Last Updated on June 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1108
As a crowd gathers in front of the Capitol, Caesar arrives at the Senate House. Spotting the soothsayer, Caesar tells him the Ides of March have come, implying that the soothsayer’s foreboding was false. However, the soothsayer reminds Caesar that the day is not yet over. When Artemidorus tries to give Caesar his warning letter, Decius diverts Caesar’s attention to a petition. When Artemidorus insists Caesar read his letter first because it is a suit that is more important for Caesar, Caesar says that “what touches us ourself shall be last served.” Dismissing Artemidorus, Cesar enters the Capitol. In an aside, the senator Popilius wishes Cassius luck for his “enterprise,” which makes Cassius fear their conspiracy has been uncovered. Accordingly, he asks Casca to “be sudden”—that is, to act quickly before they are discovered.
The cogs of conspiracy move swiftly from this point forward. As previously decided among the conspirators, Trebonius removes Antony from the scene. Metellus Cimber approaches Caesar with a request to repeal the banishment of Publius Cimber, his brother. Displeased by Metellus’s flattery, Caesar announces that “base spaniel fawning” cannot sway him. Brutus approaches Caesar under the guise of advocating for Publius, and the other conspirators join him, circling a bewildered Caesar. Casca, who has been tasked to “be the first to raise” his hand, stabs Caesar, followed by the others, with Brutus going last. When he discovers that Brutus is one of his attackers, Caesar collapses to his death, saying:
Et tu, Bruté?—Then fall, Caesar.
As the senators and commoners flee in panic, the conspirators bathe their hands and swords in Caesar’s blood, just like in Calpurnia’s dream. Announcing that their deed has unshackled liberty from tyranny, they prepare to move to the streets to influence the public in their favor. Antony’s servant makes an appearance, requesting an audience for Antony. Brutus allows Antony into the Capitol, referring to him as a “wise and valiant Roman.” Cassius remarks to Brutus that he still has “a mind / That fears [Antony] much.” Overwhelmed with piteous grief at the sight of the fallen Caesar, Antony, arriving on the scene, tells the conspirators they can kill him as well, while their “purpled hands do reek and smoke.” However, Brutus assures Antony of the nobility of the conspirators’ intentions, however “bloody and cruel” they may seem. Antony will remain unharmed, Brutus asserts. Appearing relieved, Antony asks Brutus for permission to bring Caesar’s body to the marketplace and speak at Caesar’s funeral. As before, Brutus is quick to agree, and Cassius is equally quick to express his objection to Brutus privately. But Brutus tells Cassius he intends to address the public himself before Antony to cement the conspirators’ case. He allows Antony to address the public with some caveats: Antony must not rail against the conspirators, but he can praise Caesar.
After Brutus and the other conspirators leave Antony alone with Caesar’s corpse, Anthony reveals his true feelings. He apologizes to Caesar’s body for being “gentle with these butchers,” or the men who slayed Caesar. Antony assures Caesar that he will avenge his death and prophesizes that Caesar’s death will have devastating consequences, unleashing civil strife and a reign of blood. Caesar’s vengeful spirit itself will “let slip the dogs of war.”
Octavius Caesar’s servant enters and informs Antony that Octavius Caesar, Caesar’s nephew, has arrived “within seven leagues of Rome.” Antony asks the messenger to inform Octavius about “what hath chanced” and to tell Octavius not to enter Rome until Antony has addressed the people at Caesar’s funeral.
The tension that has been brewing since act 1 reaches a fever pitch in this scene. From the outset, the conspirators are worried about being discovered. When Popillus Lena innocently wishes them luck, Cassius fears they have been “discovered.” However, they manage to divert the two real sources of danger to them: the soothsayer and Artemidorus. These close calls only add to the sense of danger in which the scene is steeped. Inside the Senate, the crowding of the conspirators around Caesar keys up the claustrophobia and reveals the supposedly noble conspiracy for what it is: a brutal murder of one man at the hand of many. The murder scene is also a study in irony of Caesar’s lack of awareness, whether of his own private self or the motives of those around him. As the conspirators kneel around him, pretending to make a request, Caesar realizes such “base spaniel fawning” is unusual behavior, especially for the stoic Brutus. Instead of analyzing the behavior further, however, he gives in to his ego and begins to self-mythologize. He loftily notes that the supplication is useless, because Caesar is
constant as the Northern Star,
Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
In a stroke of supreme irony, Caesar, the immovable, bright “Northern Star,” is struck down by the conspirators soon after, stabbed thirty-three times.
The graphic dialogue and action that follows Caesar’s assassination is steeped in blood imagery. Just like in Calpurnia’s dream, the assassins wash their hands in Caesar's blood, as if taking part in a purification ritual. The scene is rife with anachronistic Christian imagery, with the fallen Caesar Christlike, killed by Romans.
One of the biggest revelations of the scene is the layering of the character of Mark Antony. With Caesar—Brutus’s first foil—dead, the plot swiftly begins to establish Antony as a foil. Unlike Brutus, who is as befuddled by his nobility as Caesar was by his ego, Antony is practical and strategic. He first sends a servant to the Senate to test the waters before himself making an appearance. Despite being overcome with palpable grief and rage at the sight of Caesar’s violated corpse, Antony shakes hands with the conspirators to buy himself time. Only when he is alone with Caesar’s body does his rage explode, and he says,
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—
Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips . . .
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy . . .
Antony’s apostrophe, addressing Caesar’s corpse as “thou bleeding piece of earth,” not only establishes him as a formidable user of rhetorical devices—a skill that will soon prove very handy—it also fuses Caesar with Rome. Antony’s fight, then, is as much for Caesar as it is for the great empire. Ironically, the Rome the conspirators aimed to free from Caesar has now become inseparable from him.
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