At the feast of Lupercalia all Rome rejoices, for the latest military triumphs of Julius Caesar are being celebrated during that holiday. Nevertheless, tempers flare and jealousies seethe beneath the public gaiety. Flavius and Marallus, two tribunes, coming upon a group of citizens gathered to praise Caesar, tear down their trophies and order the people to go home and remember Pompey’s fate at the hands of Caesar.
Other dissatisfied noblemen discuss with concern Caesar’s growing power and his incurable ambition. A soothsayer, following Caesar in his triumphal procession, warns him to beware the Ides of March. Cassius, one of the most violent of Caesar’s critics, speaks at length to Brutus of the dictator’s unworthiness to rule the state. Why, he demands, should the name of Caesar be synonymous with that of Rome when there are so many other worthy men in the city?
While Cassius and Brutus are speaking, they hear a tremendous shouting from the crowd. From aristocratic Casca they learn that before the mob Marcus Antonius three times offered a crown to Caesar and three times the dictator refused it. Thus do the wily Antonius and Caesar catch and hold the devotion of the multitude. Fully aware of Caesar’s methods and the potential danger that he embodies, Cassius and Brutus, disturbed by the new turn of events, agree to meet again to discuss the affairs of Rome. As they part, Caesar arrives in time to see them, and suspicion of Cassius enters his mind. Cassius does not look contented; he is too lean and nervous to be satisfied with life. Caesar much prefers to have fat, jolly men about him.
Cassius’s plan is to enlist Brutus in a plot to overthrow Caesar. Brutus is one of the most respected and beloved citizens of Rome; were he in league against Caesar, the dictator’s power could be curbed easily. It will, however, be difficult to turn Brutus completely against Caesar, for Brutus is an honorable man and not given to treason, so that only the most drastic circumstances would override his loyalty. Cassius plots to have Brutus receive false papers that imply widespread public alarm over Caesar’s rapidly growing power. Hoping that Brutus might put Rome’s interests above his own personal feelings, Cassius has the papers secretly laid at Brutus’s door one night. The conflict within Brutus is great. His wife Portia complains that he did not sleep at all during the night and that she found him wandering, restless and unhappy, about the house. At last he reaches a decision. Remembering Tarquin, the tyrant whom his ancestors banished from Rome, Brutus agrees to join Cassius and his conspirators in their attempt to save Rome from Caesar. He refuses, however, to sanction the murder of Antonius, which is being planned for the same time—the following morning, March 15—as the assassination of Caesar.
On the night of March 14, all nature seems to misbehave. Strange lights appear in the sky, graves yawn, ghosts walk, and an atmosphere of terror pervades the city. Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, dreams she sees her husband’s statue with a hundred wounds spouting blood. In the morning, she tells him of the dream and pleads with him not to go to the Senate that morning. When she almost convinces him to remain at home, one of the conspirators arrives and persuades the dictator that Calpurnia is unduly nervous and that the dream is actually an omen of Caesar’s tremendous popularity in Rome, the bleeding wounds a symbol of Caesar’s power extending out to all Romans. The other conspirators arrive to allay any suspicions Caesar might have of them and to make sure that he attends the Senate that day.
As Caesar makes his way through the city, more omens of evil appear to him. A paper detailing the plot against him is thrust into his hands, but he neglects to read it. When the soothsayer again cries out against the Ides of March, Caesar pays no attention to the warning.
In the Senate chamber, Antonius is drawn to one side. Then the conspirators crowd about Caesar as if to second a petition for the repealing of an order banishing Publius Cimber. When he refuses the petition, the conspirators attack him, and he falls dead of twenty-three knife wounds.
Craftily pretending to side with the conspirators, Antonius is able to reinstate himself in their good graces. In spite of Cassius’s warning, he is granted permission to speak at Caesar’s funeral after Brutus delivers his oration. Before the populace, Brutus frankly and honestly explains his part in Caesar’s murder, declaring that his love for Rome prompted him to turn against his friend. The mob cheers him and agrees that Caesar was a tyrant who deserved death. Then Antonius rises to speak. Cleverly and forcefully, he turns the temper of the crowd against the conspirators by explaining that even when Caesar was most tyrannical, everything he did was for the people’s welfare. The mob becomes so enraged over the assassination that the conspirators are forced to flee from Rome.
The people’s temper gradually changes and they split into two camps. One group supports the new triumvirate of Marcus Antonius, Octavius Caesar, and Aemilius Lepidus. The other group follows Brutus and Cassius to their military camp at Sardis.
At Sardis, Brutus and Cassius quarrel constantly over various small matters. In the course of one violent disagreement, Brutus tells Cassius that Portia, despondent over the outcome of the civil war, killed herself. Cassius, shocked by this news of his sister’s death, allows himself to be persuaded to leave the safety of the camp at Sardis and meet the enemy on the plains of Philippi. The night before the battle, Caesar’s ghost appears to Brutus in his tent and announces that they will meet at Philippi.
At first, Brutus’s forces are successful against those of Octavius. Cassius, however, is driven back by Antonius. One morning, Cassius sends one of his followers, Titinius, to learn if approaching troops are the enemy or Brutus’s soldiers. When Cassius sees Titinius unseated from his horse by the strangers, he assumes that everything is lost and orders his servant Pindarus to kill him. Actually, the troops were sent by Brutus; rejoicing over the defeat of Octavius, they are having rude sport with Titinius. When they return to Cassius and find him dead, Titinius also kills himself. In the last charge against Antonius, Brutus’s soldiers, tired and discouraged by events, are defeated. Brutus, heartbroken, asks his friends to kill him. When they refuse, he commands his servant to hold his sword and turn his face away. Then Brutus falls upon his sword and dies.