In Act II, Scene iii, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, what major theme does Artemidorus's letter advance?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15, 44 B.C. in Rome.  William Shakespeare’s drama, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is based on the historical events which occurred before and after his death.

The play begins a month before the Ides of March during the Feast of the Lupercal.  On this date, Caesar found himself in a brief conversation with a soothsayer or fortune teller.  He tells Caesar to beware of the Ides of March.  Caesar labels the soothsayer as insane and ignores his warning.  A month later on the Ides of March, Caesar scoffs at the Soothsayer by telling him that this is the Ides of March; the Soothsayer answers that the day is not over. 

This was not Caesar’s only rejection of a warning. There was another man who sincerely wanted to tell Caesar about the conspiracy.  His name was Artemidorus,  a reputable teacher of rhetoric.

Artemidorus has written a letter to warn Caesar about the conspiracy before he enters the senate.  Caesar takes the letter, but Decius manipulates him away from Artemidorus, who tells Caesar to read his letter first.  Caesar responds that he will take care of the public before he takes care of himself.  Consequently, Artemidorus’s letter was never read.  In his letter, Artemidorus names the conspirators:


Caesar, beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius;

Come not near Casca; have an eye to Cinna; trust not

Trebonius; mark it well Metellus Cimber; Decius Brutus

Loves thee not; thou hast wronged Caius Ligarius.  There is

But one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Caesar.

Artemidorus tells Caesar if he is not immortal look around him and see who looks guilty.

Now, here is the question: How does Artemidorus know about the plot and the names of the conspirators?  One of the conspirators must have told someone, who told someone, who told someone….Or it may have been more direct than that.  Possibly one of the conspirators told Artemidorus himself.

Remember what happened in Act II, Scene i.  Cassius wanted the conspirators to swear an oath.  Brutus made the second of his many mistakes in judgment: 

 No, not an oath. If not the face of men,

The suffering of our souls, the waste of time--

Brutus trusts people too much.  He also will not be told what to do by a peer.  Never does he follow the counsel of Cassius again. Brutus explains that if the group does not have a strong purpose than they should stop now.  He emphasizes that if they have good reasons then that is enough--no need to swear.  If these men have agreed to such a purpose, that is all that is needed. If someone tells the secret, they will die for it.  So why would anyone tell?


Brutus tells Cassius that he “loves honor more than he fears death.” His actions are driven by doing the best thing for the people of Rome.  His value system is idealistic, rigid, and internalized.  He has battled over his choice to become a member of the conspiracy. 

None of the other conspirators tells their actual reasons for wanting to be rid of Caesar except for Cassius who honestly detests him.  Honor may not be as important to the others as it is to Brutus.

The oath should have been taken. One of the other assassins broke the trust  and dishonored the pact between the conspirators. Possibly, he just could not contain his excitement.  It is hard for two people to keep a secret; impossible for several men. There is honor among thieves, but apparently not among assassins.

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

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