Last Updated on June 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 834
Artemidorus, a teacher and friend of some of the conspirators, has learned about the plot to kill Caesar. Though it is not entirely clear how he has learned about the upcoming assassination attempt, he reads aloud from a letter he has written to Caesar that names all the conspirators and asks Caesar to beware of them.
Caesar, beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius; come not near Casca; have an eye to Cinna, trust not Trebonius: mark well Metellus Cimber: Decius Brutus loves thee not: thou hast wronged Caius Ligarius. There is but one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Caesar.
Artemidorus states that he plans to stand on the street until Caesar passes him by, when he will hand Caesar the letter. If Caesar manages to read the letter, he may live; otherwise, “the Fates with traitors do contrive.”
Having learned some of Brutus’s plan, Portia is highly agitated. As they stand in the street, she tells Lucius to go to the Capitol and report back on everything Brutus says and does. Her orders seem to confuse Lucius, and Portia bemoans how difficult it is for “women to keep counsel.” She is beside herself with anxiety when she sees the soothsayer who first appeared in act 1, scene 2, pass by on his way to the Capitol. Portia stops him and asks if he knows about any harm intended toward Caesar. The soothsayer responds, “None that I know will be, much that I fear may chance.” He tells Portia that the place where they’re standing will soon be thronged by so many people it could “crowd a feeble man almost to death.” The soothsayer then moves on to a spot “more void” so that Caesar will be able spot him more easily on his way to the Capitol. Speaking quietly to herself, Portia wishes Brutus success in his enterprise and sends Lucius off on his errand.
These two short scenes involve minor characters but are nevertheless revelatory of some of the themes and motifs of the play. Artemidorus’s letter, clearly naming all the conspirators, including Ligarius, a late addition to the faction, indicates the conspiracy is already common knowledge. In the form of Artemidorus, the play introduces another viewpoint: the self-aware and wise Roman citizen who is not opposed to Caesar. So far, the faction has presented the view that to be a lover of Rome is to oppose Caesar. However, the inclusion of the contrary view of Artemidorus, who is a well-regarded teacher, calls into question the moral high ground on which the faction has based their conspiracy. Although Artemidorus hopes he will be able to give his letter to Caesar, he is full of doubts about the future. Artemidorus’s pessimistic tone adds to the sense of futility and frustration in a scene which evokes a sense of the calm before the storm. Aware of Caesar’s obtuseness by now, the audience, too, doubts Artemidorus’s success yet cannot wait to see how matters unfold. A melancholy Artemidorus proclaims:
My heart laments that virtue cannot live
Out of the teeth of emulation.
If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayst live;
If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive.
Artemidorus’s fear that virtue or perfection, symbolized by Caesar, cannot live out of the harmful rapacious teeth of the envy of the conspirators, as well as his somber observation that Fate sometimes conspires with “traitors,” points to a chaotic, merciless universe where humans are at best the victims of chance. Artemidorus’s words establish the bleak mood which is to hang over all of act 3.
Though the play has only two female characters, out of the two of them, Portia is given a little more agency and stage time than Calpurnia. Her relationship with Brutus, set up against Calpurnia’s with Caesar, is presented as more loving and equitable, in keeping with Brutus’s image as a man of honor. Portia’s agitation in act 2, scene 4 signifies that she has learned some of her husband’s dangerous secret plans and wishes to see them carried out safely. Out in the male space of the street, Portia is faced with the particular dilemma of women in heavily patriarchal societies: she has “a man’s mind / but a woman’s might.” It is significant to note that “might” here refers not just to physical power but the power to command physical spaces, which is a male prerogative. Portia is frustrated because she wishes to help her husband but is constrained in doing so by her gender-bound role. Unlike the soothsayer, who can move to a place “more void” to avoid crowds, Portia cannot manipulate male-dominated spaces. Yet despite her agency, Portia is the creation of a male playwright rooted in his time. Thus, as she has done before, in this scene she refers to her weak and inconstant nature. Portia’s question to the soothsayer about Caesar’s fate intensifies the suspense for the audience as well.
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