Act One: The citizens of Rome are celebrating Caesar’s defeat of Pompey, having Caesar’s statues “deck’d with ceremonies”. Flavius and Marullus, tribunes sympathetic to Pompey and annoyed with Caesar’s growing power, rebuke the people and tell them to disperse and end the celebrations. After the people leave, the two tribunes start taking the “trophies” off the statues.
Caesar, his wife Calpurnia, his friends Brutus and Mark Antony, Cassius, and Casca enter, triumphant after Pompey’s defeat. Mark Antony is to run a race in the celebratory games of the Lupercalia. A soothsayer warns Caesar of the upcoming March 15th (see quote 1 of my ‘Analysis of Julius Caesar‘), the day Caesar was murdered in 44 BC. The soothsayer is ignored, and Mark Antony goes to run the race, being followed by all except Brutus and Cassius.
Cassius asks Brutus why he seems not to show him friendship as he had before. Brutus insists he’s never grown cold to Cassius, but rather is preoccupied with his own personal issues. They hear, from over where the race is being run, cheers for Caesar. Brutus says he fears the people will make Caesar their king. Emboldened, Cassius begins discussing Caesar’s alarming rise to power (see quote 2 of my ‘Analysis’). He tries to convince Brutus of Caesar’s unworthiness of such ascendancy, citing two examples of weakness in a younger Caesar: once, Caesar in a swimming race with Cassius, gasped for help when almost drowning; another time, Caesar complained of sickness. “And this man/Is now become a god,” gripes Cassius.
Brutus, a good friend of Caesar’s, says he will consider what Cassius has said. Caesar and all the others return. Caesar looks with suspicion on Cassius, and tells Mark Antony of his misgivings. Mark Antony tells him not to fear Cassius.
Casca meets with Brutus and Cassius. He tells them of what happened during the race. When Brutus and Cassius ask Casca what the cheering was about, Casca explains that Mark Antony three times offered Caesar a small but kingly coronet; Caesar refused it each time, though each refusal was weaker and weaker. Casca, as much as Cassius, fears Caesar’s rise to power. He says that Cicero gave a speech in Greek, something some of the others understood, but not Casca (see quote 3). Then Casca mentions the arresting of Flavius and Marullus for having removed garlands from Caesar’s statues.
Casca, leaving, accepts an offer to dine with Cassius and further discuss these matters, if the meal is good. Brutus also leaves. Cassius, alone, tells of his plan to forge letters complaining of Caesar’s disturbing rise to power, and to have them delivered in the windows of Brutus’ home; this deceit, Cassius hopes, will convince Brutus to join the conspirators.
On the night before the ides of March, there is a terrible, frightening storm, full of omens portending the assassination of Caesar. Casca fearfully discusses these portents with Cicero and Cassius. Cassius has fellow conspirator Cinna cause a few more forged letters to be in Brutus’ possession.
Act Two: Brutus, troubled and unable to sleep, walks about his home, thinking about his friend Caesar and his problematic ascent to dictator. While Brutus sees no actual evidence of ambition in Caesar, he recognizes the reality of ambition in most politicians, and their contempt for those below them. Lucius, Brutus’ young servant, gives him one of Cassius’ letters; the boy then confirms that the next day will be the ides of March, and he goes to the door to let in the just-arrived conspirators.
Cassius introduces them to Brutus: they include Casca, Cinna, Trebonius, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, and Ligarius. Cassius suggests killing Mark Antony along with Caesar: Brutus rejects this idea, preferring to minimize violence and seeing no need to fear Mark Antony. They agree to this and leave.
Brutus isn’t alone again for long; Portia, his wife, comes to ask him what’s troubling him. He denies feelings of inquietude. She insists that if he truly honoured her as his wife, he would tell her: though regarded as women are in this patriarchal society, she is of noble birth. She proves her constancy to him by showing him a wound she’s given herself in the leg. He wonders how he can be worthy of such an honourable wife.
The next morning, in Caesar’s home, Calpurnia complains to her husband of a terrible nightmare she’s had. Reminding him of the recent ill omens, she begs him not to go to the Capitol that day. Caesar insists he has nothing to fear; she insists he’s over-confident (see quote 4). The entrails of a slain animal are examined for omens: the beast has no heart. Finally, to allay her fears, he says he won’t go.
Decius Brutus arrives in Caesar’s home to take him to the Capitol, but Caesar refuses to go. Decius Brutus asks for a reason: not wishing to seem weak, Caesar says, “The cause is in my will: I will not come.” Then Caesar tells him of his wife’s dream–a statue of Caesar spouting not water but blood, in which many Romans wash their hands.
Decius Brutus reinterprets the dream, saying it symbolizes how Caesar will suck reviving blood of Rome; he need fear no danger at the Capitol, where the Senate will offer him a crown. They may change their minds, however, if he doesn’t go: this piques Caesar’s ambition, and now he is embarrassed at having listened to his fearful wife. He is resolved to go to the Capitol.
The other conspirators arrive, as does Mark Antony. They go with Caesar to the Capitol.
Artemidorus, a Sophist, has written a letter for Caesar to read, warning him of the conspirators.
Portia has her servant, Lucius, go to the Capitol to see if Brutus is well. She speaks with the soothsayer about whether Caesar is at the Capitol or not. The soothsayer wishes to warn Caesar again. She continues to fear for her husband and his plot against Caesar.
Act Three: Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, Trebonius, Cinna, Mark Antony, Lepidus, Artemidorus, and the soothsayer are before the Capitol. Caesar says to the soothsayer, “The ides of March are come.” The soothsayer says, “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”
Artemidorus tries to give Caesar his letter, but Decius Brutus stops him by having Caesar read a letter of Trebonius instead. Cassius then tells Brutus his fears that the conspiracy is publicly known; Brutus reassures him that all is well, for Popilius Lena is taking Caesar aside. Trebonius similarly takes Mark Antony aside, distracting him. All preparations are being made to ensure that the assassination runs as smoothly as possible. Caesar and the conspirators enter the Capitol.
Metellus Cimber begs Caesar to repatriate his banished brother Publius; Caesar refuses to. The other conspirators kneel before Caesar one by one, asking of him the same repatriation; of course, they’re really distracting him.
Finally, Casca says, “Speak, hands, for me!” and gives Caesar the first stab. The other conspirators brandish their blades and stab him; Brutus, the last one, stabs Caesar, who gasps his feelings of betrayal before dying (see quote 5). The conspirators triumphantly proclaim liberty for Rome, promising no harm to any of the stunned senators still in the Capitol.
Brutus tells the conspirators to bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood. Cassius imagines actors in the future performing plays of this great moment in history. The conspirators plan to go outside to appease the terrified citizens and explain why they killed Caesar.
Mark Antony enters the room and coolly shakes the hands of the conspirators; though outraged, he must hide his fury for the sake of his safety. He claims to be their friend, asking only for a just reason for Caesar’s murder. Brutus promises to be generous with such reasons, and allows Mark Antony to honour Caesar’s memory in his funeral, so long as the conspirators aren’t vilified.
Cassius takes Brutus aside, saying it will be dangerous to allow Mark Antony to address the crowd. Brutus reassures him that allowing Caesar’s friend to speak for him in his funeral will make the conspirators look generous.
The conspirators go outside to speak to the people and to calm them. Alone, Mark Antony finally expresses his rage, begging Caesar’s pardon for being “gentle with these butchers.” Over Caesar’s wounds, he prophesies all of Rome rising in civil war to avenge Caesar’s murder, killing scores of men to appease Caesar’s ghost (see quote 6).
Outside, Brutus addresses the people, explaining that while he was friend to Caesar, he was more friend to Rome in killing him, out of a fear that he would turn tyrant. Only those un-Roman enough to want to be slaves to Caesar would be offended at Brutus’ slaying of him. The easily manipulated crowd now sympathizes with Brutus.
Mark Antony comes out with Caesar’s bloody body. Brutus asks everyone to stay and listen to Mark Antony; Brutus leaves.
The angry crowd, now hating Caesar, at first refuse to listen to his friend’s cries for their attention (see quote 7). In a masterstroke of political rhetoric, Mark Antony turns the crowd’s sympathies back to Caesar and away from the conspirators by only sarcastically calling them “honourable men/Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar” (see also quote 8), and reminding the people of Caesar’s generosity to them. By the end of Antony’s speech, when he’s disclosed Caesar’s will–giving all Romans the freedom to enjoy walking about his private parks and orchards, and giving each Roman 75 drachmas–after teasingly delaying the will’s revelation, the people riot in the streets. Mark Antony is content to have this disorderly rage, for he can use it to his political advantage.
The rioters find a poet who, after revealing his name to be Cinna (unluckily also a name of one of the conspirators), is killed by them.
Act Four: Mark Antony, Octavius (the future emperor Augustus) and Lepidus form the Second Triumvirate, and check off a list of those to be executed for their involvement in the conspiracy against Caesar. After Lepidus is sent off to Caesar’s home to fetch the will, Antony disparages him as the weakest of the three triumvirs. Octavius defends Lepidus, calling him “a tried and valiant soldier,” though Antony won’t acknowledge this. (In the interactions between Antony and Octavius, there is a hint of the antagonism that would be fully developed in another Shakespearean Roman tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra.) They will prepare their armies to fight those of Brutus and Cassius.
Cassius comes to where Brutus’ army is, and angrily enters Brutus’ tent. He says Brutus has done him wrong in accusing soldiers in his army of taking bribes. Brutus is not at all moved by Cassius’ sword and threats, for Brutus is “arm’d so strong in honesty”, and despises all corruption, be it that of Caesar or of Cassius.
Cassius is thus put in his place, and shocked when Brutus speaks of Portia’s suicide by swallowing fire, after worrying so much of her husband’s fortunes. Titinius and Messala enter the tent, and the four men discuss the coming battle: Cassius believes they should wait for the enemy to come, tired from marching, while their own armies are well-rested; Brutus, not wanting the enemy to gain the aid of the men “in a forc’d affection” between the armies of the enemy and those of Brutus and Cassius, would have their armies march ahead to meet the enemy (see quote 9). Messala tells Brutus of Portia’s suicide: Brutus responds stoically.
Brutus is left alone in his tent at night; his weary servant, Lucius, plays a tune on his harp, but falls asleep in the middle of playing. Brutus, wishing to be kind to the boy, lets him sleep, then begins reading a book.
Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus, saying they’ll meet again in Philippi. Frightened Brutus wakes the boy and two other servants of his, asking if they’ve seen or heard anyone: they haven’t.
Act Five: Antony and Octavius meet with Brutus and Octavius, exchanging harsh words before preparing for battle. Brutus and Cassius say farewell, knowing this may be the last time they see each other.
The battles begin, and though Brutus’ army is fairly successful at first, Cassius’ is clearly losing. When he mistakenly thinks his best friend Titinius has been captured by the enemy, he feels ashamed to be still living, and has Pindarus stab him with the sword he used on Caesar. Titinius returns with good news of the battle, but seeing his good friend Cassius dead, kills himself. Brutus comes by and sees the two dead men; he notes the power of Caesar after death, causing his enemies to kill themselves.
In the final battle, Brutus’ army is losing, and he asks soldier after soldier to hold his sword while he runs on it; all of them refuse except Strato. As Brutus is dying, he hopes Caesar’s spirit will rest in peace (see quote 10).
Mark Antony and Octavius arrive and look down on Brutus’ body. Antony praises Brutus, the only conspirator to act not out of envy of Caesar, but for the good of Rome. Octavius calls for rejoicing over their victory.
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- Analysis of ‘Julius Caesar’ (mawrgorshin.com)