In The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, what really happens on the battlefield in Act 5?
The battle scenes in Act V of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar can be very confusing for readers. In fact, they are confusing to readers because they were also confusing to the characters who fought in them.
First, it is necessary to understand that there was more than one battle going on. Brutus and Cassius were allied against Antony and Octavius. When the fighting begins, Brutus’ army goes into battle against Octavius, and Cassius fights against Antony.
Cassius is pushed back by Antony’s forces and is on the verge of defeat. Brutus’ army, however, has successfully pushed Octavius’ men into retreat.
At this point, Brutus and Cassius still might win the war and save themselves. It is here, however, that a fatal misunderstanding occurs that changes everything and dooms Cassius and Brutus.
Cassius has retreated. When he looks back at the tents of his camp, he sees soldiers there. Not knowing whose soldiers they are, he sends one of his men, Titinius, to investigate His fear is that they are Antony’s men and that he is surrounded and doomed. Then he tells Pindarus to stand on a hilltop and observe Titinius. This is where the fatal mistake occurs. As Pindarus watches, Titinius is surrounded by the men in Cassius’ camp. He tells Cassius:
Titinius is enclosed round about
With horsemen, that make to him on the spur;
Yet he spurs on. Now they are almost on him.
Now, Titinius! Now some light. O, he lights too.
Pindarus perceives this to mean that these are Antony’s men and that Titinius has been captured.
Believing this insures his defeat, Cassius no longer wishes to live. He tells Pindarus:
Now be a freeman: and with this good sword,
That ran through Caesar's bowels, search this bosom.
Stand not to answer: here, take thou the hilts;
And, when my face is cover'd, as 'tis now,
Guide thou the sword.
Then Pindarus kills Cassius.
Soon Brutus and his men reach Cassius and see what has happened. By then Cassius’ army is in disarray and of no use, and Brutus is left to fight both Antony and Octavius. When his defeat becomes evident, Brutus too commits suicide.