In act 4, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, what personal grief does Brutus relate to Cassius? How does this news affect Cassius?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 4, scene 3 of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Cassius and Brutus, the assassins who are still living, have formed their armies and are preparing to meet the triumvirate of Marc Antony, Octavius Caesar, and Lepidus in battle. This is 44 B. C. and the scene takes place in Brutus’s camp near Sardis.

Both Cassius and Brutus are angry with each other. Cassius failed to send money to Brutus so that he could pay his soldiers. Cassius also has been accused of taking bribes using his official office. Brutus sentenced one of Cassius’s friends to death for taking bribes as well. There is a terrible quarrel between the two.

They call each other names and threaten the other with weapons. Brutus reminds Cassius that they killed Caesar because of his ambition. How then could Cassius take bribery money? Cassius offers his dagger for Brutus to kill him. Brutus suddenly seems to have no more anger with which to argue. Both men apologize. They shake hands and drink wine together. Cassius tells Brutus that he has never seen him so angry. Brutus reveals that he has been under emotional stress. He shares with Cassius the real reason that he is so upset. He has received word that his beloved wife Portia has committed suicide.

Impatient of my absence,
And grief that young Octavius with Marc Antony
Have made themselves so strong: for with her death
That tidings came: with this she fell distract
And her attendant absent, swallow’d fire.

In other words, Portia swallowed a hot coal which burned her throat, and she suffocated to death.

When last Brutus spoke to Portia, he told her that he would explain what the secret was in which he had worrying and struggling. He was not able to since the conspirators came and took him to the Capitol.

This would have been a good thing for Brutus since Portia might have been able to give him the needed reflection and discussion about the assassination to prevent Brutus from entering into it. By the time he returns home, Brutus has to hurriedly leave Rome for fear that the mob would kill him.

Portia had also been suffering emotionally. The year before the assassination of Caesar, Portia and Brutus had lost their only child. Portia probably had experienced great emotional distress from this loss. In addition, Portia knew that Brutus was going to face the new triumvirate in battle.

Cassius also reacts with great sorrow to the death of Portia. Cassius and Brutus were brothers-in-law. Cassius married Junia Tertia, the sister of Brutus; therefore, Cassius considered himself a member of Brutus’s family.

When the other senior soldiers come in to assist in the planning of the battle, Messala enters with news from Rome. He first shares the news that the triumvirate of Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus had murdered a hundred senators. In addition, Messala shares the news that Portia is dead.

Brutus was a stoic who did not easily share his emotions, not even with his wife. He depended on his logic and reasoning to guide him. Of course, the loss of Portia was devastating to him. There was nothing to do for her. Brutus had to go on and plan the battle against Antony and Octavius.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act IV, scene iii of Julius Caesar, in Brutus's tent, Brutus confides in Cassius: "O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs." Cassius chastens him for not living by his "philosophy," to which Brutus replies that, in deed, he is living by his philosophy, then implies that his grief is heavy before saying, "Portia is dead." Cassius, like a true friend, replies with great shock with an inarticulate outcry followed by the single utterance of Portia's name. Brutus painfully repeats, "She is dead." At Cassius's urging, Brutus goes on to explain how she died.

It was not by "sickness," as Cassius surmises but by swallowing fire, an action that borders on incomprehensiblity. Brutus also confides in Cassius that Portia was "impatient" (worried) about Brutus's absence and in grief that Antony's and Octavius's forces were growing so strong, then, as a result, "fell distracted" and, when left alone, "swallow'd fire." Cassius and Brutus share a bowl of wine in mourning, and Brutus declares he will not speak more of Portia's death, which is why when Portia's death is mentioned later by Messala, Brutus is so stoical in his response.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Cassius and Brutus were in the middle of a fight concerning Cassius' refusal to send money to Brutus to pay his soldiers, as well as implications concerning a friend of Cassius who Brutus believed was accepting bribes. These guys were really angry with one another during this argument, until finally Cassius tells Brutus to stab him in the chest with his own dagger if he truly believes these things about him. They calm down and reassert their loyalty to one another. After this, Brutus lets Cassius know that his wife, Portia, has killed herself by swallowing hot coals because, as Brutus says,

Impatient of my absence,
And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony
Have made themselves so strong--for with her death
That tidings came--with this she fell distract
And, her attendants absent, swallowed fire.

Cassius reacts by saying he can't believe Brutus didn't go ahead and stab him in the chest when he was so upset with Cassius, because of the grief Brutus was carrying around inside of him. He is horrified at the loss his friend, Brutus, has suffered, and probably impressed with the man for being able to carry on in spite of this personal tragedy.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on