Which quotations are the most important for Act II in Julius Caesar?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A pivotal act in the tragedy of Julius Caesar, Act II contains lines that are revealing of the character of Brutus and Caesar, as well as the intuitive powers of their wives.  Of course, the soliloquy of Brutus, in which he walks in his orchard because he cannot sleep.  For, after he has heard from Casca that Caesar was offered the crown three times, including once by Antony, Brutus has begun to consider Cassius's proposal to join the conspirators in ridding Rome of a tyrant.

It must be by his death, and, for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder
And that craves wary walking. Crown him? that;
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power, and, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway’d
More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus, that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell. (2.1.10-34)

While Brutus has long admired Caesar, believing him a good leader, Caesar's act of killing Pompey as well as his actions that day lead Brutus to conclude that Caesar will, as Cassius as suggested, be corrupted by power.  So, Brutus feels that for the good of Rome
he must join in the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.

As he deliberates, Portia, Brutus's wife, finds him in the orchard.  Having awakened and discovered him gone, she worries that he will become ill in the night air, and is concerned about what disturbs him so:

I ought to know of; and, upon my knees,
I charm you, by my once commended beauty,
By all your vows of love and that great vow
Which did incorporate and make us one,
That you unfold to me, yourself, your half,
Why you are heavy, and what men tonight
Have had resort to you; for here have been
Some six or seven, who did hide their faces
Even from darkness. (2.1.281-289) 

This passage is significant because it indicates Portia's love and support for her husband as well as her inner strength and intuition.  Additionally, had Brutus confided in her, Portia may have been able to convince him to not join the conspirators.

In the next act, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, tries to convince him not to go to the Senate, having had a nightmare that portends, she tells Caesar, "the death of princes."  But, Caesar gives her words no credence, answering in some of the most famous of lines from Shakespeare:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come (2.2.33-38)

Again, had Caesar listened to his wife, he might not have died.


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Julius Caesar

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