In Act IV of "Julius Caesar", what effect is gained by the revelation of Portia's death?
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The revelation of Portia's death has two main effects: it explains Brutus' behavior, and it helps to reconcile Brutus and Cassius.
In Act IV Scene 3, before we learn of Portia's death, we see Brutus acting in a puzzling and uncharacteristic way. Given that he is engaged in a full-scale war, it is madness of him to go out of his way to attack, belittle, and bait Cassius, his co-commander. Brutus' words go far beyond what might be expected from his picky sense of morality. He seems almost to delight in provoking Cassius, as if his object were to cause a breach with him:
Cassius repeatedly attempts to deflect his insulting remarks, but Brutus is in no mood to listen until Cassius is reduced to a miserable state:
Come, Antony, and young Octavius, come,
Revenge yourselves alone on Cassius,
For Cassius is aweary of the world:
Hated by one he loves; braved by his brother;
Check'd like a bondman; all his faults observed,
Set in a notebook, learn'd and conn'd by rote,
To cast into my teeth.
Brutus' mood then suddenly turns, and after the intervention of the poet, which provides a touch of low comedy, he confesses to Cassius that it is the news of Portia's death that has made him so ill-tempered. Cassius, of course, is horrified and saddened by the news:
How's caped killing when I cross'd you so?
O insupportable and touching loss!
In this sense, Portia's death draws a line under the quarrel between the two and allows it a credible conclusion. Nevertheless, the details uncovered during the quarrel help the audience to understand why Brutus and Cassius are not more successful in their military struggle against Antony and Octavian.
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