Last Updated on June 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1262
A sleepless Brutus paces his orchard, considering an impossible dilemma. Though Caesar must die to protect Rome from dictatorship, Brutus has “no personal cause to spurn at him, / But for the general.” He fears kingship may bring out Caesar’s dominating, cruel streak, the way a bright day “brings forth the adder.” If one thinks of Caesar as a serpent’s egg, he says, then killing that egg before it “hatches” would be prudent. Brutus’s soliloquy is interrupted by his servant Lucius, who brings him one of the forged letters planted by Cinna at Cassius’s prompting. The letter exhorts Brutus to “awaken” and “speak, strike, and redress” against tyranny, urging him to come to a decision. As the sun rises, Lucius informs Brutus that the date is the ides of March.
Cassius enters and introduces Brutus to Trebonius, Decius Brutus, Casca, Cinna, and Metellus Cimber—the “conspirators.” Brutus asks everyone to bring forward their hands and join together in a noble cause. According to Brutus, the group do not need an oath to bind them, as Cassius suggests, because their honest intentions are oath enough. Cassius tells Brutus that Mark Antony should be assassinated along with Caesar, as he is a “shrewd contriver” who may later prove their undoing. However, Brutus shoots down Cassius’s suggestion, saying that Antony without Caesar is as powerless as the limbs of a body whose head has been cut off. Brutus also wants to avoid excessive violence, exhorting the conspirators to “carve” Caesar like a dish fit for the gods rather than fall on him in a savage frenzy.
To ensure that the superstitious Caesar arrives in the Capitol after the tumultuous previous night, Decius Brutus says he will go to Caesar’s home to flatter and coax him into attending the Senate. The group leave. Portia, Brutus’s wife, enters the scene, entreating Brutus to tell her the reason behind his recent secretive and agitated state. Kneeling before Brutus, Portia stabs herself in the thigh to prove she is worthy of his confidence. Moved, Brutus promises to tell Portia all “the secrets of [his] heart” in time. Cais Ligarius arrives to accompany Brutus to the Capitol.
Amid the sounds of thunder, Caesar enters the scene, still in his nightclothes. Troubled by Calpurnia’s nightmares, in which she cried out three times that Caesar was being murdered, Caesar sends his servant to the priests so they can read the entrails of a sacrifice to tell his fate. Calpurnia joins him, upset to see him out and about. She asks him to stay at home. Caesar replies that he will go out, since he is always ahead of what threatens him. Calpurnia assures Caesar that she is not a superstitious woman, but the ill omens from the previous night frighten her. A lioness has “whelped” cubs on the streets, and graves have opened to release their dead. To Caesar’s suggestion that the ill omens portend doom for everyone, not just him, Calpurnia counters that
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.
Caesar finally relents when Calpurnia kneels before him in entreaty.
Decius Brutus enters to take Caesar to the Senate, but Caesar tells him he is choosing to stay home. Calpurnia asks Decius to tell the Senate that Caesar is sick, but Caesar is firm that he does not need to lie. His will itself is sufficient cause. Privately, he reveals Calpurnia’s nightmare to Decius, in which she saw Romans bathe in the blood gushing from Caesar’s statue. However, Decius says the nightmare can be interpreted differently and seen as a good portent instead of a sign of Caesar’s death: according to Decius, it signifies Romans sucking “reviving blood” from Caesar. Along with this interpretation, Decius’s revelation that the Senate may offer Caesar the crown today makes Caesar change his mind. He asks Calpurnia for his robe, dismissing her “foolish” fears. Brutus enters with Publius, Ligarius, Metellus, Casca, Trebonius, and Cinna, followed separately by Antony. Caesar asks them to drink wine with him, addressing them as “good friends.”
Scenes 1 and 2 of act 2 flesh out the characters of Caesar and Brutus, the play’s two tragic heroes. The tragic flaws in both their characters are established, setting up the stage for their eventual fate. Though scene 1 opens with Brutus in a state of great flux about his decision to oppose Caesar, Brutus rather quickly arrives at the conclusion that he has no choice but to assassinate Caesar. Ironically, “noble” Brutus, Caesar’s most beloved friend, is the first in the play to clearly suggest Caesar’s murder. Later in the scene, Brutus describes Caesar’s murder in particularly graphic terms, asking the conspirators to “carve” him as a dish fit for the gods, perhaps revealing a latent cruelty. Further, in an extremely important decision that has far-reaching consequences, Brutus shoots down Cassius’s suggestion of killing Antony along with Caesar. Brutus’s unshakeable belief in the loftiness of his ideals makes him obtuse toward himself and others. In his refusal to view himself objectively, Brutus is closer to Caesar than he thinks.
The contradictions in Caesar’s character become apparent in scene 2, when he superstitiously orders the priests to read entrails for him yet moments later proclaims to his fearful wife:
Caesar shall forth: the things that threaten'd me
Ne’er look'd but on my back . . .
Caesar is keen to distinguish himself as masculine and heroic, as opposed to the supposedly feminine and cowardly Calpurnia. However, interestingly, it is when Caesar refuses to listen to his wife, and by association his own private, feminine side, that he commits a fatal error. At first acceding to his own inner fears and Calpurnia’s entreaties, he decides to stay home from the Capitol. However, the outer masculine world of ambition and masculinity interrupts this domestic sphere in the form of Decius Brutus’s manipulations. Caesar sheds prudence and wisdom and ignores his wife’s advice. The parallels between Brutus and Caesar also lie in the fact that both prove very easy to manipulate; Brutus through the letters planted by Cassius in act 1, and Caesar through Decius’s manipulations.
The trend of anachronisms in act 1 continues into act 2 , with the clock—which had not been invented in Caesar’s time—striking three and the conspirators pulling up their cloaks to hide their faces when visiting Brutus. Romans of Caesar’s time did not wear cloaks. Further, the symbolism of portents now extends to that of dreams, with Calpurnia’s dream at the center of the action. Again a premonitory warning, the dream is rich with graphic imagery and foretells Caesar’s statue spouting blood in which “lusty” Romans bathe their hands. The use of the word “lusty” lends the entire dream a sinister quality, as if the Romans are luxuriating in Caesar’s blood. Caesar’s statue symbolizes both Caesar and Rome itself, foreshadowing that Rome may soon face internal strife. The violated statue carries echoes of the statue that Marullus and Flavius “disrobed” to check Caesar's flight. Decius Brutus’s interpretation of Calpurnia’s dream as showing Romans dipping their handkerchiefs in Caesar’s blood to collect “tinctures, relics” is an anachronistic nod to the medieval and Elizabethan practice of collecting souvenirs and talismans from places of pilgrimage. The Romans suckling Caesar’s blood in Decius’s interpretation is a stark, feminized image which refers to the legend of Rome’s founding, in which a wolf suckled the twin brothers Romulus and Remus.
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