller presence in the story. He too is well respected and adored, not only by the populace but also by many of his peers. Although some in the Senate fear his tyrannical nature, these fears are mostly abstract; despite wielding enormous power, Caesar has not yet proven to be oppressive or despotic. Caesar’s tragic mistake is his high self-regard and assumption he is invincible. Caesar cannot allow himself to appear cowardly before either the Senate or his people. Therefore, he willfully misinterprets the warning to “beware the ides of March” (II.ii) as well as Calpurnia’s foreboding dream and the augur of the heartless beast. Despite these omens, Caesar goes to the Senate where he is murdered by the conspirators, setting in motion the civil conflict that will dominate the rest of the play. As in the case of Brutus, Caesar’s tragic mistake could have been avoided had he better known himself and those around him.

The title: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar takes place during 44 and 42 BCE. These years mark the final moments of the Roman Republic, and the beginning of the civil war that resulted in the creation of the Roman Empire. The first four acts of the play take place in the city of Rome, while the final act is set in and around a Roman-controlled battlefield in Greece. During this period Rome consisted of an urban center, in the city of Rome itself, and a large collection of client-states around the Mediterranean Sea. Though the relationship between these populations was complex, most Roman citizens saw themselves as the superior conquerors, and the other parts of the empire as the inferior conquered peoples. This civic sense of superiority was reflected in the fact that taxes from all throughout the Republic made their way to the city of Rome for the benefit of the rulers and, to a lesser extent, the Roman citizens.

More important than the geographical setting of the story is its political setting. Shakespeare sets Julius Caesar during a period of great political conflict in the Roman Republic. For nearly 500 years the Republic had been ruled by a group of senators and a pair of consuls drawn from the wealthiest and most powerful families of Rome. However, throughout the history of the Republic, wars had been fought with enemies both external and internal, including a series of civil conflicts that occurred immediately before the events of the play. During these conflicts, Julius Caesar defeated Pompey and managed to amass the most personal and political power of any Roman citizen. Caesar had been awarded the position of Consul, or dictator, for life—an unprecedented title that gave him unlimited power. Romans grew concerned that Caesar had too much power in his hands, and that his monarchic rule directly contradicted the goals of the Republic. As the play dramatizes, these Roman citizens became convinced that the only way to stop Caesar would be to assassinate him, which they did on March 15, 44 BCE.

Plot analysis
Julius Caesar tells the story of how the Roman Republic came to its end. The Republic was viewed as a high point in history, both by its participants and by those who came after, because its institutions divided power among a number of people (senators and tribunes) rather than concentrating it in one person. Political decisions were made through public debate and persuasive argument, and in theory the ideas that would be best for Rome would prevail rather than the will of one ruler. At the beginning of the play the Republican mode of government is under serious threat, since Julius Caesar is ruling as a dictator and may soon be crowned as a king. In fact, the Republic doesn’t dissolve with Caesar’s coronation, but rather with his murder. In assassinating Caesar, Brutus thinks that he is striking a blow for Republican ideals and doing what is best for Rome, but in actuality he has let himself be manipulated by Cassius and the other conspirators. The assassination actually represents their personal grievances, fears, and self-interest more than the interest of Rome. Rather than restoring Republican balance, Caesar’s murder unleashes a brutal civil war in which the self-interest and power of the warring parties are all that matter.
The first scene of the play depicts the conflict between Rome’s Republican past and Caesar’s ascendance. The commoners march in celebration of Caesar’s victory over Pompey but the Tribunes scold them and chase them off, arguing that Pompey was a celebrated Roman too so Caesar’s triumph is not truly a triumph for Rome. As Caesar is loudly cheered by crowds offstage, we see Brutus admitting to Cassius that he is worried about what’s happening to the Republic. But while Brutus is not wrong to see Caesar as a threat to Republican institutions—Caesar really does see himself as set apart from other men and intends to rule by his own will, unswayed by other people’s arguments—we see clear signs throughout the first two acts that the idea of assassinating Caesar is a dark and mistaken path for Brutus to take. Cassius is the person tempting Brutus in this direction, and we see more clearly than Brutus does that Cassius’s motives are personal rather than idealistic. Caesar describes Cassius as having a “lean and hungry” look, as if he lies awake at night brooding. Cassius’s story to Brutus about rescuing Caesar from the river but then later finding himself Caesar’s inferior suggests his resentment about being undervalued personally rather than Rome’s institutions being threatened. Most significantly, we see Cassius deliberately mislead Brutus by arranging to have fake notes left on his chair and thrown in at his window as if the people were encouraging him to rise against Caesar. Brutus explicitly comments to the audience after Brutus leaves the stage at the end of Act I, Scene ii that he’s just manipulated him.
The first two acts of the play thus show the rise of the conspiracy and Brutus’s decision to join it. The conspirators present themselves as motivated by a desire to save the Roman Republic and overthrow tyranny, but the play teaches us not to take their claims at face value. The other conspirators openly admit to each other that they need Brutus to participate because they know that their actions would be seen as treasonous without his reputation to make them look better than they are. We see Cassius’s manipulation of Brutus in Act I, then Brutus’s debate with himself at the beginning of Act II, in which the tortured logic of his reasons shows how out of touch with the truth he is. We see Brutus reject his wife Portia, who represents the nobler side of his character. We see the sinister masked figures of the conspirators appearing at Brutus’s door, and finally, in Act III, Brutus and the others betray and stab Caesar to death.
After the assassination, the conspirators’ survival depends on their ability to convince the populace and the other senators of Rome that what they did was for the sake of the Republic. As Cassius points out, in order to control how their actions are understood, they must either kill or at least silence Mark Antony, Caesar’s loyal and powerful friend who is likely to speak against them. But Brutus makes the fatal error of allowing Antony to speak, because he is still deluded about himself and his own actions, clinging to the idea that he is the most honorable of Romans and that no one would dare dispute his honor. The climax of the play comes when Antony, by juxtaposing Caesar’s accomplishments, his generous will, and his corpse’s brutal wounds with the repeated statement that “Brutus is an honorable man,” persuades the people of Rome that Brutus and his co-conspirators aren’t honorable at all. Brutus and Cassius are forced to flee Rome and the country is plunged into civil war.
When Brutus and Cassius meet in Act IV, at the head of their armies, and begin arguing with each other, we can see that they’re doomed. Both of them have weakened their own cause by continuing to display the same flaws each exhibited in the early acts. Cassius has acted out of self-interest and now has angered Brutus by selling important offices for personal gain and refusing to send Brutus funds to raise an army. Brutus continues to be crippled by the delusion that he is more honorable than other people; he thus attacks his chief ally for his dishonorable actions and has himself failed to raise funds for his army because he refuses to get money “by vile means.” Though the two reconcile, Brutus refuses to listen to Cassius (who at least usually has good instincts for self-preservation) and leads their forces into an ill-fated assault. Because they don’t actually represent a political movement for republicanism and because the assassination was a tragic crime, Cassius and Brutus end by killing themselves, power in Rome passes into the hands of Mark Antony and Octavius, and the tyranny that Brutus hoped to avert comes to pass.


Summary: Act I, scene i
Two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, enter a Roman street, along with various commoners. Flavius and Murellus derisively order the commoners to return home and get back to work: “What, know you not, / Being mechanical, you ought not walk / Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of your profession?” (I.i.2–5). Murellus engages a cobbler in a lengthy inquiry about his profession; misinterpreting the cobbler’s punning replies, Murellus quickly grows angry with him. Flavius interjects to ask why the cobbler is not in his shop working. The cobbler explains that he is taking a holiday from work in order to observe the triumph (a lavish parade celebrating military victory)—he wants to watch Caesar’s procession through the city, which will include the captives won in a recent battle against his archrival Pompey.
Murellus scolds the cobbler and attempts to diminish the significance of Caesar’s victory over Pompey and his consequent triumph. “What conquest brings he home? / What tributaries follow him [Caesar] to Rome / To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?” Murellus asks, suggesting that Caesar’s victory does not merit a triumph since it involves no conquering of a foreign foe to the greater glory of Rome (I.i.31–33). Murellus reminds the commoners of the days when they used to gather to watch and cheer for Pompey’s triumphant returns from battle. Now, however, due to a mere twist of fate, they rush out to celebrate his downfall. Murellus scolds them further for their disloyalty, ordering them to “pray to the gods to intermit the plague / That needs must light on this ingratitude” (I.i.53–54).
The commoners leave, and Flavius instructs Murellus to go to the Capitol, a hill on which rests a temple on whose altars victorious generals offer sacrifice, and remove any crowns placed on statues of Caesar. Flavius adds that he will thin the crowds of commoners observing the triumph and directs Murellus to do likewise, for if they can regulate Caesar’s popular support, they will be able to regulate his power (“These growing feathers plucked from Caesar’s wing / Will make him fly an ordinary pitch” [I.i.71–72]).

Although the play opens with Flavius and Murellus noting the fickle nature of the public’s devotion—the crowd now celebrates Caesar’s defeat of Pompey when once it celebrated Pompey’s victories—loyalty to Caesar nonetheless appears to be growing with exceptional force. Caesar’s power and influence are likewise strong: Flavius and Murellus are later punished for removing the decorations from Caesar’s statues.
It is interesting to note the difference between the manner in which Flavius and Murellus conceive of the cobbler and that in which Shakespeare has created him. The cobbler is a typically Shakespearean character—a host of puns and bawdy references reveal his dexterity with language (“all that I live by is with the awl. I meddle / with no tradesman’s matters, nor women’s matters” [I.i.21–22]). The tribunes, however, preoccupied with class distinctions, view the cobbler as nothing more than a plebeian ruffian. Flavius’s reproach of the cobbler for not having his tools about him on a workday reveals his belief that a laborer can be good for one thing and one thing only: laboring. Murellus similarly assumes the cobbler is stupid, although, ironically, it is Murellus himself who misunderstands the cobbler’s answers to his questions. Murellus is unwilling to interpret the cobbler’s shift in allegiance from Pompey to Caesar as anything but a manifestation of dim-witted forgetfulness.
Flavius and Murellus’s concern about Caesar’s meteoric rise to power reflects English sentiment during the Elizabethan age about the consolidation of power in other parts of Europe. The strengthening of the absolutist monarchies in such sovereignties as France and Spain during the sixteenth century threatened the stability of the somewhat more balanced English political system, which, though it was hardly democratic in the modern sense of the word, at least provided nobles and elected representatives with some means of checking royal authority. Caesar’s ascendance helped to effect Rome’s transition from republic to empire, and Shakespeare’s depiction of the prospect of Caesar’s assumption of dictatorial power can be seen as a comment upon the gradual shift toward centralization of power that was taking place in Europe.
In addition, Shakespeare’s illustration of the fickleness of the Roman public proves particularly relevant to the English political scene of the time. Queen Elizabeth I was nearing the end of her life but had neither produced nor named an heir. Anxiety mounted concerning who her successor would be. People feared that without resort to the established, accepted means of transferring power—passing it down the family line—England might plunge into the sort of chaotic power struggle that had plagued it in the fifteenth century, during the Wars of the Roses. Flavius and Murellus’s interest in controlling the populace lays the groundwork for Brutus’s and Antony’s manipulations of public opinion after Caesar’s death. Shakespeare thus makes it clear that the struggle for power will involve a battle among the leaders to win public favor with displays of bravery and convincing rhetoric. Considering political history in the centuries after Shakespeare wrote Julius Caesar, especially in the twentieth century, when Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler consolidated their respective regimes by whipping up in the masses the overzealous nationalism that had pervaded nineteenth-century Italy and Germany, the play is remarkably prescient.

Act I, scene ii
Summary: Act I, scene ii
Caesar enters a public square with Antony, Calpurnia, Portia, Decius, Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, and a Soothsayer; he is followed by a throng of citizens and then by Flavius and Murellus. Antony, dressed to celebrate the feast day, readies himself for a ceremonial run through the city. Caesar urges him to touch Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, as he runs, since Roman superstition holds that the touch of a ceremonial runner will cure barrenness. Antony agrees, declaring that whatever Caesar says is certain to become fact.
The Soothsayer calls out from the crowd to Caesar, telling him to beware the Ides of March. (The “ides” refers to the fifteenth day of March, May, July, and October and the thirteenth day of the other months in the ancient Roman calendar.) Caesar pauses and asks the man to come forward; the Soothsayer repeats himself. Caesar ultimately dismisses the warning, and the procession departs. Brutus and Cassius remain. Cassius asks Brutus why he has not seemed himself lately. Brutus replies that he has been quiet because he has been plagued with conflicting thoughts. But he assures Cassius that even though his mind is at war with itself, he will not let his inner turmoil affect his friendships.

Cassius and Brutus speak together. Cassius asks Brutus if Brutus can see his own face; Brutus replies that he cannot. Cassius then declares that Brutus is unable to see what everyone else does, namely, that Brutus is widely respected. Noting that no mirror could reveal Brutus’s worthiness to himself, Cassius offers to serve as a human mirror so that Brutus may discover himself and conceive of himself in new ways.

Brutus hears shouting and says that he fears that the people want to make Caesar their king. When Cassius asks, Brutus affirms that he would rather that Caesar not assume the position. Brutus adds that he loves Caesar but that he also loves honor, and that he loves honor even more than he fears death. Cassius replies that he, too, recoils at the thought of kneeling in awe before someone whom he does not consider his superior, and declares, “I was born as free as Caesar, so were you. / We both have fed as well, and we can both / Endure the winter’s cold as well as he” (I.ii.99–101). Cassius recalls a windy day when he and Caesar stood on the banks of the Tiber River, and Caesar dared him to swim to a distant point. They raced through the water, but Caesar became weak and asked Cassius to save him. Cassius had to drag him from the water. Cassius also recounts an episode when Caesar had a fever in Spain and experienced a seizure. Cassius marvels to think that a man with such a feeble constitution should now stand at the head of the civilized world.

Caesar stands like a Colossus over the world, Cassius continues, while Cassius and Brutus creep about under his legs. He tells Brutus that they owe their underling status not to fate but to their own failure to take action. He questions the difference between the name “Caesar” and the name “Brutus”: why should Caesar’s name be more celebrated than Brutus’s when, spoken together, the names sound equally pleasing and thus suggest that the men should hold equal power? He wonders in what sort of age they are living when one man can tower over the rest of the population. Brutus responds that he will consider Cassius’s words. Although unwilling to be further persuaded, he admits that he would rather not be a citizen of Rome in such strange times as the present.

Meanwhile, Caesar and his train return. Caesar sees Cassius and comments to Antony that Cassius looks like a man who thinks too much; such men are dangerous, he adds. Antony tells Caesar not to worry, but Caesar replies that he prefers to avoid Cassius: Cassius reads too much and finds no enjoyment in plays or music—such men are never at ease while someone greater than themselves holds the reins of power. Caesar urges Antony to come to his right side—he is deaf in his left ear—and tell him what he thinks of Cassius. Shortly, Caesar and his train depart.

Act I, scene ii page 2
Summary Act I, scene ii
Brutus and Cassius take Casca aside to ask him what happened at the procession. Casca relates that Antony offered a crown to Caesar three times, but Caesar refused it each time. While the crowd cheered for him, Caesar fell to the ground in a fit. Brutus speculates that Caesar has “the falling sickness” (a term for epilepsy in Elizabethan times). Casca notes, however, that Caesar’s fit did not seem to affect his authority: although he suffered his seizure directly before the crowd, the people did not cease to express their love. Casca adds that the great orator Cicero spoke in Greek, but that he couldn’t understand him at all, saying “it was Greek to me” (I.ii.278). He concludes by reporting that Flavius and Murellus were deprived of their positions as civil servants for removing decorations from Caesar’s statues. Casca then departs, followed by Brutus.

Cassius, alone now, says that while he believes that Brutus is noble, he hopes that Brutus’s noble nature may yet be bent: “For who so firm that cannot be seduced?” he asks rhetorically (I.ii.306). He decides to forge letters from Roman citizens declaring their support for Brutus and their fear of Caesar’s ascent to power; he will throw them into Brutus’s house that evening.
While the opening scene illustrates Caesar’s popularity with the masses, the audience’s first direct encounter with him presents an omen of his imminent fall. Caesar’s choice to ignore the Soothsayer’s advice proves the first in a series of failures to heed warnings about his fate. Just as Caesar himself proves fallible, his power proves imperfect. When Caesar orders Antony to touch Calpurnia, Antony replies that Caesar need merely speak and his word will become fact—that is, Caesar’s authority is so strong that his word immediately brings about the requested action. However, while the masses may conceive of Caesar’s power thus, Caesar’s order to Antony alerts us to the reality that he and his wife have been unable to produce a child. The implication that Caesar may be impotent or sterile is the first—and, for a potential monarch, the most damaging—of his physical shortcomings to be revealed in the play.

This conversation between Brutus and Cassius reveals the respective characters of the two men, who will emerge as the foremost conspirators against Caesar. Brutus appears to be a man at war with himself, torn between his love for Caesar and his honorable concern for Rome. He worries that it is not in Rome’s best interest for Caesar to become king, yet he hates to oppose his friend. Cassius steps into Brutus’s personal crisis and begins his campaign to turn Brutus against Caesar, flattering Brutus’s pride by offering to be his mirror and thus relaying to him the ostensible high regard in which the citizens hold him.

Cassius compounds Brutus’s alarm about Caesar’s growing power with references to his weak physical state: he lacks stamina and is probably epileptic. But Cassius observes only Caesar’s frail human body, his private self. When he urges Brutus to consider that the name of Brutus should be as powerful as the name of Caesar, he fails to understand that Caesar’s real power is not affected by private infirmities but rather rests in his public persona, whose strength is derived from the goodwill and good opinion of the populace.

Caesar, on the other hand, shows much more perceptiveness in his analysis of Cassius; he observes both Cassius’s private and public personas and notices a discord. He is made uneasy by what appears to be Cassius’s lack of a private life—Cassius’s seeming refusal to acknowledge his own sensibilities or nurture his spirit suggest a coldness, a lack of human warmth. Caesar comments to Antony, “He loves no plays, / As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music. / Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort / As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit / That could be moved to smile at anything” (I.ii.204–208). Cassius remains merely a public man, without any suggestion of a private self. Such a man, Caesar properly recognizes, is made uncomfortable by others’ power.

Act I, scene ii page 3
Summary Act I, scene ii
The question of Caesar’s own ambition is raised in Casca’s account of the triumphal procession. In describing how Antony offered Caesar a crown three times, Casca makes sure to point out Caesar’s reluctance in refusing the crown. Since the incident is related from Casca’s anti-Caesar perspective, it is difficult to ascertain Caesar’s true motivations: did Caesar act out of genuine humility or did he merely put on a show to please the crowd? Nevertheless, Casca’s mention of Caesar’s hesitation suggests that, no matter how noble his motivations, Caesar is capable of being seduced by power and thereby capable of becoming a dictator, as Brutus fears.

At the close of the scene, when Cassius plots to turn Brutus against Caesar by planting forged letters in Brutus’s house, Cassius has shrewdly perceived that Brutus’s internal conflict is more likely to be influenced by what he believes the populace to think than by his own personal misgivings. Cassius recognizes that if Brutus believes that the people distrust Caesar, then he will be convinced that Caesar must be thwarted. Cassius aims to take advantage of Brutus’s weakest point, namely, Brutus’s honorable concerns for Rome; Brutus’s inflexible ideals leave him open for manipulation by Cassius. Cassius, in contrast, has made himself adaptable for political survival by wholly abandoning his sense of honor.

Act I, scene iii
Summary: Act I, scene iii
Casca and Cicero meet on a Roman street. Casca says that though he has seen many terrible things in the natural world, nothing compares to the frightfulness of this night’s weather. He wonders if there is strife in heaven or if the gods are so angered by mankind that they intend to destroy it. Casca relates that he saw a man with his hands on fire, and yet his flesh was not burning. He describes meeting a lion near the Capitol: bizarrely, the lion ignored him and walked on. Many others have seen men on fire walking in the streets, and an owl, a nocturnal bird, was seen sitting out in the marketplace during the day. When so many abnormal events happen at once, Casca declares, no one could possibly believe that they are natural occurrences. Casca insists that they are portents of danger ahead. Cicero replies that men will interpret things as they will: “Indeed it is a strange-disposèd time; / But men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves” (I.iii.33–35). Cicero asks if Caesar is coming to the Capitol the next day; Casca replies that he is. Cicero departs, warning that it is not a good atmosphere in which to remain outside.

Cassius enters. He has been wandering through the streets, taking no shelter from the thunder and lightning. Casca asks Cassius why he would endanger himself so. Cassius replies that he is pleased—he believes that the gods are using these signs to warn the Romans about a “monstrous state,” meaning both an abnormal state of affairs and an atrocious government (I.iii.71). Cassius compares the night to Caesar himself, who

like this dreadful night,
. . . thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol. (I.iii. 72 –74)
He also calls Caesar “prodigious grown, / And fearful, as these strange eruptions are” (I.iii.76–77).

Casca reports to Cassius that the senators plan to make Caesar king in the Senate the following day. Cassius draws his dagger and swears to the gods that if they can make a weak man like Caesar so powerful, then they can empower Cassius to defeat a tyrant. He declares that Rome must be merely trash or rubbish to give itself up so easily to Caesar’s fire. Casca joins Cassius in his censure of Caesar, and Cassius reveals that he has already swayed a number of high-powered Romans to support a resistance movement.

A conspirator named Cinna enters. Cassius now divulges his latest scheme in his plot to build opposition against Caesar: the conversion of Brutus. Cassius gives Cinna the letters he has forged to place in Brutus’s chair in the Senate, and others to throw through Brutus’s window and place on Brutus’s statue. Cassius claims that Brutus has already come three-quarters of the way toward turning against Caesar; he hopes the letters will bring him the rest of the way around. Casca comments that the noble Brutus’s participation in their plot will bring worthiness to their schemes, for “he sits high in all the people’s hearts, / And that which would appear offence in us / His countenance, like richest alchemy, / Will change to virtue and to worthiness” (I.iii.157–60).
This scene demonstrates the characters’ inability to interpret correctly the signs that they encounter. The night is full of portents, but no one construes them accurately. Cassius asserts that they signify the danger that Caesar’s possible coronation would bring to the state, while they actually warn of the destruction that Cassius himself threatens. Meanwhile, Cassius plots to win Brutus to his cause by misleading him with letters; he knows that Brutus will take the written word at face value, never questioning the letters’ authenticity.

Act I, scene iii page 2
Summary Act I, scene iii
The juxtaposition of Cicero’s grave warning about not walking in this night’s disturbing weather with Cassius’s self-satisfied mood upon meeting with Casca (he labels the night “very pleasing . . . to honest men” [I.iii.43]) aligns Cassius with the evil that the omens portend. Further, this nexus suggests a sort of pathetic fallacy—an artistic device by means of which an inanimate entity assumes human emotions and responses (Shakespeare was especially fond of employing pathetic fallacy with nature in moments of turmoil, as in Macbeth, when the night grows increasingly eerie until Macbeth observes that “Nature seems dead” right before he goes to murder King Duncan [II.i.50]). In Julius Caesar, the terrifying atmosphere of supernatural phenomena reflects Cassius’s horrific plan to murder Caesar.

Furthermore, Cassius not only walks about freely in the atmosphere of terror but relishes it: “And when the cross blue lightning seemed to open / The breast of heaven, I did present myself / Even in the aim and very flash of it” (I.iii.50–52). He insinuates that the “monstrous state” of which the heavens warn refers to Caesar and his overweening ambition, yet he himself has become something of a monster—obsessed with bringing Caesar down, brazenly unafraid of lethal lightning bolts, and haughty about this fearlessness (I.iii.71). As Casca notes, “It is the part of men to fear and tremble” at such ill omens; Cassius seems to have lost his humanity and become a beast (I.iii.54).

The various omens and portents in Julius Caesar also raise questions about the force of fate versus free will. The function and meaning of omens in general is puzzling and seemingly contradictory: as announcements of an event or events to come, omens appear to prove the existence of some overarching plan for the future, a prewritten destiny controlled by the gods. On the other hand, as warnings of impending events, omens suggests that human beings have the power to alter that destiny if provided with the correct information in advance.

Act II, scene i
Summary Act II, scene i
Brutus paces back and forth in his garden. He asks his servant to bring him a light and mutters to himself that Caesar will have to die. He knows with certainty that Caesar will be crowned king; what he questions is whether or not Caesar will be corrupted by his power. Although he admits that he has never seen Caesar swayed by power in the past, he believes that it would be impossible for Caesar to reach such heights without eventually coming to scorn those lower in status. Brutus compares Caesar to the egg of a serpent “which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous”; thus, he determines to “kill him in the shell” (II.i.33–34).

Brutus’s servant enters with a letter that he has discovered near the window. Brutus reads the letter, which accuses him of sleeping while Rome is threatened: “Brutus, thou sleep’st. Awake, and see thyself” (II.i.46). Brutus interprets the letter as a protest against Caesar: “Thus must I piece it out: / Shall Rome stand under one man’s awe?” (II.i.51–52). Believing the people of Rome are telling him their desires through this single letter, he resolves to take the letter’s challenge to “speak, strike, redress” (II.i.47). A knock comes at the door. Brutus’s servant announces Cassius and a group of men—the conspirators. They include Casca, Decius, Cinna, Metellus, and Trebonius.

Cassius introduces the men, then draws Brutus aside. The two speak briefly before rejoining the others. Cassius suggests that they swear an oath, but Brutus demurs. They have no need of oaths, he says, since their cause should be strong enough to bind them together. The group discusses whether it should try to bring the esteemed Cicero into the conspiracy, for he would bring good public opinion to their schemes, but Brutus dissuades them, pointing out that Cicero would never follow anyone else’s ideas. Cassius then suggests that they would do well to kill Antony in addition to Caesar, but Brutus refuses, saying that this would make their plan too bloody. According to Brutus, they only stand against the spirit of Caesar, which he wishes could be destroyed without the necessity of killing the man himself. He says that they should kill him boldly, but not viciously, so that they might be perceived as purging the state rather than as murderers. Cassius replies that he still fears Antony, but Brutus assures him that Antony will be rendered harmless once Caesar is dead.

Cassius states that no one knows whether Caesar will come to the Capitol that day, since the warnings of augurs (seers or soothsayers) after this brutal evening might keep him at home. But Decius assures the others that he will be able to convince Caesar to ignore his superstitions by flattering his bravery. The conspirators depart, Brutus suggesting that they try to behave like actors and hide their true feelings and intentions.

Brutus’s wife, Portia, enters the garden. She wonders what has been worrying Brutus, for his behavior has been strange. He says that he has felt unwell. She asks why he refuses to tell her his concerns, insisting that, as his wife, she should be told about his problems and assuring him that she will keep his secrets. Brutus replies that he wishes he were worthy of such an honorable wife. They hear a knock at the door, and Brutus sends her away with a promise to talk to her later.

Ligarius enters, looking sick. He says he would not be sick if he could be sure that Brutus was involved in a scheme in the name of honor. Brutus says that he is. Ligarius rejoices and accompanies Brutus offstage to hear more of the plan.

Act II, scene i page 2
Summary Act II, scene i
Cassius’s words to Brutus in Act I, scene ii have proved powerful in turning him against Caesar: while alone in his garden, Brutus has come to the conclusion that Caesar must be killed. The forged letter has secured this conversion; though it has appeared so mysteriously in his house and tells him exactly what he wants to hear, Brutus never questions its authenticity. He immediately construes the message’s cryptic meaning according to his preconceived inclinations: “Thus must I piece it out,” he concludes hastily, allowing for no other interpretation of the words (II.i.51). He displays a tragic naïveté, trusting unquestioningly that the letter speaks for the entire Roman populace.

We see now that once Brutus arrives at a belief or proposition, he throws himself into it wholeheartedly. Upon joining Cassius’s conspiracy, he takes control of it. He provides his own garden as the conspirators’ meeting place and convinces the gathered men not to take an oath, though Cassius would prefer that they do so. Brutus is the one who sends Decius to speak to Caesar at the end of the scene, and it is he who speaks the final words to the conspirators as they depart. So, too, does Brutus overrule Cassius when he suggests that they assassinate Antony along with Caesar. This position, like all of Brutus’s actions, stems from a concern for public opinion: Brutus wants the death of Caesar to appear an honorable gesture; if the scheme became too violent, the conspirators would sacrifice any semblance of honor. He insists rather excessively on preserving honor in the conspiracy, saying that in a noble cause one has no need to swear an oath to others: “Do not stain / The even virtue of our enterprise, / Nor th’insuppressive mettle of our spirits, / To think that or our cause or our performance / Did need an oath” (II.i.131–135). Men swear oaths only when they doubt the strength of each other’s devotion; to take up oaths now would be to insult the current undertaking and the men involved. It is a rather ironic proposition from Brutus, who has declared loyalty and friendship to Caesar and now casts those commitments aside. Notably, Brutus asks the men not to “stain” the virtue of their scheme, a word that evokes blood; ultimately, they will not be able to avoid staining themselves with Caesar’s blood.

Yet, although Brutus appears completely determined in his interactions with the conspirators, his inability to confess his thoughts to Portia signifies that he still harbors traces of doubt regarding the legitimacy of his plan. Portia is a symbol of Brutus’s private life—a representative of correct intuition and morality—just as Calpurnia is for Caesar in the next scene. Her husband’s dismissal of her intuitions, like Caesar’s of Calpurnia’s, leads to folly and points to his largest mistake: his decision to ignore his private feelings, loyalties, and misgivings for the sake of a plan that he believes to be for the public good.

Act II, scenes ii–iv
Summary Act II, scenes ii–iv
Caesar wanders through his house in his dressing gown, kept awake by his wife Calpurnia’s nightmares. Three times she has called out in her sleep about Caesar’s murder. He sends a servant to bid the priests to offer a sacrifice and tell him the results. Calpurnia enters and insists that Caesar not leave the house after so many bad signs. Caesar rebuffs her, refusing to give in to fear. But Calpurnia, who has never heeded omens before, speaks of what happened in the city earlier that night: dead men walked, ghosts wandered the city, a lioness gave birth in the street, and lightning shattered the skies. These signs portend true danger, she says; Caesar cannot afford to ignore them.

Caesar counters that nothing can change the plans of the gods. He deems the signs to apply to the world in general and refuses to believe that they bode ill for him personally. Calpurnia says that the heavens proclaim the death of only great men, so the omens must have to do with him. Caesar replies that while cowards imagine their death frequently, thus dying in their minds several times over, brave men, refusing to dwell on death, die only once. He cannot understand why men fear death, which must come eventually to all.

The servant enters, reporting that the augurs recommend that Caesar stay home. They examined the entrails of an animal and were unable to find a heart—a bad sign. But Caesar maintains that he will not stay home out of fear. Danger cannot affect Caesar, he says. Calpurnia begs him to send Antony to the Senate in his place; finally Caesar relents.

Decius enters, saying that he has come to bring Caesar to the Senate. Caesar tells him to tell the senators that he will be absent that day. Calpurnia tells him to plead illness, but Caesar refuses to lie. Decius then asks what reason he should offer. Caesar states that it is simply his will to stay home. He adds that Calpurnia has had a dream in which she saw his statue run with blood like a fountain, while many smiling Romans bathed their hands in the blood; she has taken this to portend danger for Caesar.

Decius disputes Calpurnia’s interpretation, saying that actually the dream signifies that Romans will all gain lifeblood from the strength of Caesar. He confides that the Senate has decided to give Caesar the crown that day; if Caesar were to stay at home, the senators might change their minds. Moreover, Caesar would lose public regard if he were perceived as so easily swayed by a woman, or by fear. Caesar replies that his fears now indeed seem small. He calls for his robe and prepares to depart. Cassius and Brutus enter with Ligarius, Metellus, Casca, Trebonius, and Cinna to escort him to the Senate. Finally, Antony enters. Caesar prepares to depart.

Summary: Act II, scene iii
Artemidorus comes onstage, reading to himself a letter that he has written Caesar, warning him to be wary of Brutus, Casca, and the other conspirators. He stands along the route that Caesar will take to the Senate, prepared to hand the letter to him as he passes. He is sad to think that the virtue embodied by Caesar may be destroyed by the ambitious envy of the conspirators. He remains hopeful, however, that if his letter gets read, Caesar may yet live.

Act II, scenes ii–iv page 2
Summary Act II, scenes ii–iv
Portia sends Brutus’s servant to the Senate to observe events and report back to her how Caesar is faring. A Soothsayer enters, and Portia asks him if Caesar has gone to the Capitol yet. The Soothsayer replies that he knows that Caesar has not yet gone; he intends to wait for Caesar along his route, since he wants to say a word to him. He goes to the street to wait, hoping Caesar’s entourage will let him speak to the great man.

Analysis: Act II, scenes ii–iv
These scenes emphasize the many grave signs portending Caesar’s death, as well as his stubborn refusal to heed them. Initially, Caesar does agree to stay home in order to please Calpurnia, showing more concern for his wife than Brutus did for Portia in the previous scene. In appreciating Calpurnia’s fear, Caesar demonstrates an ability to pay attention to his private matters, albeit a muffled one. But when Decius tells him that the senators plan to offer him the crown that day, Caesar’s desire to comfort his wife gives way to his ambition, and his public self again prevails over his private self.

Increasingly and markedly in these scenes, Caesar refers to himself in the third person, especially when he speaks of his lack of fear (“Yet Caesar shall go forth, for these predictions / Are to the world in general as to Caesar” [II.ii.28–29]). Tragically, he no longer sees the difference between his powerful public image and his vulnerable human body. Even at home in his dressing gown, far from the senators and crowds whose respect he craves, he assumes the persona of “Caesar,” the great man who knows no fear. Caesar has displayed a measure of humility in turning down the crown the day before, but this humility has evaporated by the time he enters into his third-person self-commentary and hastens to the Senate to accept the crown at last.

Perhaps this behavior partially confirms the conspirators’ charges: Caesar does seem to long for power and would like to hold the crown; he really might become a tyrant if given the opportunity. Whether this speculation constitutes reason sufficient to kill him is debatable. Indeed, it seems possible that the faults that the conspirators—with the possible exception of Brutus—see in Caesar are viewed through the veil of their own ambition: they oppose his kingship not because he would make a poor leader, but because his leadership would preclude their own. In explaining the noble deed to be performed to Ligarius, Brutus describes it as “a piece of work that will make sick men whole.” Ligarius responds, “But are not some whole that we must make sick?” (II.i.326–327). Whereas Brutus’s primary concern is the well-being of the people, Ligarius’s is with bringing down those above him.

Calpurnia’s dream of the bleeding statue perfectly foreshadows the eventual unfolding of the assassination plot: the statue is a symbol of Caesar’s corpse, and the vague smiling Romans turn out, of course, to be the conspirators, reveling in his bloodshed. Yet, to the end, Caesar remains unconvinced by any omens. If one argues that omens serve as warnings by which individuals can avoid disaster, then one must view Caesar’s inflexibility regarding these omens as an arrogance that brings about his death. On the other hand, Shakespeare also imparts Caesar’s stubbornness with dignity and a touch of wisdom, as when Caesar professes that since the gods decide the time of one’s death, death cannot be averted: if it is fated for the conspirators to kill him, perhaps to die bravely is the most honorable, worthy course of action he can take.

Act III, scene i
Summary Act III, scene i
But I am constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament. 

Summary: Act III, scene i
Artemidorus and the Soothsayer await Caesar in the street. Caesar enters with Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Decius, Metellus, Trebonius, Cinna, Ligarius, Antony, and other senators. Artemidorus approaches with his letter, saying that its contents are a matter of closest concern for Caesar. Caesar responds, “What touches us ourself shall be last served”—that is, his personal concerns are his last priority (III.i.8). Artemidorus tells him to read it instantly, but Caesar dismisses him as crazy.

The group enters the Senate, and Cassius worries that the assassination plot has been discovered. Trebonius draws Antony away from the Senate room. Metellus approaches Caesar to request that his brother, Publius Cimber, who has been banished from Rome, be granted permission to return. Caesar answers that since Publius was banished by lawful decree, there is not just cause for absolving his guilt. Brutus and Cassius kneel at Caesar’s feet and repeat Metellus’s plea; Caesar answers that he will not change his mind now, declaring himself as “constant as the Northern Star” (III.i.60). When Cinna comes forward and kneels to plead further, Caesar adds another comparison, suggesting that they might as well hope to “lift up Olympus,” the mountain where the gods were believed to dwell, as to sway Caesar in his convictions (III.i.74).

Decius and Ligarius, followed by Casca, come forward to kneel at Caesar’s feet. Casca stabs Caesar first, and the others quickly follow, ending with Brutus. Recognizing that Brutus, too, has joined with the conspirators, Caesar speaks his last words: “Et tu, Brute?—Then fall Caesar” (III.i.76). He then yields and dies. The conspirators proclaim the triumph of liberty, and many exit in a tumult, including Lepidus and Artemidorus. Trebonius enters to announce that Antony has fled.

Brutus tells the conspirators that they have acted as friends to Caesar by shortening the time that he would have spent fearing death. He urges them to bend down and bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood, then walk to the marketplace (the Roman Forum) with their bloodied swords to proclaim peace, freedom, and liberty. Cassius agrees, declaring that the scene they now enact will be repeated time and again in the ages to come as a commemorative ritual.

Antony’s servant enters with a message: Antony, having learned of Caesar’s death, sends word that he loved Caesar but will now vow to serve Brutus if Brutus promises not to punish him for his past allegiance. Brutus says that he will not harm Antony and sends the servant to bid him come. Brutus remarks to Cassius that Antony will surely be an ally now, but Cassius replies that he still has misgivings.

Antony enters and sees Caesar’s corpse. He marvels how a man so great in deed and reputation could end as such a small and pathetic body. He tells the conspirators that if they mean to kill him as well, they should do it at once, for there would be no better place to die than beside Caesar. Brutus tells Antony not to beg for death, saying that although their hands appear bloody, their hearts have been, and continue to be, full of pity; although they must appear to him now as having acted in cruelty, their actual motives stemmed from sympathy and love for the Roman populace. Brutus tells Antony to wait until the conspirators have calmed the multitude; then they will explain fully why they have killed Caesar. Antony says he does not doubt their wisdom and shakes each of their bloody hands, staining the not-yet-bloodied hands of Trebonius, who has returned from leading Antony astray, in the process.

Act III, scene i
Summary Act III, scene i
Antony now addresses Caesar’s departed spirit, asking to be pardoned for making peace with the conspirators over his dead body. After Antony praises Caesar’s bravery, Cassius questions his loyalty. Antony assures Cassius that he indeed desires to be numbered among their friends, explaining that he merely forgot himself for a moment upon seeing Caesar’s body. He emphasizes that he will gladly ally himself with all of the former conspirators, as long as they can explain to him why Caesar was dangerous.

Brutus assures Antony that he will find their explanation satisfactory. Antony asks if he might bring the body to the Forum and speak a funeral oration. Brutus consents, but Cassius urges him against granting permission. He tells Brutus that Antony will surely move the people against them if he is allowed to speak. Brutus replies that he will preface Antony’s words, explaining to the public the reason for the conspirators’ deed, and then explain that Antony has been allowed to speak only by Brutus’s consent. He believes that the people will admire his magnanimity for allowing Antony, a friend of Caesar’s, to take part in the funeral, and that the episode will benefit the conspiracy’s public image. Cassius remains displeased, but Brutus allows Antony to take Caesar’s body, instructing him to speak well of them since they are doing him a favor by permitting him to give the oration.

All depart; Antony remains alone onstage. He asks Caesar to pardon him for being gentle with his murderers. Antony prophesies that civil strife will follow Caesar’s death and lead to much destruction. As long as the foul deed of Caesar’s death remains unavenged, he predicts, Caesar’s spirit will continue to seek revenge, bringing chaos to Rome.

Octavius’s servant enters and sees the body on the ground. Antony tells him to return to Octavius, who had been traveling to Rome at Caesar’s behest, and keep his master out of the city; Rome is now dangerous for Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son and appointed successor. But Antony urges the servant to come to the Forum and hear his funeral speech. Once they see how the public responds to the conspirators’ evil deed, they can decide how Octavius should proceed.

Just preceding his death, Caesar refuses Artemidorus’s pleas to speak with him, saying that he gives last priority to his nearest, most personal concerns. He thus again demonstrates a split between his public and private selves, endangering himself by believing that his public self is so strong that his private self cannot be harmed. This sense of invulnerability manifests itself clearly when Caesar compares himself to the North Star, which never moves from its position at the center of the sky: “constant as the Northern Star, / Of whose true fixed and resting quality / There is no fellow in the firmament. / [the] one in all [that] doth hold his place” (III.i.60–65). He not only considers himself steadfast but also infallible, beyond the questioning of mortal men, as he compares the foolish idea of him being persuaded of something to the impossible act of hefting the weight of Mount Olympus. In positioning himself thus as a divine figure (the Romans deified certain beloved figures, such as popular leaders, and believed that, upon dying, these figures became ensconced in the firmament), Caesar reveals his belief that he is truly a god. His refusal to pardon Metellus’s banished brother serves to show that his belief in the sanctity of his own authority is unwavering up to the moment that he is killed.

Cassius suggests that future generations will remember, repeat, and retell the conspirators’ actions in the years to come. The statement constitutes a self-referential moment in the play, since Shakespeare’s play itself is a retelling of a retelling: the historical murder of Caesar had been treated earlier by Plutarch (46–119? a.d.), whose Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans served as Shakespeare’s source. It was Plutarch who asserted that Caesar ceased to defend himself upon recognizing Brutus among the conspirators, and Plutarch who first gave Caesar his famous last words, which Shakespeare preserves in the original Latin, “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?” [III.i.76]). With these words, Caesar apprehends the immensity of the plot to kill him—a plot so total that it includes even his friends—and simultaneously levels a heartbroken reproach at his former friend. By Shakespeare’s time, Plutarch’s lines had already achieved fame, and an Elizabethan audience would likely have anticipated them in the murder scene.

Act III, scene i
Summary Act III, scene i
It is Shakespeare’s deft hand of creation, however, that brings Antony to the scene. Despairing over Caesar’s death, Antony knows that he poses a danger to the conspirators and that he must pretend to support them if he wants to survive. He assures them that they have his allegiance and shakes their hands, thus smearing himself with Caesar’s blood and marking Trebonius with blood as well. By marking Trebonius, Antony may be silently insisting on Trebonius’s guilt in the murder, even if his part was less direct than that of the other conspirators. Yet he does so in a handshake, an apparent gesture of allegiance. While the blood on Trebonius’s hands marks him as a conspirator, the blood on Antony’s hands, like war paint, marks him as the self-appointed instrument for vengeance against Caesar’s killers.

Cassius’s worries about Antony’s rhetorical skill prove justified. The first scene of the play clearly illustrates the fickleness of the multitude, which hastens to cheer Caesar’s triumph over a man whom it once adored. Surely the conspirators run a great risk by letting such a fickle audience listen to the mournful Antony. Yet, blinded by his conception of the assassination as a noble deed done for the people and one that the people must thus necessarily appreciate, Brutus believes that the masses will respond most strongly not to Antony’s words but to the fact that the conspirators have allowed him to speak at all. Because he feels that he himself, by helping to murder a dear friend, has sacrificed the most, Brutus believes that he will be respected for giving priority to public matters over private ones. We will see, however, that Brutus’s misjudgment will lead to his own downfall: he grossly underestimates Antony’s oratorical skill and overestimates the people’s conception of virtue.

Act III, scenes ii–iii
Summary Act III, scenes ii–iii
He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honourable man.
See Important Quotations Explained
Summary: Act III, scene ii
Brutus and Cassius enter the Forum with a crowd of plebeians. Cassius exits to speak to another portion of the crowd. Brutus addresses the onstage crowd, assuring them that they may trust in his honor. He did not kill Caesar out of a lack of love for him, he says, but because his love for Rome outweighed his love of a single man. He insists that Caesar was great but ambitious: it was for this reason that he slew him. He feared that the Romans would live as slaves under Caesar’s leadership.

He asks if any disagree with him, and none do. He thus concludes that he has offended no one and asserts that now Caesar’s death has been accounted for, with both his virtues and faults in life given due attention. Antony then enters with Caesar’s body. Brutus explains to the crowd that Antony had no part in the conspiracy but that he will now be part of the new commonwealth. The plebeians cheer Brutus’s apparent kindness, declaring that Brutus should be Caesar. He quiets them and asks them to listen to Antony, who has obtained permission to give a funeral oration. Brutus exits.

Antony ascends to the pulpit while the plebeians discuss what they have heard. They now believe that Caesar was a tyrant and that Brutus did right to kill him. But they wait to hear Antony. He asks the audience to listen, for he has come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. He acknowledges Brutus’s charge that Caesar was ambitious and maintains that Brutus is “an honourable man,” but he says that Caesar was his friend (III.ii.84). He adds that Caesar brought to Rome many captives, whose countrymen had to pay their ransoms, thus filling Rome’s coffers. He asks rhetorically if such accumulation of money for the people constituted ambition. Antony continues that Caesar sympathized with the poor: “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept” (III.ii.88). He reminds the plebeians of the day when he offered the crown to Caesar three times, and Caesar three times refused. Again, he ponders aloud whether this humility constituted ambition. He claims that he is not trying to disprove Brutus’s words but rather to tell them what he, Antony, knows; he insists that as they all loved Caesar once, they should mourn for him now.

Antony pauses to weep. The plebeians are touched; they remember when Caesar refused the crown and wonder if more ambitious people have not stepped into his place. Antony speaks again, saying that he would gladly stir them to mutiny and rebellion, though he will not harm Brutus or Cassius, for they are—again—honorable men. He then brings out Caesar’s will. The plebeians beg him to read it. Antony says that he should not, for then they would be touched by Caesar’s love for them. They implore him to read it. He replies that he has been speaking too long—he wrongs the honorable men who have let him address the crowd. The plebeians call the conspirators traitors and demand that Antony read the will.

Finally, Antony descends from the pulpit and prepares to read the letter to the people as they stand in a circle around Caesar’s corpse. Looking at the body, Antony points out the wounds that Brutus and Cassius inflicted, reminding the crowd how Caesar loved Brutus, and yet Brutus stabbed him viciously. He tells how Caesar died and blood ran down the steps of the Senate. Then he uncovers the body for all to see. The plebeians weep and become enraged. Antony says that they should not be stirred to mutiny against such “honourable men” (III.ii.148). He protests that he does not intend to steal away their hearts, for he is no orator like Brutus. He proclaims himself a plain man; he speaks only what he knows, he says—he will let Caesar’s wounds speak the rest. If he were Brutus, he claims, he could urge them to rebel, but he is merely Antony.

The people declare that they will mutiny nonetheless. Antony calls to them to let him finish: he has not yet read the will. He now reads that Caesar has bequeathed a sum of money from his personal holdings to every man in Rome. The citizens are struck by this act of generosity and swear to avenge this selfless man’s death. Antony continues reading, revealing Caesar’s plans to make his private parks and gardens available for the people’s pleasure. The plebeians can take no more; they charge off to wreak havoc throughout the city. Antony, alone, wonders what will come of the mischief he has set loose on Rome. Octavius’s servant enters. He reports that Octavius has arrived at Caesar’s house, and also that Brutus and Cassius have been driven from Rome.

Act III, scenes ii–iii
Summary Act III, scenes ii–iii
Cinna the poet, a different man from Cinna the conspirator, walks through the city. A crowd of plebeians descends, asking his name. He answers that his name is Cinna, and the plebeians confuse him with the conspirator Cinna. Despite Cinna’s insistence that they have the wrong man, the plebeians drag him off and beat him to death.

Analysis: Act III, scenes ii–iii
Act III, scene ii evidences the power of rhetoric and oratory: first Brutus speaks and then Antony, each with the aim of persuading the crowd to his side. We observe each speaker’s effect on the crowd and see the power that words can have—how they can stir emotion, alter opinion, and induce action. Brutus speaks to the people in prose rather than in verse, presumably trying to make his speech seem plain and to keep himself on the level of the plebeians. He quickly convinces the people that Caesar had to die because he would have become a tyrant and brought suffering to them all. He desires to convey that this message comes from the mouth of a concerned Roman citizen, not from the mouth of a greedy usurper.

Antony’s speech is a rhetorical tour de force. He speaks in verse and repeats again and again that Brutus and the conspirators are honorable men; the phrase “Brutus says he was ambitious, / And Brutus is an honourable man” accrues new levels of sarcasm at each repetition (III.ii.83–84). Antony answers Brutus’s allegation that Caesar was “ambitious” by reminding the crowd of the wealth that Caesar brought to Rome, Caesar’s sympathy for the poor, and his refusal to take the throne when offered it—details seeming to disprove any charges of ambition. Pausing to weep openly before the plebeians, he makes them feel pity for him and for his case.

Antony’s refined oratorical skill enables him to manipulate the crowd into begging him to read Caesar’s will. By means of praeteritio, a rhetorical device implemented by a speaker to mention a certain thing while claiming not to mention it, Antony alerts the plebeians to the fact that Caesar cared greatly for them: “It is not meet [fitting] you know how Caesar loved you . . . ’Tis good you know not that you are his heirs” (III.ii.138–142). Under the pretense of sympathetically wanting to keep the plebeians from becoming outraged, Antony hints to them that they should become outraged. He thus gains their favor.

Further demonstrating his charisma, Antony descends from the pulpit—a more effective way of becoming one with the people than Brutus’s strategy of speaking in prose. In placing himself physically among the crowd, Antony joins the commoners without sacrificing his rhetorical influence over them. First he speaks of Caesar’s wounds and his horrible death; he shows the body, evoking fully the pity and anger of the crowd. He claims, with false modesty, that he is not a great orator, like Brutus, and that he doesn’t intend to incite revolt. Yet in this very sentence he effects the exact opposite of what his words say: he proves himself a deft orator indeed, and although he speaks against mutiny, he knows that at this point the mere mention of the word will spur action.

Having prepared the kindling with his speech, Antony lights the fire of the people’s fury with his presentation of Caesar’s will. Caesar had intended to share his wealth with the people of Rome and had planned to surrender his parks for their benefit. Antony predicts and utilizes the people’s sense of injustice at being stripped of so generous a ruler. The people completely forget their former sympathy for Brutus and rise up against the conspirators, leaving Antony to marvel at the force of what he has done.

Act III, scenes ii–iii
Summary Act III, scenes ii–iii
In the ensuing riot, the killing of Cinna the Poet exemplifies the irrationality of the brutality that has been unleashed; since Caesar’s murder, Rome has become so anarchic that even a poet finds himself in grave danger. This murder of the wrong man parallels the conspirators’ more metaphoric murder of the wrong man: although Brutus and Cassius believe that they have brought an end to Caesar’s charisma and authority, they have merely brought an end to the mortal body that he inhabited. While the body may lie dead, the true Caesar, the leader of the people, lives on in their hearts—as he does in the anxious minds of the conspirators: Brutus will soon encounter Caesar’s ghost near the battlefield. The populace will now seek a man who can serve as their “Caesar”—the word has now become a synonym for “ruler”—in his place; Caesar has instilled in the Romans a desire to replace the old republic with a monarchy.

Act IV, scenes i–ii
Summary Act IV, scenes i–ii
He must be taught, and trained, and bid go forth—
A barren-spirited fellow . . .
. . . a property.

Summary: Act IV, scene i
Antony meets Octavius and Lepidus at his house. They review a list of names, deciding who must be killed. Lepidus agrees to the death of his brother if Antony will agree to allow his nephew to be killed. Antony suggests that, as a way of saving money, they examine Caesar’s will to see if they can redirect some of his funds. Lepidus departs, and Antony asks Octavius if Lepidus is a worthy enough man to rule Rome with him and Octavius. Octavius replies that he trusts him, but Antony harbors doubts. Octavius points out that Lepidus is a “tried and valiant soldier,” to which Antony responds, “So is my horse”: he goes on to compare Lepidus to a mere animal, calling him a “barren-spirited fellow” and a mere tool (IV.i.28–36). Antony now turns the conversation to Brutus and Cassius, who are reportedly gathering an army; it falls to Octavius and Antony to confront them and halt their bid for power.

There is a tide in the affairs of men
. . .
And we must take the current when it serves . . .

Summary: Act IV, scene ii
Meanwhile, Brutus waits with his men in camp and meets with Lucillius, Titinius, and Pindarus. Lucillius bears a message from Cassius and steps aside to speak to Brutus. He says that Cassius is becoming more and more displeased with Brutus, and Brutus worries that their ties may be weakening. Cassius arrives with his army and accuses Brutus of having wronged him. Brutus replies that he would not wrong him, as he considers him his brother, and insists that they continue the discussion privately in Brutus’s tent.

Cassius charges Brutus with having condemned one of their men for taking bribes, even though Cassius sent letters asking him not to, since Cassius knew the man. Brutus responds by accusing Cassius of having taken bribes himself at times. Brutus tells him to recall the Ides of March, when they killed Caesar because they believed that he was corrupt. He asks Cassius if they should now allow themselves to descend into the very corruption that they tried to eliminate. Cassius tells Brutus not to bait him any more, for Cassius is a soldier and will fight.

The two men insult each other, and Brutus expresses the reasons for his disappointment in Cassius. Because he claims to be so honest himself that he cannot raise money by ignoble means, he was forced to ask Cassius for money, but Cassius ignored him. Cassius claims that he did not deny Brutus, but that the messenger misreported Brutus’s words. Cassius accuses Brutus of having ceased to love him. He hopes that Antony and Octavius will kill him soon, for, having lost his closest ally and friend, he no longer desires to live. He offers his dagger to Brutus to kill him, declaring, “Strike as thou didst at Caesar; for I know / When though didst hate him worst, thou loved’st him better / Than ever thou loved’st Cassius” (IV.ii.159–161).

Brutus tells Cassius to put his dagger away and says that they both are merely ill-tempered. The two men embrace and forgive each other. Outside, Lucillius is attempting to prevent a poet from entering the tent, but the poet squeezes past him and scolds Brutus and Cassius for arguing: “Love and be friends, as two such men should be, / For I have seen more years, I’m sure, than ye” (IV.ii.183–184). But, having already repledged their friendship, the two generals laugh together at the poet’s presumptuousness and send him away.

Cassius and Brutus drink wine together. Cassius expresses his surprise at Brutus’s earlier rage. Brutus explains that he has been under many emotional burdens lately, the foremost of which has been the death of his wife, Portia; he recently received news that she killed herself by swallowing fire. Titinius and Messala enter with news from Rome; Messala says that the triumvirate of Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus has put a hundred senators to death. Messala asks Brutus if he has had word from Portia, and when Brutus answers negatively, Messala comments that this seems strange. When Brutus inquires if Messala knows something, Messala replies that he does not. But Brutus insists that Messala tell him the truth, and Messala reports that Portia is dead.

Act IV, scenes i–ii
Summary Act IV, scenes i–ii
Brutus suggests that they march to Philippi to meet the enemy. Cassius says that he would rather let the enemy come to them. Brutus protests that they are at the peak of their readiness and should seize the opportunity. Cassius relents and agrees to march. The others depart, leaving Brutus in his tent with his servant Lucius. Brutus summons Varro and Claudio to sleep in his tent until they are needed for early morning messages.

The others fall asleep while Brutus lies awake trying to read. A spectral image enters (identified in the text as “Ghost of Caesar”). Brutus wonders if he is dreaming; he asks the form to identify himself. The Ghost replies that he is “thy evil spirit” (IV.ii.333). After telling Brutus that they will see each other again at Philippi, the Ghost disappears, and Brutus wakes his attendants. He asks them if they saw anything strange, but they reply that they did not.

Analysis: Act IV, scenes i–ii
These scenes deal with the events that take place in the vacuum of power left by Caesar’s death. Antony’s speech to the Roman citizens in Act III, scene ii centers on the fact that Caesar had set aside money for each citizen. Now, ironically, he searches for ways to turn these funds into cash in order to raise an army against Brutus and Cassius. Although he has gained his current power by offering to honor Caesar’s will and provide the citizens with their rightful money, we now see that he apparently has no intention of fulfilling this promise. In a strange dialogue with Octavius, he also badly insults Lepidus, explaining how, just as his horse has been taught to fight, turn, stop, and move his body according to Antony’s will, so, too, must Lepidus now be trained. Antony declares Lepidus “a barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds / On objects, arts, and imitations”; he reproaches Octavius, saying, “Do not talk of him / But as a property,” that is, as a mere instrument for the furtherance of their own goals (IV.i.36–40). Lepidus proves an effective tool for them in that he is malleable and apparently not intelligent enough to devise his own motives. While Shakespeare may have inserted this string of insults simply for comic relief, this abuse serves as another illustration of Antony’s sense of political expediency: while he does not respect Lepidus, he still uses him for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, questions of honor plague the conspirators as well, as Cassius and Brutus exchange accusations. Their argument seems to arise partially from a misunderstanding but also partially from stubbornness. Though Brutus claims that his honor forbids him from raising money in unscrupulous ways, he would still use such money as long as it was not he himself, but rather Cassius, who raised it. We see that Brutus speaks against corruption, but when he has no other means of paying his army, he quickly consents to unscrupulousness, if only indirectly.

Portia’s death is reported twice in scene ii (Plutarch’s telling, upon which Shakespeare based his play, describes Portia’s death more explicitly: she put hot coals in her mouth and choked herself to death). Some argue that the repetition of the announcement of Portia’s suicide reveals the effect of revision on Shakespeare’s part; perhaps, while adding in one section of the scene, he forgot to remove another. Other scholars suggest that Brutus’s two separate comments regarding Portia’s death show two separate sides of his personality—again, the private versus the public. That is, alone with Cassius, he admits that his distress at the loss of his wife, but before his men, he appears indifferent or dispassionate. Perhaps the latter reaction is merely a facade, and Brutus simply has too much pride to show his true feelings in public.

Brutus’s words to Cassius proclaiming their readiness for battle are significant in that they emphasize Brutus’s belief in the power of the will over fate:

Act IV, scenes i–ii
Summary Act IV, scenes i–ii
We at the height are ready to decline.
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures. (IV.ii. 269 – 276)
Throughout the play, the theme of fate versus free will proves important: here, Brutus suggests that both exist and that one should take advantage of fate by asserting one’s will. While subsequent events demonstrate that the force of fate (or perhaps just Antony and Octavius’s superior maneuvering) is stronger than Brutus’s individual actions, his speech still makes for a graceful, philosophic axiom, showing Brutus to be a man of deep reflection.

Brutus cannot sleep—perhaps because he is brooding internally on his guilt; in any case, this guilt is soon manifested externally in the form of the Ghost of Caesar. This phantom’s identification of himself to Brutus as “thy evil spirit” could mean either that the Ghost is an evil spirit appearing to Brutus’s eyes only—a spirit that is “his” alone—or that the Ghost represents Brutus’s own spirit, which is secretly evil (IV.ii.333). However one interprets the arrival of the specter, the event can only bode ill for Brutus in the battle to come.

Act V, scenes i–iii
Summary Act V, scenes i–iii
Summary: Act V, scene i
Octavius and Antony enter the battlefield at Philippi with their armies. A messenger arrives to report that the enemy is ready for battle. Antony, the more experienced soldier, tells Octavius to attack from the left. Octavius refuses and replies that he will attack from the right and Antony can come from the left. Antony asks Octavius why he questions his authority, but Octavius stands firm.

The enemy factions—consisting of Brutus, Cassius, and their armies—enter; Titinius, Lucillius, and Messala are among them. Octavius asks Antony if their side should attack first, and Antony, now calling Octavius “Caesar,” responds that they will wait for the enemy to attack. Antony and Octavius go to meet Brutus and Cassius. The leaders exchange insults. Octavius draws his sword and calls for Caesar’s death to be avenged; he swears that he will not lay the sword down again until another Caesar (namely himself) adds the deaths of the traitors to the general slaughter. The leaders insult each other further before parting to ready their armies for battle.

After the departure of Antony and Octavius, Brutus calls Lucillius to talk privately. Cassius calls Messala to do the same. Cassius tells the soldier that it is his birthday and informs him of recent bad omens: two mighty eagles alighted on the foremost banners of their army and perched there, feeding from the soldiers’ hands; this morning, however, they are gone. Now ravens, crows, and other scavenger birds circle over the troops as if the men were diseased and weak prey. Cassius walks back to join Brutus and comments that the future looks uncertain; if they lose, they may never see each other again. Cassius asks Brutus if Brutus would allow himself to be led through Rome as a captive should they lose. Brutus replies that he would rather die than go to Rome as a defeated prisoner; he declares that this day “must end that work the ides of March begun”—that is, the battle represents the final stage in the struggle for power that began with the murder of Caesar (V.i.114). He bids Cassius “for ever and for ever farewell” (V.i.117). Cassius echoes these sentiments, and the men depart.

Summary: Act V, scene ii
The battle begins between the scenes, and the next scene, comprising a scant total of six lines, depicts the two sides’ first surge against each other. Brutus sends Messala to Cassius to report that he senses a weakness in Octavius’s army and will push forward to exploit it.

Summary: Act V, scene iii
The next scene finds Cassius standing on a hill with Titinius, watching the battle and lamenting its course. Though Brutus was correct in noting Octavius’s weakness, he proved overeager in his attack, and the tide of battle has turned against him. Pindarus now runs up to Cassius with a report: Antony’s troops have entered Cassius’s camp. He advises Cassius to flee to some more distant spot. Cassius refuses to move but, catching sight of a group of burning tents, asks if those tents are his. Titinius confirms that they are. Cassius then notices a series of advancing troops in the distance; he gives Titinius his horse and instructs him to find out whose troops they are. Titinius obeys and rides off.

Cassius asks Pindarus to ascend a nearby hill and monitor Titinius’s progress. Pindarus calls down his reports: Titinius, riding hard, is soon surrounded by the unknown men; he dismounts the horse and the unknown men cheer. Distraught at this news of what he takes to be his best friend’s capture, Cassius tells Pindarus to watch no more. Pindarus descends the hilltop, whereupon Cassius gives Pindarus his sword, covers his own eyes, and asks Pindarus to kill him. Pindarus complies. Dying, Cassius’s last words are that Caesar has now been revenged by the very sword that killed him.

Act V, scenes i–iii
Summary Act V, scenes i–iii
Unexpectedly, Titinius now enters with Messala, observing that the battle rages on without sign of ending. Although Antony’s forces defeated those of Cassius, Brutus’s legions rallied to defeat those of Octavius. The men then discover Cassius’s body. Titinius realizes what has happened: when he rode out to the unknown troops, he discovered the troops to be Brutus’s; the men’s embrace of Titinius must have appeared to Pindarus a capture, and Cassius must have misperceived their joyful cheers of reunion as the bloodthirsty roars of the enemy’s men. Messala departs to bring the tragic news to Brutus. Titinius mourns over Cassius’s body, anguished that a man whom he greatly admired died over such a mistake. Miserable, Titinius stabs himself and dies.

Brutus now enters with Messala and his men. Finding the bodies, Brutus cries, “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet”: even in death, Caesar is reaping revenge; he seems to turn events against his murderers from beyond the grave (V.iii.93). Brutus orders that Cassius’s body be taken away, and the men set off to struggle again with the armies of Antony and Octavius.

Analysis: Act V, scene i–iii
When Octavius refuses to agree to Antony’s strategic instructions before the battle, his obstinate resolution to follow his own will and his clarity of command echo Caesar’s first appearance in the play. In Act I, scene ii, Antony comments, “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed”; such authority is the mark of a powerful leader (I.ii.12). Octavius, Caesar’s chosen successor, now has this authority too—his word equals action. Antony, noticing this similarity between adopted son and father, begins calling Octavius “Caesar.” Just as Caesar transforms his name from that of a mere mortal into that of a divine figure, Antony converts “Caesar,” once one man’s name, into the generic title for the ruler of Rome. In at least one way, then, Caesar’s permanence is established.

The exchange between the four leaders profits from close reading, as it compares the respective powers of words and swords to harm. When Brutus insists that “good words are better than bad strokes,” Antony replies, “In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words. / Witness the hole you made in Caesar’s heart, / Crying ‘Long live, hail Caesar’” (V.i.29–32). Antony suggests that Brutus’s use of rhetoric has been just as damaging to Rome as his physical blows, for by falsely swearing allegiance to Caesar he deceived and betrayed him—hypocritically, he murdered Caesar even as he cheered in support of him. Cassius returns the insult by comparing Antony’s words to an annoying bee’s buzzing, and Antony condemns Cassius and Brutus as “flatterers” (V.i.45). The politicians engage in a skillful rhetorical skirmish, but, ultimately, their words have no effective power. Since Brutus’s actions have proved his words treacherous and untrustworthy, the murder of Caesar can now be answered only in blood.

The tragic circumstances of Cassius’s death represent another instance of misinterpretation. They refer strongly to Caesar’s death: like Caesar, Cassius dies after failing to perceive the truth; and he dies from his own sword, the same sword that killed Caesar. Indeed, the entire scene attests to Caesar’s continuing power of influence from beyond the grave: as Cassius dies, he credits the murdered leader with his defeat. Brutus, with the ghostly visitor of the previous night fresh in his mind, also interprets Cassius’s death as the doings of a vengeful Caesar. In believing himself immortal, Caesar opened himself up to his murder by the conspirators, and his death seemed to disprove his faith in his own permanence. Yet now the power of Caesar appears to linger on, as events unfold in exact compliance with what Caesar would have wished.

Just as the misinformation that causes Cassius to commit suicide cheapens his death, so too do the manner and consequence of his death render it less noble. Cassius desires a virtuous death, and he believes that dying out of respect and sympathy for his captured friend will afford him just such an end: “O coward that I am, to live so long / To see my best friend ta’en before my face!” (V.iii.34–35). He cannot, however, bring himself to perform the necessary act; though he implies that his choice to die is brave, he does not possess the requisite bravery. Cassius’s last line widens this gap between his conception and reality: “Caesar, thou art revenged, / Even with the sword that killed thee” (V.iii.44–45). Cassius attempts to situate his death as a righteous, even graceful, working of dignified fate, and perhaps even to compare himself to the great Caesar. Yet while the sword that kills both is, fatefully, the same, the hands that drive it are not, ruining Cassius’s parallel. Immediately after Cassius’s death, no dedicated friend delivers a praise-filled, tearful eulogy celebrating his life. Rather, the only witness, Pindarus, a lowly slave, flees to his freedom, “where never Roman shall take note of him” (V.iii.49). Pindarus’s idea of escaping notice reflects upon Cassius and his ignoble deeds, for which history will not remember him kindly.

Act V, scenes iv–v
Summary Act V, scenes iv–v
Summary: Act V, scene iv
Brutus prepares for another battle with the Romans. In the field, Lucillius pretends that he is Brutus, and the Romans capture him. Antony’s men bring him before Antony, who recognizes Lucillius. Antony orders his men to go see if the real Brutus is alive or dead and to treat their prisoner well.

Summary: Act V, scene v
Brutus sits with his few remaining men. He asks them to hold his sword so that he may run against it and kill himself. The Ghost of Caesar has appeared to him on the battlefield, he says, and he believes that the time has come for him to die. His men urge him to flee; he demurs, telling them to begin the retreat, and that he will catch up later. He then asks one of his men to stay behind and hold the sword so that he may yet die honorably. Impaling himself on the sword, Brutus declares that in killing himself he acts on motives twice as pure as those with which he killed Caesar, and that Caesar should consider himself avenged: “Caesar, now be still. / I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.50–51).

Antony enters with Octavius, Messala, Lucillius, and the rest of their army. Finding Brutus’s body, Lucillius says that he is glad that his master was not captured alive. Octavius decides to take Brutus’s men into his own service. Antony speaks over the body, stating that Brutus was the noblest Roman of all: while the other conspirators acted out of envy of Caesar’s power, Brutus acted for what he believed was the common good. Brutus was a worthy citizen, a rare example of a real man. Octavius adds that they should bury him in the most honorable way and orders the body to be taken to his tent. The men depart to celebrate their victory.

Analysis: Act V, scenes iv–v
Brutus preserves his noble bravery to the end: unlike the cowardly Cassius, who has his slave stab him while he, Cassius, covers his face, Brutus decides calmly on his death and impales himself on his own sword. Upon giving up the ghost, Brutus, like Cassius, addresses Caesar in an acknowledgment that Caesar has been avenged; whereas Cassius closes with a factual remark about Caesar’s murder (“Even with the sword that killed thee” [V.iii.45]), Brutus closes with an emotional expression that reveals how his inextinguishable inner conflict has continued to plague him: “I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.51). Additionally, whereas the dead Cassius is immediately abandoned by a lowly slave, the dead Brutus is almost immediately celebrated by his enemy as the noblest of Romans. Notably, Brutus is also the only character in the play to interpret correctly the signs auguring his death. When the Ghost of Caesar appears to him on the battlefield, he unflinchingly accepts his defeat and the inevitability of his death.

With Antony’s speech over Brutus’s body, it finally becomes clear who the true hero—albeit a tragic hero—of the play is. Although Caesar gives the play its name, he has few lines and dies early in the third act. While Octavius has proven himself the leader of the future, he has not yet demonstrated his full glory. History tells us that Antony will soon be ousted from the triumvirate by Octavius’s growing power. Over the course of the play, Cassius rises to some power, but since he lacks integrity, he is little more than a petty schemer. The idealistic, tormented Brutus, struggling between his love for Caesar and his belief in the ideal of a republic, faces the most difficult of decisions—a decision in which the most is at stake—and he chooses wrongly. As Antony observes, Brutus’s decision to enter into the conspiracy does not originate in ambition but rather in his inflexible belief in what the Roman government should be. His ideal proves too rigid in the political world of the play, in which it appears that one succeeds only through chameleonlike adaptability, through bargaining and compromise—skills that Antony masterfully displays.

Brutus’s mistake lies in his attempt to impose his private sense of honor on the whole Roman state. In the end, killing Caesar does not stop the Roman republic from becoming a dictatorship, for Octavius assumes power and becomes a new Caesar. Brutus’s beliefs may be a holdover from earlier ideas of statesmanship. Unable to shift into the new world order, Brutus misunderstands Caesar’s intentions and mistakes the greedy ambition of the conspirators for genuine civic concern. Thus, Brutus kills his friend and later dies himself. But in the end, Antony, the master rhetorician, with no trace of the sarcasm that suffuses his earlier speech about Brutus, still honors him as the best Roman of them all.

Plot Overview
Summary: Plot Overview
Two tribunes, Flavius and Murellus, find scores of Roman citizens wandering the streets, neglecting their work in order to watch Julius Caesar’s triumphal parade: Caesar has defeated the sons of the deceased Roman general Pompey, his archrival, in battle. The tribunes scold the citizens for abandoning their duties and remove decorations from Caesar’s statues. Caesar enters with his entourage, including the military and political figures Brutus, Cassius, and Antony. A Soothsayer calls out to Caesar to “beware the Ides of March,” but Caesar ignores him and proceeds with his victory celebration (I.ii.19, I.ii.25).

Cassius and Brutus, both longtime intimates of Caesar and each other, converse. Cassius tells Brutus that he has seemed distant lately; Brutus replies that he has been at war with himself. Cassius states that he wishes Brutus could see himself as others see him, for then Brutus would realize how honored and respected he is. Brutus says that he fears that the people want Caesar to become king, which would overturn the republic. Cassius concurs that Caesar is treated like a god though he is merely a man, no better than Brutus or Cassius. Cassius recalls incidents of Caesar’s physical weakness and marvels that this fallible man has become so powerful. He blames his and Brutus’s lack of will for allowing Caesar’s rise to power: surely the rise of such a man cannot be the work of fate. Brutus considers Cassius’s words as Caesar returns. Upon seeing Cassius, Caesar tells Antony that he deeply distrusts Cassius.

Caesar departs, and another politician, Casca, tells Brutus and Cassius that, during the celebration, Antony offered the crown to Caesar three times and the people cheered, but Caesar refused it each time. He reports that Caesar then fell to the ground and had some kind of seizure before the crowd; his demonstration of weakness, however, did not alter the plebeians’ devotion to him. Brutus goes home to consider Cassius’s words regarding Caesar’s poor qualifications to rule, while Cassius hatches a plot to draw Brutus into a conspiracy against Caesar.

That night, Rome is plagued with violent weather and a variety of bad omens and portents. Brutus finds letters in his house apparently written by Roman citizens worried that Caesar has become too powerful. The letters have in fact been forged and planted by Cassius, who knows that if Brutus believes it is the people’s will, he will support a plot to remove Caesar from power. A committed supporter of the republic, Brutus fears the possibility of a dictator-led empire, worrying that the populace would lose its voice. Cassius arrives at Brutus’s home with his conspirators, and Brutus, who has already been won over by the letters, takes control of the meeting. The men agree to lure Caesar from his house and kill him. Cassius wants to kill Antony too, for Antony will surely try to hinder their plans, but Brutus disagrees, believing that too many deaths will render their plot too bloody and dishonor them. Having agreed to spare Antony, the conspirators depart. Portia, Brutus’s wife, observes that Brutus appears preoccupied. She pleads with him to confide in her, but he rebuffs her.

Caesar prepares to go to the Senate. His wife, Calpurnia, begs him not to go, describing recent nightmares she has had in which a statue of Caesar streamed with blood and smiling men bathed their hands in the blood. Caesar refuses to yield to fear and insists on going about his daily business. Finally, Calpurnia convinces him to stay home—if not out of caution, then as a favor to her. But Decius, one of the conspirators, then arrives and convinces Caesar that Calpurnia has misinterpreted her dreams and the recent omens. Caesar departs for the Senate in the company of the conspirators.

As Caesar proceeds through the streets toward the Senate, the Soothsayer again tries but fails to get his attention. The citizen Artemidorus hands him a letter warning him about the conspirators, but Caesar refuses to read it, saying that his closest personal concerns are his last priority. At the Senate, the conspirators speak to Caesar, bowing at his feet and encircling him. One by one, they stab him to death. When Caesar sees his dear friend Brutus among his murderers, he gives up his struggle and dies.

The murderers bathe their hands and swords in Caesar’s blood, thus bringing Calpurnia’s premonition to fruition. Antony, having been led away on a false pretext, returns and pledges allegiance to Brutus but weeps over Caesar’s body. He shakes hands with the conspirators, thus marking them all as guilty while appearing to make a gesture of conciliation. When Antony asks why they killed Caesar, Brutus replies that he will explain their purpose in a funeral oration. Antony asks to be allowed to speak over the body as well; Brutus grants his permission, though Cassius remains suspicious of Antony. The conspirators depart, and Antony, alone now, swears that Caesar’s death shall be avenged.

Brutus and Cassius go to the Forum to speak to the public. Cassius exits to address another part of the crowd. Brutus declares to the masses that though he loved Caesar, he loves Rome more, and Caesar’s ambition posed a danger to Roman liberty. The speech placates the crowd. Antony appears with Caesar’s body, and Brutus departs after turning the pulpit over to Antony. Repeatedly referring to Brutus as “an honorable man,” Antony’s speech becomes increasingly sarcastic; questioning the claims that Brutus made in his speech that Caesar acted only out of ambition, Antony points out that Caesar brought much wealth and glory to Rome, and three times turned down offers of the crown. Antony then produces Caesar’s will but announces that he will not read it for it would upset the people inordinately. The crowd nevertheless begs him to read the will, so he descends from the pulpit to stand next to Caesar’s body. He describes Caesar’s horrible death and shows Caesar’s wounded body to the crowd. He then reads Caesar’s will, which bequeaths a sum of money to every citizen and orders that his private gardens be made public. The crowd becomes enraged that this generous man lies dead; calling Brutus and Cassius traitors, the masses set off to drive them from the city.

Meanwhile, Caesar’s adopted son and appointed successor, Octavius, arrives in Rome and forms a three-person coalition with Antony and Lepidus. They prepare to fight Cassius and Brutus, who have been driven into exile and are raising armies outside the city. At the conspirators’ camp, Brutus and Cassius have a heated argument regarding matters of money and honor, but they ultimately reconcile. Brutus reveals that he is sick with grief, for in his absence Portia has killed herself. The two continue to prepare for battle with Antony and Octavius. That night, the Ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus, announcing that Brutus will meet him again on the battlefield.

Octavius and Antony march their army toward Brutus and Cassius. Antony tells Octavius where to attack, but Octavius says that he will make his own orders; he is already asserting his authority as the heir of Caesar and the next ruler of Rome. The opposing generals meet on the battlefield and exchange insults before beginning combat.

Cassius witnesses his own men fleeing and hears that Brutus’s men are not performing effectively. Cassius sends one of his men, Pindarus, to see how matters are progressing. From afar, Pindarus sees one of their leaders, Cassius’s best friend, Titinius, being surrounded by cheering troops and concludes that he has been captured. Cassius despairs and orders Pindarus to kill him with his own sword. He dies proclaiming that Caesar is avenged. Titinius himself then arrives—the men encircling him were actually his comrades, cheering a victory he had earned. Titinius sees Cassius’s corpse and, mourning the death of his friend, kills himself.

Brutus learns of the deaths of Cassius and Titinius with a heavy heart, and prepares to take on the Romans again. When his army loses, doom appears imminent. Brutus asks one of his men to hold his sword while he impales himself on it. Finally, Caesar can rest satisfied, he says as he dies. Octavius and Antony arrive. Antony speaks over Brutus’s body, calling him the noblest Roman of all. While the other conspirators acted out of envy and ambition, he observes, Brutus genuinely believed that he acted for the benefit of Rome. Octavius orders that Brutus be buried in the most honorable way. The men then depart to celebrate their victory.

Protagonists are Brutus and Cassius
Antagonists are Antony and Octavius

Despite its title, Brutus serves as the protagonist of Julius Caesar. Caesar dies midway through the play and has little influence over the events that unfold. Brutus, however, stands at the very center of the action and helps instigate the play’s main events. For instance, even though Cassius and his co-conspirators have already fashioned a plot to take Caesar’s life, it isn’t until Cassius convinces Brutus to join the conspirators’ ranks that the plot has a chance of working, mainly because Brutus’s respectability could legitimize the assassination. Brutus serves as a tragic protagonist, in that he is a character with an important and consequential position in his world. The Roman public widely regards Brutus as an honorable man, and Brutus himself identifies as someone with a strong commitment to honor: “I love / The name of honor more than I fear death” (I.ii.). Brutus is thus fundamentally motivated by his ethics, and he joins the assassination plot out of a desire to protect Rome from a possible tyrant. However, he also has tragic qualities that blind or mislead him into mistakes, mainly his inability to see that others are not as honorable. Despite his good reputation and virtuous motivations, Brutus is tempted into making a dark choice and tries to seize an opportunity that he shouldn’t. Brutus’s choice to kill Caesar leads to destruction in the world around him, and inevitably to his own destruction.

Cassius, Antony, and Caesar himself are all possible antagonists in Julius Caesar. Cassius manipulates Brutus into joining the conspirators in killing Caesar, planting false evidence to convince Brutus to act. Cassius’s motives (envy of Caesar) stand in stark moral contrast to the purity of Brutus’s motives (protecting the citizens from tyranny). Cassius’s manipulation of Brutus’s desire to protect Rome sets the rest of the events of the play in motion. While Cassius convinces Brutus to betray Caesar, Antony sets the course for Brutus's ultimate defeat and death. Brutus initially succeeds in justifying Caesar’s assassination to the Romans, but after Antony passionately speaks to the crowd, the Romans change their mind and decide Caesar’s death was unjustified: “Caesar has had great wrong” (III.ii.) Antony’s ability to manipulate the crowd leads to civil war and Brutus’s suicide. However, Caesar may ultimately be the most important antagonist of the play. He dies before the audience discovers whether power could actually corrupt him, as Brutus and the conspirators fear. However, Shakespeare depicts enough of Caesar to reveal he is not without ambition and power-lust. Caesar’s ambition threatens the stability of the Roman Republic, leading to his assassination and the tragic events of the rest of the play.

Public speaking was one of the chief values of the Roman Republic, and Julius Caesar presents many examples of noble characters who deliver persuasive arguments in elevated language using classical techniques of rhetoric. Rhetoric is a term that refers to both the substance of a speaker’s argument—the appeals to reason, emotion, or values that the speaker makes to support a point—but also to the style and arrangement of words for maximum effect. For example, in the first scene, the tribune Murellus scolds the commoners for celebrating Caesar’s defeat of Pompey. He shames them by reminding them of their previous love for Pompey and the many times they celebrated his victories, culminating in a series of rhetorical questions that is forceful because of its repeated syntax:
And do you now put on your best attire?
And do you now cull out a holiday?
And do you now strew flowers in his way
That comes in triumph over Pompey’s blood? (I.i.)
The elegant arrangement of the words combined with the clear emotional appeal (look at how ungrateful you’re all being) and the vivid imagery of Pompey’s blood makes a powerful impact.

Julius Caesar is made up of many speeches like this, in which characters present an argument justifying their actions or decisions or to persuade someone else to act a certain way. Each of the major characters—Brutus, Caesar, Cassius, Portia, Mark Antony—delivers a number of such speeches, and each has his or her own own distinct style of using rhetoric.

The central action of the play is the assassination of Caesar, and Brutus is the character who has to make a public speech attempting to justify it. In Act II, Scene i, we see him deliberating with himself about the possible rationales for killing Caesar, not so much delivering a speech as working out how he would justify the killing, testing and discarding possible arguments. His arguments here notably lack the things that make other speeches in the play persuasive, such as emotional appeals, appeals to shared values, or vivid imagery. He admits that he has no personal reason to hate Caesar and can’t point to anything Caesar has actually done as justifications. His reasons are very abstract and sound like philosophical propositions or sayings from books: “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins / Remorse from power ...’tis a common proof / That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder … think him as a serpent’s egg, / Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous. (II.i.)” Since Brutus sees himself as rational and not governed by emotion or self-interest, he might see this abstract quality as a good thing, but because his arguments are so far removed from how actual people think and feel, they lack persuasiveness. The murder itself is going to be horrible, and to say “we killed him because of what he might do in the future” is not going to hold up to scrutiny.

The finished product, the speech Brutus actually gives to the public after the killing, is more polished and clear than the earlier version, and it does display a command of style, most obviously in the repetition of syntax and sentence structure to create a rhythm: “Hear me … Believe me … Censure me,” or “As Caesar loved me … As he was fortunate … As he was valiant…” The speech’s main feature is that it is very brief and to the point. Brutus strives to show that he is just and balanced, neither exaggerating Caesar’s faults or minimizing his virtues. He seems to condense his reasons into as few words as possible for maximum impact: “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. (III. ii.)” He doesn’t ornament the speech with imagery. He speaks in prose rather than in verse (he speaks in verse most of the time.) The resulting speech is reasonable but not especially compelling. In fact, because it’s so didactic it actually underlines how disconnected it is from normal human feelings or values. We don’t usually hear people talk about how they love and honor their friends for certain qualities and at the same time kill them for others.

Antony’s speech over Caesar’s corpse is a far more masterful display of rhetoric than Brutus’s. We know while watching this speech that his motivations are bad, since he has explained to the audience in Act III, Scene i that he wants revenge for Caesar’s death and that the outcome he hopes for is “war and destruction.” Thus we may view his speech as primarily manipulative and insincere, since he says so many things he obviously doesn’t mean, such as that he’s not going to read the plebeians the will when he obviously wants them to demand he read it. But in fact Antony’s speech as a whole shows how effective irony can be as a rhetorical device. He juxtaposes concrete, simple statements about Caesar that his audience can relate to or that they know to be true, such as that Caesar was his friend, that his audience once loved Caesar, that Caesar made many conquests for Rome, that he refused a crown, etc., with statements that he clearly wants his audience to disagree with, such as that the good Caesar did should be “buried” or forgotten, that Caesar was ambitious, and that Brutus and the other conspirators are honorable men. The effect of irony on the listeners is so powerful because it creates the impression that they are seeing a “truth” for themselves that contradicts what the speaker is saying. The speech would still be effective even if Antony and his audience are both “in on” the fact that he’s being deliberately insincere. Whether we see him as sly and manipulative or bitingly sarcastic, and whether we see the plebeians as dimwitted dupes or sharper and more aware, could vary depending on how this scene is performed.

Prose and Verse
Most of Julius Caesar is in verse. The very first scene is mixed, in which the commoners speak prose and the Tribunes lecture them in verse. Since the commoners are portrayed as clownish, making silly jokes and not particularly caring why they are having a holiday, and since the tribunes are eloquent (and no one argues back against them), the effect of the prose/verse juxtaposition seems to be to justify the social hierarchy. The noble characters who have mastered language and can speak eloquently seem more qualified to tell others what to do. However, since Flavius and Murellus are actually resisting Caesar and Caesar is in power, the scene might suggest that Caesar’s ascension to the status of dictator has depended in some sense on his popularity with the commoners rather than on the better sense of the Roman nobility, suggesting that things are not in good order in the politics of Rome.

Casca presents a notable exception to the rule that noble characters speak in verse. In Act I, Scene ii, Brutus plucks Casca by the cloak to get him to remain on stage and tell him what happened when Caesar was offered the crown, and the two of them speak prose until Casca exits. In this case, the shift to prose seems to mark the transition from the public to the private and confidential, in which Casca will give a semi-secret and unvarnished account of the scene, as if to say “this is what really happened” as opposed to a version that’s meant for public consumption. However, when Casca leaves, Brutus and Cassius not only revert to verse, but Brutus remarks how “blunt” or stupid Casca is, which Cassius argues is not actually the case. Another impression we might form of Casca (who does speak verse later in the same act) is that he has affected a false persona that is gruff and somewhat stupid, in order to protect himself from being perceived as a threat to Caesar, as Cassius is.

Another important use of prose by a noble character is Brutus’s speech to the commoners in Act III, Scene ii. (The fact that Brutus’s speech is in prose makes it contrast more with Antony’s, which is in verse.) Brutus’s choice to use prose here seems to reflect a wish to be plainspoken and accessible. He wants his motives to be clearly intelligible, and his speech is therefore easy to follow and devoid of stylistic distractions. As always, Brutus tries to appeal strictly to his audience’s reason. Antony, on the other hand, appeals to their emotion, and therefore speaks in verse, using metaphor to stir outrage in his listeners, comparing Caesar’s wounds to “dumb mouths.” Antony subtly critiques Brutus’s dispassionate, unpoetic way of speaking when he tells the crowd “you are not wood, you are not stones, but men.” Antony is implying that being human, the crowd cannot helped but feel emotion, and therefore he speaks in an appropriately passionate register about Caesar’s death.

Point of View
The play sustains no single point of view; however, the audience acquires the most insight into Brutus’s mind over the course of the action
As with many of Shakespeare’s plays, the perspectives of certain characters in Julius Caesar are privileged over others through the use of asides and soliloquies. These techniques allow these characters to stand out, as the play offers an exclusive preview into their motives and decisions. In Julius Caesar, the audience is given special insight into Cassius, Brutus, and Antony. In decisive moments, the POV aligns itself closely with the characters whose actions determine the play’s narrative trajectory. The POV shifts among the characters whose choices are most consequential: at first, Cassius, as he works to organize the conspiracy to unseat Caesar; later (and throughout most of the play) Brutus, as he makes the crucial decision to join Cassius in the plot; and finally, Antony, as he swears revenge against Brutus and the conspirators. The effect of this shared POV is that the audience understands the three main characters’ motivations equally.

Throughout the first act of the play, the emphasis is mostly on Cassius. In Act I scene ii, when the crowd offers Caesar a crown, we don’t see the action. Instead, we witness it through Brutus and Cassius’s reaction to the crowd’s shouts, which cause Cassius to complain that Caesar “doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus.” We might expect to see this significant scene take place onstage, but instead, we witness it third-hand, through Cassius and Brutus’s interpretation of what is taking place offstage. The emphasis on Cassius’s experience over Caesar’s experience establishes that Cassius’s POV is the most important. His soliloquy in Act I, Scene ii gives the audience a confidential insight into his intentions: “Well Brutus, though art noble. Yet I see/ thy honorable mettle may be wrought” (I.ii). Here, Cassius tells us directly what he wishes to do: forge a letter, seemingly written by plebeians, that will finally persuade Brutus to take part in the conspiracy: “And after this let Caesar seat him sure,/ For we will shake him, or worse days endure” (I.ii). At this phase of the play, he is the key instigator of the plot and so his perspective is given precedence.

In Act II, the POV shifts to favor Brutus, the tragic hero of the play, and will remain with him, with a few detours, until the play’s conclusion. The first scene in his private garden, where Brutus delivers several soliloquies, gives the audience a peek into his personal views of Caesar’s rise and his internal back and forth on what action he ought to take: “It must be by his death. And for my part,/ I know no personal cause to spurn at him” (II.ii). Later, when Brutus begins to read the letter that Cassius has forged, the audience is able to closely observe the thought process that leads him to take the plunge and partake in the conspiracy: “Am I entreated/ To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise:/ If the redress will follow, thou receivest/ Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus” (II.i). From this point forward, Brutus’s thoughts and decisions will dominate the play, and the audience will remain closely aligned with his point of view. Since we have seen that his motivations are selfless even when he’s alone, he remains sympathetic throughout the play.

The two notable POV shifts emphasize Antony’s perspective, explaining his virulent opposition to the Brutus-Cassius camp. His soliloquy at the end of Act III, scene i is the first time the audience is allowed to glimpse Antony’s real motivations. Despite telling Brutus that he will not blame the conspirators while speaking at Caesar’s funeral, Antony turns to the audience and confesses that he will in fact seek vengeance: “A curse shall light upon the limbs of men” (III.i). Not only does this shift in POV help define the conflict of the play, but it also establishes Antony’s independence and ability to make decisions on his own: from now on, he will serve as a fierce antagonist to Brutus. Similarly, in the first scene of Act IV, while sitting at the table with Octavius, Antony reveals that he sees Lepidus as a mere tool for his tactical aims, comparing Lepidus to a horse and saying “He must be taught and trained and bid go forth” (IV.i.) This glimpse into Antony’s utilitarian view of politics contrasts with Brutus’ rigid adherence to ethics and honor.

(Serious, proud, virtuous, enraged, vengeful, idealistic, anguished)
The tone of Julius Caesar is serious and elevated, suggesting the audience should view the events of the play as having lasting, wide-ranging significance. The play contains little humor or moments of levity, and the characters take themselves very seriously, to the point of being willing to die for their ideals. Brutus’s calm, rational explanations for his actions maintain the tone of stately dignity even at moments of intense crisis, as when he faces death. In Act IV Scene i he says, “But it sufficeth that the day will end, / And then the end is known.” This line sums up much of the tone of the play – the characters all understand that they will die eventually, but that their actions in life will reverberate after they’re gone. Although the play ends bloodily, with many characters dead at their own hands, the characters never become hysterical or overly emotional, maintaining the sense that their choices are political rather than personal.

Departures from the overall high-stakes tone come across in scenes with Calpurnia and Portia. The discussions between Brutus and Portia, or Calpurnia and Caesar, have little to do with the sweeping course of history: “Y’have urgently, Brutus,/ Stole from my bed. And yesternight at supper/ You suddenly arose, and walked,/ Musing and sighing, with your arms a-cross”(II.i). Here, Portia’s concerned and intimate tone reveals Brutus’s conflicted inner life. His emotional anxiety is something Portia has noticed, and wants to fully understand. Similarly, Calpurnia begs Caesar to stay home with an equally candid air: “Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,/Yet now they fright me”(II.ii) Through these tonal shifts, the play highlights the mistakes of its heroes, who feel compelled to sacrifice their interior, private lives for what they believe to be higher ideals.

Narrative Style
The play is full of omens, including lightning and thunder, the walking dead, and lions stalking through the city (I.iii). Additionally, the Soothsayer warns Caesar to beware the Ides of March (I.ii); Calpurnia dreams that she sees Caesar’s statue running with blood (II.ii); and Caesar’s priests sacrifice animals to the gods only to find that the animals lack hearts (II.ii)—all foreshadow Caesar’s impending murder and the resulting chaos in Rome. Caesar’s ghost visits Brutus prior to the battle (IV.ii), and birds of prey circle over the battlefield in sight of Cassius (V.i); both incidents foreshadow Caesar’s revenge and the victory of Antony and Octavius.
Because Julius Caesar is set in ancient Rome, where augury, soothsaying, and sacrifice played significant roles in both public and private life, foreshadowing has a correspondingly large presence in the play. Below are several examples of foreshadowing in Julius Caesar.
Examples of Foreshadowing:
The Assassination Of Caesar
One of the most famous and oft-quoted usage of foreshadowing comes from Act I, Scene ii, when the soothsayer begs Caesar to “beware the Ides of March!” This same augury also appears in the accounts of ancient historians, such as Suetonius and Plutarch; an Elizabethan audience would likely have known that March 15th (the Ides of March) 44 BCE was the official date of Caesar’s assassination. Therefore, they would have recognized the soothsayer’s warning as a foreshadowing of the murder to come. The famous admonition makes a second appearance at the very beginning of Act III, scene i. It is now March 15th, and Caesar remarks to the soothsayer that the Ides of March have come. “Ay / Caesar, but not gone” (III.i.) the soothsayer replies, meaning the day is not over yet, and Caesar shouldn’t get too cocky about assuming he’s defied his fate. Sure enough, by the end of the scene, he has been stabbed to death, the senators have bathed their hands in his blood, and Antony has sworn revenge.

Cassius’s narration in Act I, Scene ii, relating the manner in which he saved Caesar from drowning in the Tiber River also foreshadows the assassination. While Cassius is telling this story, he brazenly compares himself to Aeneas (the Trojan primogenitor of Rome, who left behind his burning homeland to start anew in Italy) and Caesar to a crippled Anchises (Aeneas’s ailing father, who Aeneas had to rescue from the fire by hoisting on his back and shoulders): “I, as Aeneas our great ancestor did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder/The old Anchises bear” (II.ii) Cassius tells Brutus. By referencing this particular founding myth, and drawing direct parallels between the hero and himself, Cassius reveals not only his dismissive attitude toward Caesar’s right to power, but also hints at his future ambitions: the assassination functions, in his mind at least, as a reinvention or second founding of Rome. Just as Lucius Brutus’s revolt against the Tarquins first established the Republic, Cassius’ actions will help restore it.

Calpurnia’s vision in Act II, scene ii (related to Decius Brutus through Caesar) in which she envisions Caesar’s statue spouting blood while “lusty Romans” bathe their hands in it directly foreshadows the circumstances of his death, particularly the way the conspirators literally dip their hands in his blood. Similarly, the servant’s report of priests slaughtering an ox with no heart is another bad omen that forewarns of death. Caesar, however, dismisses his wife’s dream and misinterprets the meaning of the heartless beast: “The gods do this in shame of cowardice/Caesar should be a beast without a heart/ If he stay at home today for fear”(II.ii). Caesar understands the heartlessness of the animal to mean that he would be a coward if he stayed home (i.e heartless, as the heart is associated with honor and bravery). Therefore, when Caesar decides to follow Decius Brutus to the Senate, despite the ample warnings not to go, the audience knows with certainty that he is walking to his death.

Civil War, Empire And The End Of The Roman Republic
In Act I Scene iii Casca warns Cicero about recent omens including “ghastly women” and lions near the Capitol. “When those prodigies/ Do so conjointly meet, let not men say / ‘These are their reasons; they are natural,’” Casca says. These signs resonate later in the play, when viewed in retrospect as harbingers of the tragic events that unfold. The omens foreshadow the havoc that will occur as a result of Caesar’s death. Cicero, always wise and balanced, is more cautious in interpreting the symbols: “Men may construe things after their fashion” (I.iii) he says, suggesting that more important than the symbols themselves, is the way people decode them. He’s right; the conspirators misread the omens as a divine endorsement of their plot, when in fact they are warnings not to proceed.

The appearance of Caesar’s ghost in Brutus’s tent at the end of Act IV, scene iii, also has several foreshadowing effects. First, the grim appearance of the ghost and its assurance that it will meet Brutus again at Philippi, suggests the final battle with Antony and young Octavius will bode poorly for Brutus. Second, the apparition foreshadows the lasting legacy of Caesar on Rome. The fact that he physically appears on stage (the role is typically played by the same actor) and speaks to Brutus, implies a kind of resurrection or reanimation. And indeed, even though Caesar has been physically killed, his memory still endures through Antony and Octavius, and will continue to endure through the subsequent rulers that will propagate the name of Caesar as one synonymous with Emperor. The appearance of Caesar’s ghost here can be viewed as a symbolic foreshadowing of the Empire that is yet to come.

Other Playwright’s Styles
Climax: The climax of the play comes when Antony, by juxtaposing Caesar’s accomplishments, his generous will, and his corpse’s brutal wounds with the repeated statement that “Brutus is an honorable man,” persuades the people of Rome that Brutus and his co-conspirators aren’t honorable at all.
Falling Action: Titinius’s realization that Cassius has died wrongly assuming defeat; Titinius’s suicide; Brutus’s discovery of the two corpses; the final struggle between Brutus’s men and the troops of Antony and Octavius; Brutus’s self-impalement on his sword upon recognizing that his side is doomed; the discovery of Brutus’s body by Antony and Octavius

Figures of Speech
Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Women and Wives
The women in the play, Portia and Calpurnia, symbolize the neglected private lives of their respective husbands, Brutus and Caesar. The men dismiss their wives as hindrances to their public duty, ignoring their responsibilities to their own mortal bodies and their private obligations as friends, husbands, and feeling men.
While one could try to analyze Calpurnia and Portia as full characters in their own right, they function primarily not as sympathetic personalities or sources of insight or poetry but rather as symbols for the private, domestic realm. Both women plead with their husbands to be more aware of their private needs and feelings (Portia in Act II, scene i; Calpurnia in Act III, scene ii). Caesar and Brutus rebuff the pleas of their respective wives, however; they not only prioritize public matters but also actively disregard their private emotions and intuitions. As such, Calpurnia and Portia are powerless figures, willing though unable to help and comfort Caesar and Brutus.

Examples of Allusions in the Play:
Act 1, scene 2
Knew you not Pompey? (1.1.37)
This is an allusion to Pompey, a powerful Roman general whom Caesar had recently defeated, essentially paving the way for Caesar to become the emperor of Rome.

I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor, Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulder The old Anchises bear, so from the waves of Tiber. (1.2.114–116)
This is an allusion to Aeneas, who carried his father, Anchises, to safety out of Troy during the Trojan war. Since Aeneas is the father of Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome, Cassius here refers to him as “our great ancestor.”

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world Like a Colossus, and we pretty men Walk under his huge legs and peep about. (1.2.136–138)
This is an allusion to the Colossus of Rhodes, a giant statue whose legs once straddled the harbor to the city of Rhodes. While no longer standing, the Colossus of Rhodes is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

When went there by an age, since the great flood, (1.2.153)
This is an allusion to the ancient Greek myth of Deucalion, a story very similar to the story of Noah’s ark, in which Zeus, angry about the atrocities committed by humankind, sent a flood to drown every man, woman, and child. The god Prometheus, Deucalion’s father, advised Deucalion to build an ark, which saved him and humanity.

Act 2, scene 1
My ancestors did from the streets of Rome The Tarquin drive when he was called king. (2.1.55–56)
This is an allusion to Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the last king of Rome, who reigned from 535–509 BC. Brutus’s ancestor, Lucius Brutus, led a revolt that helped to expel the Tarquin from Rome.

For if thou path, thy native semblance on, Not Erebus itself were dim enough To hide thee from prevention (2.1.85–87)
This is an allusion to Erebus, the personification of darkness. It is often referred to as a place of darkness in Hades.

Act 2, scene 3
O Caesar, thou mayst live. If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive. (2.3.14–15)
This is an allusion to the Fates, also referred to as the three Moirai in Greek mythology, three wise goddesses who are responsible for weaving the destinies of every mortal being.

Act 3, scene 1
Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus? (3.1.80)
This is an allusion to Mount Olympus, the home of the Olympian Gods, who were worshipped by the ancient Greek and Roman people.

And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate by his side come hot from hell, (3.1.285–286)
This is an allusion to Ate, the ancient Greek personification of recklessness and folly, who entices those she encounters to make rash and reckless decisions. In some myths, Ate acts as an avenger, retaliating against those who commit terrible acts.

Act 3, scene 2
That day he overcame the Nervii. (3.2.168)
This is an allusion to the Nervii, a barbarian tribe from northern Gaul (modern-day France). Caesar defeated and nearly eradicated the tribe completely when he faced them in battle.

Act 4, scene 3
Be ready, gods, with all your thunderbolts. (4.3.85)
This is an allusion to the Greek god Zeus and his weapon of choice, the thunderbolt.

A flatterer’s would not, though they do appear As huge as high Olympus. (4.3.94–95)
This is an allusion to Mount Olympus, the home of the Olympian Gods, who were worshipped by the ancient Greek and Roman people.

Within, a heart Dearer than Plutus’ mine, richer than gold. (4.3.105–106)
This is an allusion to Plutus, the Greek god of wealth.

Act 5, scene 1
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees And leave them honeyless. (5.1.34–35)
This is an allusion to Hybla, a town on the island of Sicily that was renowned for its honey.

You know that I held Epicurus strong And his opinion. (5.1.78–79)
This is an allusion to Epicurus, a famous Greek philosopher who focused on creating a peaceful and happy life.

Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. 
Summary of the Themes: Conflict, betrayal, war, rivalry, protest, assassination, politics, hypocrisy, Fate versus free will; public self versus private self; misinterpretation and misreading of signs and events; commitment to ideals versus adaptability and compromise; the relationship between rhetoric and power; allegiance and rivalry among men

Explanation of Some Themes of the Play:
Fate versus Free Will
Julius Caesar raises many questions about the force of fate in life versus the capacity for free will. Cassius refuses to accept Caesar’s rising power and deems a belief in fate to be nothing more than a form of passivity or cowardice. He says to Brutus: “Men at sometime were masters of their fates. / The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings” (I.ii.140–142). Cassius urges a return to a more noble, self-possessed attitude toward life, blaming his and Brutus’s submissive stance not on a predestined plan but on their failure to assert themselves.

Ultimately, the play seems to support a philosophy in which fate and freedom maintain a delicate coexistence. Thus Caesar declares: “It seems to me most strange that men should fear, / Seeing that death, a necessary end, / Will come when it will come” (II.ii.35–37). In other words, Caesar recognizes that certain events lie beyond human control; to crouch in fear of them is to enter a paralysis equal to, if not worse than, death. It is to surrender any capacity for freedom and agency that one might actually possess. Indeed, perhaps to face death head-on, to die bravely and honorably, is Caesar’s best course: in the end, Brutus interprets his and Cassius’s defeat as the work of Caesar’s ghost—not just his apparition, but also the force of the people’s devotion to him, the strong legacy of a man who refused any fear of fate and, in his disregard of fate, seems to have transcended it.

Public Self versus Private Self
Much of the play’s tragedy stems from the characters’ neglect of private feelings and loyalties in favor of what they believe to be the public good. Similarly, characters confuse their private selves with their public selves, hardening and dehumanizing themselves or transforming themselves into ruthless political machines. Brutus rebuffs his wife, Portia, when she pleads with him to confide in her; believing himself to be acting on the people’s will, he forges ahead with the murder of Caesar, despite their close friendship. Brutus puts aside his personal loyalties and shuns thoughts of Caesar the man, his friend; instead, he acts on what he believes to be the public’s wishes and kills Caesar the leader, the imminent dictator. Cassius can be seen as a man who has gone to the extreme in cultivating his public persona. Caesar, describing his distrust of Cassius, tells Antony that the problem with Cassius is his lack of a private life—his seeming refusal to acknowledge his own sensibilities or to nurture his own spirit. Such a man, Caesar fears, will let nothing interfere with his ambition. Indeed, Cassius lacks all sense of personal honor and shows himself to be a ruthless schemer.

Ultimately, neglecting private sentiments to follow public concerns brings Caesar to his death. Although Caesar does briefly agree to stay home from the Senate in order to please Calpurnia, who has dreamed of his murder, he gives way to ambition when Decius tells him that the senators plan to offer him the crown. -Caesar’s public self again takes precedence. Tragically, he no longer sees the difference between his omnipotent, immortal public image and his vulnerable human body. Just preceding his death, Caesar refuses Artemidorus’s pleas to speak with him, saying that he gives last priority to his most personal concerns. He thus endangers himself by believing that the strength of his public self will protect his private self.

Misinterpretations and Misreadings
Much of the play deals with the characters’ failures to interpret correctly the omens that they encounter. As Cicero says, “Men may construe things after their fashion, / Clean from the purpose of the things themselves” (I.iii.34–35). Thus, the night preceding Caesar’s appearance at the Senate is full of portents, but no one reads them accurately: Cassius takes them to signify the danger that Caesar’s impending coronation would bring to the state, when, if anything, they warn of the destruction that Cassius himself threatens. There are calculated misreadings as well: Cassius manipulates Brutus into joining the conspiracy by means of forged letters, knowing that Brutus’s trusting nature will cause him to accept the letters as authentic pleas from the Roman people.

The circumstances of Cassius’s death represent another instance of misinterpretation. Pindarus’s erroneous conclusion that Titinius has been captured by the enemy, when in fact Titinius has reunited with friendly forces, is the piece of misinformation that prompts Cassius to seek death. Thus, in the world of politics portrayed in Julius Caesar, the inability to read people and events leads to downfall; conversely, the ability to do so is the key to survival. With so much ambition and rivalry, the ability to gauge the public’s opinion as well as the resentment or loyalty of one’s fellow politicians can guide one to success. Antony proves masterful at recognizing his situation, and his accurate reading of the crowd’s emotions during his funeral oration for Caesar allows him to win the masses over to his side.

Inflexibility versus Compromise
Both Brutus and Caesar are stubborn, rather inflexible people who ultimately suffer fatally for it. In the play’s aggressive political landscape, individuals succeed through adaptability, bargaining, and compromise. Brutus’s rigid though honorable ideals leave him open for manipulation by Cassius. He believes so thoroughly in the purpose of the assassination that he does not perceive the need for excessive political maneuvering to justify the murder. Equally resolute, Caesar prides himself on his steadfastness; yet this constancy helps bring about his death, as he refuses to heed ill omens and goes willingly to the Senate, into the hands of his murderers.

Antony proves perhaps the most adaptable of all of the politicians: while his speech to the Roman citizens centers on Caesar’s generosity toward each citizen, he later searches for ways to turn these funds into cash in order to raise an army against Brutus and Cassius. Although he gains power by offering to honor Caesar’s will and provide the citizens their rightful money, it becomes clear that ethical concerns will not prevent him from using the funds in a more politically expedient manner. Antony is a successful politician—yet the question of morality remains. There seems to be no way to reconcile firm moral principles with success in politics in Shakespeare’s rendition of ancient Rome; thus each character struggles toward a different solution.

Rhetoric and Power
Julius Caesar gives detailed consideration to the relationship between rhetoric and power. The ability to make things happen by words alone is the most powerful type of authority. Early in the play, it is established that Caesar has this type of absolute authority: “When Caesar says ‘Do this,’ it is performed,” says Antony, who attaches a similar weight to Octavius’s words toward the end of the play (I.ii.12). Words also serve to move hearts and minds, as Act III evidences. Antony cleverly convinces the conspirators of his desire to side with them: “Let each man render me with his bloody hand” (III.i.185). Under the guise of a gesture of friendship, Antony actually marks the conspirators for vengeance. In the Forum, Brutus speaks to the crowd and appeals to its love of liberty in order to justify the killing of Caesar. He also makes ample reference to the honor in which he is generally esteemed so as to validate further his explanation of the deed. Antony likewise wins the crowd’s favor, using persuasive rhetoric to whip the masses into a frenzy so great that they don’t even realize the fickleness of their favor.

Ethics vs Politics
The tension in Julius Caesar comes from the question of whether Caesar’s position in power is ethically acceptable or not, and whether men of good conscience can allow a man like Caesar to hold such power over the Roman citizens. Caesar wins victories for Rome and becomes popular both with the common masses and the wealthy families. Politically, Caesar’s position appears beyond reproach, but the conspirators in the play—namely, Brutus—conclude that they are ethically impelled to stop Caesar before his ambition grows and he becomes unstoppable.

The play directly addresses the conflict between ethics and politics when Brutus and Antony deliver speeches after Caesar’s assassination. Brutus has one opportunity to explain to the Romans that the murder of Caesar was ethically necessary. Tellingly, while Brutus convinces the crowd that he was ethically correct in killing Caesar before he enslaved the people, Antony is able to instantaneously undo Brutus’s claims with his own speech. For Brutus, inviting Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral was the right and honorable gesture, but he grossly overestimates the public’s respect for these sorts of ethical decisions. In this instance, Antony proves to be the better politician, capable of swaying the crowd with his rhetoric and passion, while Brutus’s rigid morality limits his ability to be a powerful politician and understand the fickle nature of the Roman citizens.

Julius Caesar revolves around the question of what constitutes a tyrant. Before Brutus can convince himself to kill Caesar, he must believe that Caesar is either a tyrant, or that he will inevitably become one. For Brutus, this question depends on whether Caesar wants power for himself or whether the senators and citizens are thrusting that power upon him. In Act I, Casca tells Brutus and Cassius that Antony offered Caesar a crown three times and that three times Caesar refused to accept it. Caesar’s initial refusal of the crown suggests he doesn’t want total power for himself, but the people are trying to thrust power upon him. However, Cassius suggests Caesar will become a tyrant if he’s given absolute power, even if he doesn’t start out as a tyrant: “I know he would not be a wolf / But that he sees the Romans are but sheep” (I.iii).
The question of tyranny is also at the heart of the crucial scene in Act IV when Brutus and Antony speak over Caesar’s dead body. Brutus claims that he was justified in killing Caesar, and Antony claims that Brutus was not justified. The two men disagree about whether Caesar was a tyrant or not. Ultimately, Antony is able to demonstrate how Caesar rejected opportunities to seize personal power, shared his victories with the Roman people, and included all the citizens of Rome in his will. For the public, these assertions establish that Caesar was not a tyrant, and therefore Brutus and the other conspirators are not only murderers, but enemies of Rome. The success of Antony’s speech suggests that tyranny must, in some respect, be in the eye of the beholder. The Caesar that Brutus describes in his speech and the Caesar that Antony describes are the same man, but Antony is better able to make the audience see Caesar as someone who would never have resorted to tyranny.

In the Roman world of Julius Caesar, honor is a matter of selflessness, rationality, and pride. No character in the play more clearly embodies the virtue of honor than Brutus. Nearly every character recognizes Brutus’s reputation for honor. For instance, Cassius exploits this reputation when he recruits Brutus into the assassination conspiracy, hoping that Brutus’s renowned honor will legitimize the conspiracy. Even at the end of the play, after he has caused so much strife, Brutus retains his honorable reputation. As Antony explains, “All the conspirators save only he / Did that they did in envy of great Caesar.” Brutus acted honorably because he killed Caesar for the greater benefit of Rome, not because of his own jealousy. Brutus further demonstrates honor through his commitment to rationality. Although initially horrified by the idea of killing Caesar, Brutus weighs the matter and concludes that, despite his emotional revulsion at the idea, assassination is nevertheless justified. Finally, Brutus exhibits honor when he chooses to take his own life rather than let himself be captured. Capture would imply weakness, and Brutus’s desire to appear strong and preserve his pride leads him to die on his own terms.

Another key element of honor in Julius Caesar relates to loyalty, a matter that proves somewhat complicated in a play where excessive loyalty leads to much political strife. Shakespeare constructed his play around two central friendships: one between Brutus and Cassius, and another between Caesar and Antony. Although the profound loyalty that defines each of these friendships is touching, that same loyalty also proves dangerous. For example, Cassius leverages his devotion to Brutus to convince his friend to join the assassination plot. Brutus in turn allows his love for Cassius to lead him into errors of judgment that ultimately result in both of their deaths. Just as Cassius and Brutus act out of mutual loyalty, Antony also acts out of a deep devotion to Caesar and, later, to Octavius. Although Antony initially claims the justness of the conspirators’ cause, he demonstrates his ongoing loyalty to Caesar when he turns the Roman public against the conspirators at Caesar’s funeral—an act that instigates rioting and war. These characters demonstrate honor through friendship, and yet their loyalty also destroys the Republic.

Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Examples of Motifs:
Omens and Portents
Throughout the play, omens and portents manifest themselves, each serving to crystallize the larger themes of fate and misinterpretation of signs. Until Caesar’s death, each time an omen or nightmare is reported, the audience is reminded of Caesar’s impending demise. The audience wonders whether these portents simply announce what is fated to occur or whether they serve as warnings for what might occur if the characters do not take active steps to change their behavior. Whether or not individuals can affect their destinies, characters repeatedly fail to interpret the omens correctly. In a larger sense, the omens in Julius Caesar thus imply the dangers of failing to perceive and analyze the details of one’s world.

The motif of letters represents an interesting counterpart to the force of oral rhetoric in the play. Oral rhetoric depends upon a direct, dialogic interaction between speaker and audience: depending on how the listeners respond to a certain statement, the orator can alter his or her speech and intonations accordingly. In contrast, the power of a written letter depends more fully on the addressee; whereas an orator must read the emotions of the crowd, the act of reading is undertaken solely by the recipient of the letter. Thus, when Brutus receives the forged letter from Cassius in Act II, scene i, the letter has an effect because Brutus allows it to do so; it is he who grants it its full power. In contrast, Caesar refuses to read the letter that Artemidorus tries to hand him in Act III, scene i, as he is heading to the Senate. Predisposed to ignore personal affairs, Caesar denies the letter any reading at all and thus negates the potential power of the words written inside.

Julius Caesar explores the dangers and attractions of both republicanism and monarchy, revealing many parallels between ancient Rome and Elizabethan England. In the play, Brutus considers a monarchy so dangerous he would rather kill one of his closest friends than risk allowing him to become a tyrannical ruler. Brutus frames Caesar’s murder as as a moral act, necessary for the preservation of the Roman Republic. In doing so, he is following the edict of his predecessor Lucius Brutus, who, after defeating the oppressive Tarquin kings in 509 BCE, made the public swear an oath never to allow any one man to become king of Rome again. From then on, the city was governed by two consuls who were democratically elected every year by citizens and advised by a Senate. The evolution of Roman government developed through the back and forth struggle between the land-owning patricians (prominent families who traced their origins back to Roman foundations) and the plebeians, or commoners, who consistently demanded more rights and representation.

While Brutus acts for what he believes is the good of Rome, his vision of a republican government is presented as a beautiful ideal that is impractical for the real world. Although Julius Caesar expresses notions of democratic freedom, it questions whether that freedom can be realistically implemented. At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus’s defense of the conspirators’ murder of Caesar gives Mark Antony fodder to portray him as a butchering usurper. The failure of Brutus to sell the public on the concepts of the republic serves as a critique of republicanism: like all ideals, it fails under real-world stress. In the play, Brutus repeatedly fails to reconcile his ethics with the strategic demands of politics. Opportunism and shrewdness (characterized most clearly by Mark Antony) always prevail over lofty ideals. At the play’s end, Rome is once again under a dictatorship, ruler by a triumvirate of Mark Antony, Octavius, and Marcus Lepidus.

Julius Caesar does not entirely side with the single-ruler approach to government, either for ancient Rome or Renaissance England. Caesar has obvious flaws; he is physically ill, conceited, and stubborn. Once he dies, Rome is paralyzed by bloody factionalism. The death of a monarch or ruler, even an imperfect one, leads only to greater instability and bloodshed. More than simple indictment or approval of any one form of government, Julius Caesar functions best as a cautionary tale, outlining the disastrous consequences of a high-profile assassination, however noble in intention. In many ways, Julius Caesar draws parallels between ancient Rome and the political discourse of Elizabethan England. Like Caesar, Queen Elizabeth had no direct heirs, and with her mental and physical health in decline, the question of succession was fraught. After four decades of Elizabeth’s rule, many in England had become disillusioned with her reign, and by the time Julius Caesar was performed in 1599, multiple attempts had been made on the queen’s life. The Roman civil wars in Julius Caesar would have served as a sober warning of the discord England would see should an assassination attempt succeed.

Question 1 
1) What are Flavius and Murellus angry about at the beginning of the play?
Flavius and Murellus are initially angry because they see a number of commoners neglecting their work. They learn that the commoners are celebrating Caesar’s defeat of his archrival Pompey. Flavius and Murellus wonder why Pompey’s death should be considered a good thing, considering the people of Rome used to adore him. They are upset that the people turned their affections so quickly to Caesar, and that Caesar is becoming too self-important. Even though Flavius and Murellus do not appear again in the play, they are the first to voice the distrust of Caesar that eventually leads to his murder later in the play.

Question 2
2) Why does Caesar decide to go to the Senate despite his wife’s warnings?
Caesar goes to the Senate because his ambition surpasses his desire to comfort his wife. After Calpurnia’s terrifying nightmare that portends Caesar’s assassination, Caesar initially agrees to stay home, despite his belief that nothing can change his fate. Midway through the scene, Decius—one of the conspirators—arrives to escort Caesar to the Senate. Not wanting to lie about the reason he refuses to attend, Caesar informs Decius of Calpurnia’s dream. Knowing that he needs to convince Caesar to come, Decius tells two lies. First, he reinterprets Calpurnia’s vision, insisting that the blood in her dream does not represent death, but instead represents the life and renewal Caesar will bring about for the Romans. Second, Decius says the Senate plans to crown Caesar the first emperor of Rome. Decius’s two lies stoke Caesar’s thirst for power and convince him to go to the Senate despite Calpurnia’s warnings, ultimately leading to Caesar’s doom.

Question 1
3) Why does Brutus allow Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral?
Brutus allows Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral in the hopes that doing so will work to the conspirators’ benefit. Brutus plans to make a speech to the Roman people, outlining the reasons for Caesar’s death, and he tells Antony that he can speak afterward. Brutus instructs Antony to speak well of the conspirators: “You shall not in your funeral speech blame us, / But speak all good you can devise of Caesar, / And say you do ’t by our permission.” Cassius strongly objects to this plan, pointing out that there’s no way to know “how much the people may be moved / By that which he will utter.” Brutus insists, however, that having Antony speak at Caesar’s funeral will help justify the conspirators’ actions in the eyes of the Roman people. Later, this plan goes awry. Although Brutus’s words temporarily win the crowd’s sympathies, Antony goes on to deliver a moving speech full of masterful rhetoric that quickly turns the Roman people against the conspirators, leading to a riot and, later, war. Brutus’s mistake in letting Antony speak derails the conspirators’ cause and leads to tragedy.

Question 4
4) How does Cassius die?
Cassius kills himself with the same sword that killed Caesar because he believes his friend Titinius has been captured by enemy troops. Cassius sends Titinius to ride to a distant camp and determine whether the camp belongs to friends or enemies. Pindarus, Cassius’s servant, reports that a group of men on horseback surround Titinius and take him captive. Aggrieved and ashamed that he should “live so long / To see my best friend ta’en before my face,” Cassius decides he too must die. However, Cassius doesn’t take his own life, technically avoiding suicide as he instructs Pindarus to “guide” the sword. The audience learns immediately after Cassius dies that Titinius was never captured and is alive among friends. Cassius thus kills himself for no good reason. Although he appeared politically savvy and cunning throughout the play, Cassius proves in the final act he is not as shrewd as the audience is led to believe.

Question 5
5) Was assassinating Caesar the right decision?
The conspirators justify the assassination of Caesar by claiming that they want to preserve the Roman Republic, in which no one is king and the ruling aristocrats are equals. If Caesar claims absolute power and becomes crowned as king, the Roman Republic will end as they know it. While Julius Caesar does show that the conspirators have some valid reasons to fear Caesar—mainly because Caesar really does regard himself as superior—the play presents this decision as a mistake in several ways. First, the assassination does not accomplish what the conspirators intended to do—the Republic is never restored, and Antony and Octavius rise up to take Caesar’s place as rulers, with Octavius eventually becoming the first Roman Emperor. Second, the play presents the decision to assassinate Caesar as ultimately Brutus’s decision, and that decision is portrayed as a fateful mistake, a dark choice with sinister consequences. The audience sees Brutus tempted by Cassius’s lies and stratagems, misleading him into thinking the Roman people want him to kill Caesar. The decision itself is made in sinister circumstances, in the midst of a storm and with the conspirators masked. As with any tragedy, this decision leads to Brutus’s inevitable downfall and death.

Question 6
6) Why does Cassius hate Caesar?
Cassius hates Caesar because he is jealous of Caesar’s power and he believes that Caesar is a weak man and, therefore, undeserving of the power and admiration he has been given by the Roman citizens. To highlight his feelings, Cassius describes to Brutus how he once saved Caesar’s life when the two raced each other across the Tiber River. While he tells the story, he reveals his anger and resentment toward Caesar when he suggests that Caesar “[i]s now become a god, and Cassius is / A wretched creature [who] must bend his body” to him. During this conversation with Brutus, Cassius goes on to spitefully explain Caesar’s epileptic fits as another sign of the would-be emperor’s weakness. Caesar’s physical weakness, in contrast with his overreaching power, leads Cassius to judge Caesar as a danger to Rome and the Republic; he fears that Caesar will become emperor and strip the senators of their power, essentially enslaving them.

Question 7
7) What is the significance of the comet?
The comet’s appearance mainly serves as an omen foreshadowing Julius Caesar’s impending assassination. However, Shakespeare also uses the comet to characterize Caesar’s ego as his tragic flaw. Calpurnia suggests the comet’s purpose when she explains, “When beggars die there are no comets seen. / The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes” (2.2.29–31). Such a description sets the comet up as one of three omens that portend the death of Caesar (the others are the Soothsayer’s prophecy and Calpurnia’s dream). By having Caesar flippantly ignore these three blatant omens, Shakespeare highlights Caesar’s ego as a central factor in his downfall.

Question 8
8) Why does Caesar refuse the crown when Antony offers it to him?
There are differing responses to this question, depending on which character provides the answer. Casca explains to Brutus and Cassius that, in the arena, Caesar refused the crown every time Antony offered it because each time he refused, the crowd responded uproariously. Casca observes that “he would fain have had it,” implying that Caesar’s refusal was, essentially, theater and that he was simply pandering to the crowd. On the other hand, Antony uses the same incident to reveal that Caesar refused the crown because he was not ambitious or power-hungry. However, it’s more likely that Caesar’s motivations were as Casca implies: Caesar theatrically refused the crown to further secure the hearts and minds of the people, and he fully intended to accept the crown when the senate officially offered it to him.

Question 9
9) What happens to Murellus and Flavius?
Casca explains to Brutus and Cassius that “Murellus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar’s images, are put to silence.” Interpretations of this line vary. There is the obvious euphemistic interpretation that silence means death, suggesting Caesar had the two tribunes killed for speaking out against him in public. Yet other theories suggest that the pair may have been stripped of rank and possibly tortured, having their tongues cut out, or that they were simply threatened, stripped of rank, and forced to stop publicly opposing Caesar.

Question 10
10) Why does Antony shake hands with the conspirators?
Antony shakes hands with the conspirators to make them believe that he does not have ill intentions toward them. He ultimately desires to take a brutal revenge against the group, but he is aware that confronting them directly after Caesar’s murder would likely prove fatal for him. Showing great wisdom, inner resolve, and patience, Antony “makes nice” with the conspirators and relies on his unassuming reputation in order to bide his time, turn the people against the conspirators, and raise an army to enact his revenge against them.

Question 11
11) Why does Caesar’s will have such a powerful impact on the plebeians?
It is not the actual contents of Caesar’s will that have a powerful impact on the plebeians, but rather it is Antony’s reading of the will. He essentially uses the will as a rhetorical device that symbolizes Caesar’s love for the plebeians and the betrayal he endured at the conspirators’ hands, which gives the will the power to truly move the plebeians to rise up in mutiny. First, Antony primes the plebeians by telling them exactly what the will represents: Caesar’s love for them and all of Rome. He then states that he “must not read it” and cleverly implies how people should react if they were to hear its contents: “It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you. / You are not wood, you are not stones, but men. / And, being men, hearing the will of Caesar, / It will inflame you, it will make you mad.” Essentially, Antony tells the plebeians that Caesar loved them and suggests that the will is proof of this love.

Question 12
12) What happens to Portia?
Unable to handle Brutus’s absence and all that is happening in Rome, Portia commits suicide. During their dispute in Act 4, scene 3, Brutus informs Cassius that Portia is dead. He explains her despair over the recent events, including “grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony / Have made themselves so strong.” Brutus then explains that when Portia’s servants were not around, she killed herself by swallowing hot coals.

Question 13
13) How are Octavius and Caesar related?
Julius Caesar is Octavius’s great-uncle, as Octavius’s grandfather married one of Caesar’s sisters. However, at some point Caesar adopts Octavius as his son. Caesar’s will states that Octavius is the heir to the empire.

Question 14
14) Why does Brutus refuse to swear an oath?
Brutus refuses to swear an oath because he believes that his doing so will belittle the great enterprise that he and the other conspirators have taken upon themselves. He feels that the righteousness of their intentions is enough to keep them all honest and that if they were to swear an oath, it would suggest that their resolve is weak and would dishonor their purpose, which he believes is to protect Rome from tyranny.

Question 15
15) Why does Brutus kill himself?
In ancient Rome, it was considered more honorable for a Roman leader to commit suicide rather than face the humiliation of capture. If Brutus were taken prisoner, he would have likely been chained and paraded down the streets of Rome as a trophy, and he would ultimately have been executed for his crimes, so Brutus likely chose suicide to avoid such suffering and shame. Also, since Julius Caesar is based on historical events, Shakespeare simply presents this historical fact in his play.

What Does the Ending Mean?
The final act of Julius Caesar features a battle between the military forces of Brutus and Cassius and those of Antony and Octavius. When Antony and Octavius gain the upper hand, Cassius chooses to kill himself rather than be captured, and Brutus soon follows suit. After Brutus’s death, Antony and Octavius give short speeches in praise of Brutus. Antony characterizes Brutus as “the noblest Roman of them all,” indicating that he was the only conspirator who acted for the good of Rome. Octavius echoes Antony, concluding that Brutus was indeed an honorable man. Despite their celebration of Brutus’s honor, the two men still implicitly condemn the murder to which Brutus’s commitment to Rome led him. The play’s ending is therefore ambivalent, meaning that it registers mixed feelings about what has come to pass. For anyone who knows Roman history, the ending also proves ironic. Following the events depicted in the play, Octavius goes on to behave dishonorably toward Antony, which leads to a civil war that results in Antony dying and Octavius becoming the first emperor of the Roman Empire. For men who hold honor so highly, it’s ironic that their own honor would fail and bring out the very thing the conspirators had attempted to prevent: the crowning of an emperor.

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Emmanuel Kachele

Emmanuel Kachele is a founder and Blogger of KACHELE ONLINE Blog, an educational blog where 'O' Level English - 'OLE', 'A' Level English (ALE) and other related teaching and life skills are shared extensively. This is an online center for all Tanzanian Secondary School English Language students and teachers (Forms I-VI) and all interested English Language learners and teachers worldwide.

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