Last Updated on June 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 812
In the middle of the battle they are losing, Brutus exhorts his demoralized troops to gather their courage. Filled with a desperate bravery, young Cato, Brutus’s brother-in-law, dashes headlong into battle and is killed by Antony’s soldiers. Lucilius is captured and, to confuse the enemy, tells them he is Brutus, offering them money to kill him as such. However, Antony arrives on the scene, identifies Lucilius, and asks the soldiers to keep him safe under guard. Lucilius tells Antony that he will never capture Brutus alive. Antony asks his soldiers to find out if Brutus is alive or dead.
In a far corner of the battlefield, Brutus, defeated, rounds up the remnants of his army. He tells Volumnius, a soldier, that the ghost of Caesar has appeared before him on two nights, once in Sardinia, and then again “this last night, here in Philippi fields.” Certain his death is near, Brutus asks Volumnius and the soldiers Citus and Dardanus to assist him in his suicide, but they refuse. As Antony and Octavius swarm the field with their army, Volumnius, Citus, and Dardanus flee, asking Brutus to do the same. Brutus asks his servant Strato to hold his sword and turn his face as Brutus runs upon it. Bidding Strato farewell and exhorting Caesr to “now be still,” Brutus commits suicide.
Octavius and Antony arrive with Lucilius and Messala under guard. When they ask for Brutus, Strato says his master is safe from capture and humiliation. Magnanimous in victory, Octavius offers safe passage to Brutus’s forces and takes them into his army. Thus, with the joining of the two armies, the civil strife appears to heal. Antony praises Brutus, calling him a noble Roman and an honest man, the best of the conspirators. The play ends with Octavius making plans to bury the dead—including Brutus, who will be given an honorable soldier’s burial—and to spread the news of their great victory.
In the final two scenes of the play, the action hurtles to its by-now-certain end. The number of the idealistic dead pile up, particularly in the form of Young Cato, adding to the bleakness of the proceedings. The motif of mistakes and miscommunications spills over from the early scenes, with Antony’s soldiers mistaking Lucilius for Brutus. Through the preponderance of miscommunication, Shakespeare draws attention to the reality of war, which is equal parts valor, chance, futility, and confusion. Antony’s treatment of Lucilius—considering him a possibly valuable ally—again underscores his innate practicality and inventiveness. Once again, these qualities set Antony apart from the idealistic Brutus.
With Antony established in the ascendant, it is fitting that the final scene closes out Brutus’s arc as a hero. Though the play’s title is Julius Caesar, Brutus is also in many ways its tragic hero, with his flaws being his belief that everyone has the same ideals as him and a stubborn refusal to gauge reality. Throughout the play, Brutus’s inability to modulate his idealism to real-world situations has led him to debacle after debacle. However, in the final scene he softens his rigid stances, achieving a kind of character growth.
Routed badly, he wants to die but cannot openly state his wish for suicide, since his philosophy of Stoicism forbids it. Yet he knows being taken captive means shame and humiliation. Therefore, he requests Strato to hold his sword so he can run upon it, thus killing himself without technically committing suicide, a practical, opportunistic maneuver of the like Brutus has seldom attempted in the play. His exhortation to Strato to “look away” during the terrible act is tender and protective, humanizing Brutus to his audience. Brutus’s suicide stands in contrast with that of Cassius, who had Pindarus run the sword through him. With Brutus’s death, Caesar’s final culprit is avenged, and the twin spirits of Rome and Caesar can rest in peace.
Antony’s eulogy for Brutus further cements Brutus’s status at the play’s hero and moral center.
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
Finally, as if to reflect the uncertainty of who would succeed Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare’s time, the situation in Rome is left open-ended and ambiguous. It is not clear who the “next Caesar” will be, nor what their quality of rule will be like. Octavius is still a cipher, and historically Antony is soon to be ousted from the triumvirate. The play ends with Rome in even more turbulence than it was in act 1.
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