The Play’s the Thing: The play opens with the rabble exulting and celebrating the arrival of Caesar. Two Romans (whose names don’t really matter because they won’t be hanging around long), scold them, there’s some banter exchanged about cobbling, and the Romans send the rabble home and decide to go through the city to clean it up. Caesar arrives on the scene with his entourage and meets a soothsayer who tells him to beware the ides of March. Caesar ignores him and moves on but Brutus and Cassius stay behind. They have a conversation in which Cassius bemoans the fact that Caesar, who is an entirely ordinary man has been elevated to the status of a god. He then hints that he and Brutus should do something about this. This conversation is punctuated by three cheers from a distance. Caesar and his entourage return, and he spends some time talking with Antony and indicating he’s suspicious of Cassius. Here Caesar says one of my favourite lines of the play in describing Cassius, “He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.” Caesar: not the intellectual type. Brutus then has Casca give a play-by play of what just went on with Caesar. Marc Antony offered him a crown three times and each time Caesar passed although each time he looked more and more reluctant. Then Caesar passed out because the commoners have really bad breath (I kid not). Brutus and Cassius then set up a meeting for the next day or so to discuss the whole Caesar situation further. Later, on the streets of Rome, there’s a crazy thunderstorm going on and some extra freaky stuff like lions wandering around downtown and men who are fire but aren’t burned. In the midst of this, Cassius meets up with Casca and Cinna who are all conspirators in the plot to assassinate Caesar. They plan to meet up at Brutus’ as they make a final push to have him join them.
Brutus is wandering around his orchard and having an internal debate with himself out loud. He muses that while Caesar hasn’t accepted a crown yet, the threat is too great of what he could do to Roman society if he were to accept the crown. Brutus also realizes that the coming day is the ides of March. Cassius and his crew arrive at Brutus’ house and they make the final plans to assassinate Caesar. There’s also a brief discussion about killing Antony (a plan Cassius is in favour of) but Brutus vetoes this idea because he thinks Antony is no real threat. There’s also some fear that Caesar won’t come to the Capitol as he’s been more superstitious of late, but one of the conspirators says he can flatter Caesar into coming. Everyone then leaves. Brutus then has a conversation with his wife, Portia, who can tell something is bothering her husband and is upset he won’t share it with her. She’s even stabbed herself in the thigh to prove to him that if she can handle that, she can handle his secrets. He promises to tell her in a little bit. At Caesar’s palace (not the one in Vegas), he’s a little apprehensive and his wife, Calphurnia, is thoroughly freaked out by a dream she’s had and wants him to stay home for the day. He agrees, but then one of the conspirators arrive and puts a positive twist on the interpretation of Calphurnia’s dream, hints at the potential mockery that will come Caesar’s way if it’s perceived he’s too scared to go to the Capitol, and then says the senate plans to give him a crown today. That gets Caesar all primed to head to the Capitol and the entire crew of conspirators arrive to escort Caesar to the Capitol. Meanwhile, in another part of Rome, Artemidorus goes over a note to Caesar that warns him of the plot against his life. Portia has a bit of a meltdown waiting for news and wishes her husband the best of luck.
In the street, Caesar meets the soothsayer and points out that it’s now the ides of March. The soothsayer says the day isn’t over yet. Artemidorus shows up with his note for Caesar but the conspirators keep Caesar from reading it. The senate starts going into session and there’s a bit about asking Caesar to pardon the brother of one of the conspirators and everyone asking him and then the assassins stab Caesar to death. Brutus has everyone bathe their hands and swords in Caesar’s blood and sends them throughout town to explain to the commoners that they’ve done this to preserve everyone’s freedom. Antony then shows up, is appalled at the sight of Caesar’s body, and offers himself up if they plan to kill him too. Brutus reassures him and Antony makes a show of shaking hands with all of the assassins. Brutus gives Antony permission to speak at Caesar’s funeral (despite Cassius saying this is a bad idea) and the assassins head off to go through town. Antony then apologizes to Caesar’s corpse for his show of alliance with his killers and promises to avenge his death. He then sends a messenger to try and prevent Octavius, Caesar’s heir and who is anticipated to arrive soon, from coming to Rome. In the forum, Brutus gives a speech that gets the masses thinking he’s a hero for killing Caesar. Then Antony arrives afterwards and gives a speech that riles the masses up against the assassins and thinking Antony and Caesar are best men ever. The mob heads out to lynch the conspirators and kill a poet just for having the same name as one of the conspirators.
At Antony’s house, he, Octavius, and Lepidus form a triumvirate and Antony expresses his doubts about the the usefulness of Lepidus. Octavius tells him to stifle, this is how Octavius wants it and that’s how it’ll be. On the battlefield, Cassius and Brutus have a bit of a spat over something that turns out to be nothing. After making up, Brutus tells Cassius that Portia is dead. She went crazy, swallowed fire, and died as a result. Cassius and Brutus then discuss military strategy and Brutus ignores Cassius once again (seriously, just once Brutus should listen to Cassius) and decides the army will march to Philippi rather than risk losing momentum. Brutus then sends everyone to sleep, has some soldiers to come sleep in his tent, and has his servant sing a song. Everyone falls asleep and then Brutus sees Caesar’s ghost who says he’ll see him again at Philippi. Brutus freaks out a bit but preps to go to Philippi.
Antony and Octavius prep to go against Brutus and Cassius and have a spat over who will take which side of the field with Octavius winning. They then have a brief parley with Brutus and Cassius with everyone arguing and heading off to battle. Brutus and Cassius say their farewells to each other in case they die during the battle. During the battle, Cassius sends one of his men to get the skinny on what’s going on and has another of his men stand on the hill to see what’s going on. Some visual misinterpretation happens and Cassius kills himself (by having his servant hold the sword) because he thinks all is lost. However, the guy he sent comes back with good news about the battle and kills himself because Cassius is dead. Brutus then arrives and has a sad. He heads off to battle some more but his side has begun to lose. He tries to get three different guys to hold his sword so he can run himself through with it, but all of them refuse. Finally, the fourth guy Brutus asks agrees. Antony and Octavius then arrive and are a little sad that Brutus is dead because he was the most honourable of all the conspirators. They promise to give Brutus a good burial and take Brutus’ body to Octavius’ tent.
Heroes and Villains: Undoubtedly my favourite character is Brutus, the honourable man who has been drawn into killing his friend and leader for the perceived good it will do for his country. Now if only he’d listen to Cassius at least once, things would have been so much better for him.
- you blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things (I.i)
- beware the ides of March (I.ii)
- “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (I.ii)
- it was Greek to me (I.ii)
- “Cowards die many times before their deaths;/The valiant never taste of death but once.” (II.ii)
- “Et tu, Brute?” (III.i)
- “Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of war” (III.i)
Speech to Know: Julius Caesar has one of the more identifiable speeches in it, which comes from Marc Antony after Caesar’s death.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hat Caesar answer’d it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, –
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men, –
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you, then, to mourn for him?
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason! – Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.” (III.ii)
View from the Pit: Julius Caesar despite its title is really all about Brutus, and Brutus is a fascinating character. He is essentially a good man who is drawn into the assassination because he truly believes it is the best thing he can do for his fellow citizens to keep them from falling under the rule of a king. But in the process of this action Brutus loses everything, his wife, the respect of the Romans, and ultimately his life. While I have always found the Roman habit of running themselves through with swords idiotic, it is a fitting end for Brutus, who would not serve well as a prisoner. What is fascinating to watch in this play is the growth of Marc Antony from a slightly doltish jock to a manipulative political entity. Of course, his political skills leave something to be desired as will come back to bite him in the next play he appears in.