Julius Caesar Act IV, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

William Shakespeare

Act IV, Scene 1: Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Octavius: Caesar’s nephew and one of the three leaders to rule Rome after his death

Lepidus: the third leader to rule Rome after Caesar’s death

The setting is a house in Rome some time after Caesar’s death. The Republic is in turmoil, as Antony predicted. Rome is in the hands of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus. They are compiling a death list of their political enemies. Antony sends Lepidus to “fetch” Caesar’s will so they might reduce some of the legacies mentioned by Antony to the citizens in his funeral speech. When Lepidus leaves, Antony tells Octavius that Lepidus is unfit to have so much power. Antony plans to use Lepidus to achieve his political objectives and then cut him off. They talk about Brutus and Cassius, who have fled the country and are raising an army in Greece. Antony and Octavius make plans to muster their own forces to fight them.

Act IV addresses the corrupting effects of power. Rome is on the brink of a terrible civil war. Antony has joined forces with Octavius and Lepidus to become one of the three most powerful men in Rome. They are the second triumvirate to rule the Republic. (Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus were the first.)

To solidify their political power, and because they have many enemies in Rome, they are making a list of Roman senators and citizens they plan to execute. Their decisions are cold and unfeeling. In a political tit-for-tat, Lepidus consents to listing his own brother, provided that Antony agrees to include his nephew. Ironically, their total disregard for life goes beyond anything Brutus feared Caesar might do. Their greed is made more evident in their plan to change Caesar’s will for their personal gain.

The moral flaw in Antony’s character can also be seen when he reveals his contempt for Lepidus. When Octavius calls Lepidus “a tried and valiant soldier,” (32) Antony compares Lepidus to his horse who “must be taught and trained and bid go forth.” (39) It is Antony’s intention to use Lepidus as a practical means to his desired end, much as Cassius used Brutus. It is not a flattering picture of the man who rose to great heights in Act III, and who is about to lead Rome into civil war.