Study Guide

The Ides of March

by Thornton Wilder

The Ides of March Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature, Revised Edition)

There were so many different groups plotting to assassinate Caesar that it was impossible for him to guard himself from all of them. Each day, new leaders rose to incite the people against him. Many of the leaders were friends of Caesar; some were relatives; some were merely ambitious men; and some were citizens who sincerely believed that Rome was suffering under Caesar’s rule and wanted to free her. The last group had Caesar’s admiration. He knew that he had restricted the freedom of the people, but he knew, too, that the masses of people shrink from accepting responsibility for their actions. They want to be ruled by one who will make all important decisions for them, yet they resent that ruler because he has taken their freedom from them. Caesar knew that he would one day be assassinated, but he hoped that he would see in the face of his murderer a love for Rome.

Among the most persistent of the plotters was the mother of Marcus Brutus. She had long hated Caesar and wanted her son to assume the place of the dictator. Many Romans said that Brutus was the illegitimate son of Caesar, but no one had ever been able to prove the accusation. Brutus was loyal to Caesar until the very end; only his mother’s repeated urging led him at last to join the conspirators.

Another important figure among Caesar’s enemies was Clodia Pulcher, a woman of high birth, great wealth, and amazing beauty. Because of her ambitions and lusts, she had become a creature of poor reputation, so much so that her name was scribbled on public walls, accompanied by obscene verses. She was aided in her plots by her brother and by Catullus, the most famous poet in Rome. Catullus was a young man so much in love with Clodia that he would do anything she asked, and he wrote many poems and tracts against Caesar. Clodia spurned Catullus and his love, but her ridicule of him only strengthened his passion for her.

While all of these plots against Caesar were taking shape, he and the rest of Rome were preparing for the visit of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. She, too, suffered from a bad reputation, for her many conquests in love were well-known in Rome. Most of the high ladies planned to receive her only because Caesar had so ordered, among them Pompeia, Caesar’s wife, who knew of his earlier relations with the queen. At Caesar’s command, however, Cleopatra was accorded the honor due a queen. He visited her many times, always in disguise, and on one of his visits barely missed being killed. He could never be sure whether Cleopatra knew of the plot. Marc Antony had begun to find favor in the eyes of Cleopatra, and as Marc Antony was involved in the...

(The entire section is 1082 words.)