Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the conspirators meet at Brutus’s house to make their final plans and then leave to go to accompany Caesar to the Capitol. During the meeting, Cassius tells the group that he believes that Antony should be killed along with Caesar. Because of his close association with Caesar, Cassius fears that Antony will want to retaliate against the conspirators [which, of course, he does].
Brutus feels that this is unnecessary. He thinks that once Caesar is dead then Antony will have no power. Brutus states that Antony will be no more dangerous than an arm without a head to guide it.
Ironically Brutus also cautions against the group looking too bloody.
“Our course will seem to bloody to cut the head off and then hack the limbs…Let us be sacrificers not butchers.”
When Caesar is assassinated, each one of the conspirators stabs him at least one or more times. Caesar had at least 35 stab wounds. This seems to be more than “overkill.”
After the assassins establish order among the remaining senators, Brutus tells them that they were true friends of Caesar. All they have done is change the time of his death. Brutus suggests that the murderers follow a primitive ritual:
Stoop over the body of Caesar
Bathe in the blood of Caesar
Wash their hands in his blood up to the elbows
Smear blood all over their swords
Walk through the streets of Rome
Wave the bloodied swords over their heads.
Cry out to the people, “Peace, liberty, freedom!”
In Antony’s funeral oration, he refers to the blood bathing. He also says that each of the assassins pulled a hair from Caesar’s head as a souvenir to be handed down to their children.
Here is the irony. Brutus does not want to kill Antony because it would be too bloody. They were to behave as sacrificers…as they cover themselves in blood, they look like butchers. Brutus has the assassins bathe in Caesar’s blood smearing it all over their hands, arms, and swords.
He further suggests that they show themselves covered in blood to the Roman citizens. This was a theatrical spectacle deemed important as a symbolic act of connecting with the blood of the great man and the necessity of shedding it for the good of Rome.
As they bathe in the blood, Cassius makes a profound statement about how many times will this scene be reenacted through the ages. This certainly foreshadowed all of the times that Shakespeare’s play has been performed from the seventeenth century into the twenty-first century.