How do the conspirators decide how to approach the battle against Antony and Octavius in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act IV of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar exposes problems between Cassius and Brutus.  In Scene ii and iii, both men accost the other one because of problems that have occurred since the assassination. A terrible quarrel ensues ending with Cassius threatening to kill himself.  Brutus calms him down; then, they both apologize and renew their friendship.

Brutus admits that he has been greatly troubled.  He has received word that his wife Portia committed suicide by swallowing hot coals. There is nothing to be done about this. So Brutus turns the discussion to the upcoming battle between Cassius and Brutus’s armies and Octavius and Antony and their armies. 

Since Brutus joined the conspiracy, he asserts himself and over rules Cassius several times.  Brutus’s decisions create situations that eventually lead to the death of all of the conspirators except for him and Cassius.

Cassius has such a strong personality and will.  It is unclear why he allows Brutus to make the major decisions concerning the assassination, and now, the uncoming battle. Both men know that Cassius has more battle knowledge and is considered to be a great general. On the other hand, Brutus has little fighting experience.

Brutus suggests that their armies march to Philippi and meet the triumvirate’s armies.

Cassius disagrees:  He reasons that it would be better if the enemy comes to them.  Antony’s army will waste his supplies.  The soldiers will be tired.  If they remain in Sardis and let the armies rest, Cassius and Brutus’ armies will be prepared,  energetic and ready for battle.

Brutus explains his reasons for wanting to march rather than wait:  He tells Cassius that those are good reasons.  But he has better reasons.  The people between Sardis and Philippi do not support Cassius and Brutus.  On the other hand, they do like Antony.  They will have soldiers join their cause.  Consequently, they will be refreshed, more in number and ready to do battle.  Rather than give him that advantage, they will go to Philippi and face Antony there with these non-supporters are at their back.

Cassius tries to interject his opinion.  

Brutus cuts him off and continues on with his plan.

The armies are ready and the time is right; however, the enemy increases in number every day.


There is a tide in the affairs of men

Which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;

Omitted, all the voyage of their life

Is bound in shallows and in miseries.

Brutus makes a similar speech to the one that the Cassius gave about man is in control of his fate in Act II.

Brutus says that there is a time when men have to grab hold of their future. If men do not take advantage of their time, then the rest of their lives will be miserable. Now is their time.

Surprisingly, Cassius succumbs to the will of Brutus.  His decision not to fight for his plan sends their armies into a march that will lead to their defeat.  Additionally, both conspirators will end their lives rather than be led back to Rome in chains.

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Julius Caesar

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