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Lawrence Danson [Danson presents an in-depth overview of Julius Caesar, focusing on how the linguistic strategies in the play's major scenes contribute to the overall tragic progression of the play. The critic also assesses whether Caesar or Brutus is the tragic hero of the drama and examines the circumstances surrounding Caesar's assassination and Mark Antony's subsequent funeral speech (III. ii 73ff.). Danson concludes the essay by briefly contrasting the themes developed in Shakespeare's tragedy with the known historical facts of Brutus's conspiracy and Caesar's murder, ultimately arguing that the two points of view cannot necessarily be reconciled.]

In Julius Caesar we find ... those problems of communication and expression, those confusions linguistic and ritualistic, which mark the world of the tragedies. The play opens with the sort of apparently expository scene in which Shakespeare actually gives us the major action of the play in miniature. Flavius and Marullus, the tribunes, can barely understand the punning language of the commoners ... It is ostensibly broad daylight in Rome, but the situation is dream-like; for although the language which the two classes speak is phonetically identical, it is, semantically, two separate languages. The cobbler's language, though it sounds like the tribunes', is (to the tribunes) a sort of inexplicable dumb show.

And as with words, so with gestures; the certainties of ceremonial order are as lacking in Rome, as are the certainties of the verbal language. The commoners present an anomaly to the tribunes simply by walking "Upon a labouring day without the sign / Of [their] profession" [I. i. 4-5]. To the commoners it is a "holiday," to the tribunes (although in fact it is the Feast of Lupercal), a "labouring day." The commoners have planned an observance of Caesar's triumph—itself, to the tribunes, no triumph but rather a perversion of Roman order—but the tribunes send the "idle creatures" off to perform a quite different ceremony:

Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault Assemble all the poor men of our sort; Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears Into the channel, till the lowest stream Do kiss the most exalted shores of all. [1.1. 56-60]

Thus, in a Rome where each man's language is foreign to the next, ritual gestures are converted into their opposites; confusion in the state's symbolic system makes every action perilously ambiguous. The tribunes, having turned the commoners' planned ritual into its opposite, go off bravely to make their own gesture, to "Disrobe the images" of Caesar [I. i. 64]: but shortly we learn that they have actually been made to play parts in a bloodier ritual (one which, as we shall see, becomes increasingly common in the play). And when, in a later scene, we find Brutus deciding upon his proper gesture, the confusions of this first scene should recur to us.

The second scene again opens with mention of specifically ritual observance, as Caesar bids Calphurnia stand in Antony's way to receive the touch which will "Shake off [her] sterile curse" [I. il. 9]. Perhaps Shakespeare intends to satirize Caesar's superstitiousness; at least we can say that Calphurnia's sterility and the fructifying touch introduce the question, what sort of ritual can assure (political) succession in Rome? Directly, the Soothsayer steps forth, warning Caesar, "Beware the ides of March." But this communication is not understood: "He is a dreamer; Let us leave him. Pass" [I. ii. 24].

What follows, when Caesar and his train have passed off the stage leaving Brutus and Cassius behind, is an enactment—virtually an iconic presentation—of the linguistic problem. More clearly even than the first scene, this scene...

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gives us the picture of Rome as a place where words and rituals have dangerously lost their conventional meanings. As Cassius begins to feel out Brutus about the conspiracy—telling him of Rome's danger and wishes, of Caesar's pitiful mortality, of Brutus's republican heritage—their conversation is punctuated by shouts from offstage, shouts at whose meaning they can only guess (pp. 52-3).

Casca, an eye-witness to the ritual in the marketplace, finally arrives to be their interpreter; but even he has understood imperfectly. Caesar (he says) has been offered the crown, but

I can as well be hang'd as tell the manner of it: it was mere foolery; I did not mark it. I saw Mark Antony offer him a crown—yet 'twas not a crown neither, 'twas one of these coronets ... [I. ii. 235-38]

Caesar refused the crown, but Casca suspects "he would fain have had it." "The rabblement hooted," and Caesar "swooned and fell down at" the stench [I. ii. 244, 248], As for the rest, Cicero spoke, but again the language problem intervened: "He spoke Greek" [I. ii. 279]. There is other news: "Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesar's images, are put to silence" [I. ii. 285-86]. And, "There was more foolery yet, if I could remember it" [I. ii. 287].

The dramatic point of it all lies not so much in the conflict between republican and monarchical principles, as in the sheer confusion of the reported and overheard scene. It is all hooting and clapping and uttering of bad breath, swooning, foaming at the mouth, and speaking Greek. Casca's cynical tone is well suited to the occasion, for the farcical charade of the crown-ritual, with Caesar's refusal and Antony's urging, is itself a cynical manipulation. The crowd clapped and hissed "as they use to do the players in the theatre" [I. ii. 260]—and rightly so.

These two opening scenes give us the world in which Brutus is to undertake his great gesture. When we next see Brutus, his decision is made: "It must be by his death" [II. i. 10]. Behind Brutus's decision is that linguistic and ceremonial confusion which is comic in the case of the commoners and sinister in the case of Caesar's crown-ritual. The innovations in Rome's ceremonial order give evidence to Brutus for the necessity of his gesture. But those same innovations, attesting to a failure in Rome's basic linguistic situation, also make it most probable that his gesture will fail. Brutus is not unlike Hamlet: he is a man called upon to make an expressive gesture in a world where the commensurate values necessary to expression are lacking. The killing of Caesar, despite the honorable intentions that are within Brutus and passing show, will thus be only one more ambiguous, misunderstood action in a world where no action can have an assured value. Brutus's grand expression might as well be Greek in this Roman world.

Brutus's position is not unlike Hamlet's, but he does not see what Hamlet sees. Indeed, he does not even see as much as his fellow conspirators do. To Cassius, the dreadful and unnatural storm over Rome reflects "the work we have in hand" [I. iii. 129]; to the thoughtful Cassius, the confusion in the heavens is an aspect of the confusion in Rome. But Brutus is, typically, unmoved by the storm, and calmly makes use of its strange light to view the situation: "The exhalations, whizzing in the air, / Give so much light that I may read by them" [II. i. 44-5]. And what he reads by this deceptive light is as ambiguous as the shouts of the crowd at the crown-ritual: the paper bears temptations slipped into his study by the conspirators, words that mislead and may betray. On the basis of this mysterious communication, revealed by a taper's dim light and the unnatural "exhalations" above, Brutus determines to "speak and strike" [II. i. 55]. Every sign is misinterpreted by Brutus; and the world that seems to him to make a clear demand for words and gestures is in fact a world where words are equivocal and where gestures quickly wither into their opposites.

The situation, as I have so far described it, forces upon us the question critics of the play have most frequently debated: who is the play's hero? A simple enough question, it would seem: the title tells us that this is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. But that answer only serves to show the actual complexity of the question, for if Caesar (who is, after all, dead by the middle of the play) is to this play what say, Hamlet is to his, then Julius Caesar is, structurally at least, a most peculiar tragedy. The question of the hero—and a glance at the critical literature shows that the position is indeed questionable—bears upon fundamental matters of meaning and structure.

Now it is a curious fact about Shakespeare's plays (and, to an extent, about all drama) that the questions the critics ask have a way of duplicating the questions the characters ask, as though the playwright had done his best to make all criticism redundant. As if the play were not enough, nor the characters sufficient unto their conflicts, the critical audience continues to fight the same fights and ask the same questions the characters in the play do. Of Julius Caesar, as I have said, the question we most often ask concerns the play's hero: Caesar or Brutus? I have not bothered to tally the choices; for our purposes it is more interesting to notice the mode of critical procedure and the way in which it tends to imitate the actions of the characters in the play. Both critics and characters tend to choose sides in their respective conflicts on the bases of political prejudice and evaluations of moral rectitude. Since the moral and political issues in Julius Caesar are themselves eternally moot, it is not surprising that the critical debate continues unresolved.

About Caesar, for instance: if we try to make our determination of herohood on the basis of Caesar's moral stature, we are doing precisely what the characters do; and we find, I think, that he becomes for us what he is for Shakespeare's Romans, less a man than the object of men's speculations. Caesar is the Colossus whose legs we may peep about but whom we can never know; characters and audience alike peep assiduously, each gives us a partial view which simply will not accord any other. Within the play, Caesar is virtually constituted of the guesses made about him: Casca's rude mockery, Cassius's sneers, Brutus's composite portrait of the present Caesar (against whom he knows no wrong) and the dangerous serpent of the future, Antony's passionate defense, the mob's fickle love and hate: these are the guesses, and contradictory as they are, they give us the Caesar of the play—and of the play's critics.

Of Caesar's, or for that matter of Brutus's, moral status we can have little more certain knowledge than the characters themselves have. What we are in a privileged position to know is the structure of the play: the characters' prison, the play's encompassing form, is our revelation. What I propose to do, therefore, is to look at the implicit answer Brutus gives (through his actions) to the question, who is the play's tragic hero?, and compare that answer to the answer revealed by the play's unfolding structure.

Everything Brutus does (until the collapse of the conspiracy) is calculated to justify the title of the play, to make it indeed The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. As we watch Brutus directing the conspiracy, that Caesar indeed be its hero-victim. The assassination, as Brutus conceives it, must have all the solemnity and finality of a tragic play. The wonder of the spectacle must, as in tragedy, join the audience (both within and without the play) into a community of assent to the deed. For his part, Brutus is content with a necessary secondary role, the mere agent of the hero's downfall ... (pp. 54-7).

But of course Brutus's plot (in both senses of the word) is a failure. The withholding of assent by the audience (again, both within and without the play) proves his failure more conclusively than do moral or political considerations. Brutus misunderstands the language of Rome; he misinterprets all the signs both cosmic and earthly; and the furthest reach of his failure is his failure to grasp, until the very end, the destined shape of his play. Brutus's plot is a failure, but by attending to the direction he tries to give it we can find, ironically, a clear anatomy of the typical tragic action.

Brutus makes his decision and in Act II, scene i he meets with the conspirators. Decius puts the question, "Shall no man else be touch'd but only Caesar?" [II. i. 154]. Cassius, whose concerns are wholly practical, urges Antony's death. But Brutus demurs: the assassination as he conceives it has a symbolic dimension as important as its practical dimension; and although Brutus is not able to keep the two clearly separated (he opposes Antony's death partly out of concern for the deed's appearance "to the common eyes" [II. i. 179]) he is clear about the need for a single sacrificial victim. His emphasis on sacrifice indicates the ritual shape Brutus hopes to give the assassination:

Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Cassius. We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar, And in the spirit of men there is no blood. O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit, And not dismember Caesar! But, alas, Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle friends, Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds ... We shall be call'd purgers, but not murderers. [II. i. 166-74, 180]

The "sacrifice" must not be confused with murder, with mere butchery. The name of the deed becomes all important, indicating the distance between a gratuitous, essentially meaningless gesture, and a sanctioned, efficacious, unambiguous ritual.

But Brutus's speech, with a fine irony, betrays his own fatal confusion. "In the spirit of men there is no blood," but in this spirit—this symbol, this embodiment of Caesarism [dictatorship]—there is, "alas," as much blood as Lady Macbeth will find in Duncan. Whatever we may feel about Brutus's political intentions, we must acknowledge a failure which has, it seems to me, as much to do with logic and language as with politics: Brutus is simply unclear about the difference between symbols and men. And his confusion, which leads to the semantic confusion between "murder" and "sacrifice," and between meaningless gestures and sanctioned ritual, is the central case of something we see at every social level in Rome. The assassination Brutus plans as a means of purging Rome dwindles to just more of the old ambiguous words and empty gestures. The assassination loses its intended meaning as surely as the commoners' celebration did in scene i.

The assassination is surrounded by Brutus with all the rhetoric and actions of a sacrificial rite. It becomes ritually and literally a bloodbath, as Brutus bids,

Stoop, Romans, stoop, And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords. [II. i. 105-07]

Even the disastrous decision to allow Antony to address the mob arises from Brutus's concern that "Caesar shall / Have all true rites and lawful ceremonies" [III. i. 240-41]. In Brutus's plot, where Caesar is the hero-victim whose death brings tragedy's "calm of mind, all passion spent," no one, not even Antony, should be left out of the ceremonious finale. With the conspirators' ritualized bloodbath, indeed, the implied metaphor of the assassination-as-drama becomes explicit—if also horribly ironic:

Cas. Stoop then, and wash. How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over In states unborn and accents yet unknown!Bru. How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport ... [01. i. 111-14]

Trapped in their bloody pageant, these histrionic conspirators cannot see what, in the terms they themselves suggest, is the most important point of all: this lofty scene occurs, not at the end, but in the middle of a tragic play.

Brutus's plot is not Shakespeare's; and immediately after the conspirators have acted out what should be the denouement of their tragic play, the actual shape of the play (the one they cannot see as such) begins to make itself clear. Antony, pointedly recalling Brutus's distinction between "sacrificers" and "butchers," says to the slaughtered symbol of tyranny, "O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, / That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!" [III. i. 254-55], and announces the further course of the action:

And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate by his side come hot from hell, Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war, That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men, groaning for burial. [III. i. 270-75]

Brutus's revolutionary gesture, which was intended to bring to birth a stabler order, has been (in an esthetic as well as a political sense) premature. His ritual has failed, and now, as Caesar's spirit ranges for revenge (for there is blood in the spirits of men), it still remains for the proper ritual to be found. Now Brutus will at last assume his proper role: Brutus must be our tragic hero.

Of course he does his best to deny that role. His stoicism—the coolness, for instance, with which he dismisses Caesar's ghost: "Why, I will see thee at Philippi, then" [IV. iii. 286]—is hardly what we expect of the grandly suffering tragic hero. Still, it is to Brutus that we owe one of the finest descriptions of the peculiar moment in time occupied by a Shakespearean tragedy:

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing And the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma or a hideous dream. The Genius and the mortal instruments Are then in council; and the state of man, Like to a little kingdom, suffers then The nature of an insurrection. [II. i. 61-9]

The moment is suspended, irresolute, but charged with the energy to complete itself. The separation of "acting" from "first motion," of "Genius" from "mortal instruments," is an intolerable state—the measure of it is the insomnia—which demands resolution ... [It] is the tragic moment, and Brutus, for all his Roman calm, must pass through it to its necessary completion.

The acting of the "dreadful thing"—or, rather, what Brutus thinks is the dreadful thing, Caesar's death—does not bring the promised end; that is made immediately clear. Antony's funeral oration shows that Brutus's grand gesture has changed little. Antony easily converts Brutus's sacrifice into murder. In Rome ... men's actions merely "seem," and Antony can shift the intended meaning of Brutus's action as easily as the tribunes had changed the intended meaning of the commoner's actions in Act I, scene i. Antony can use virtually the same words as the conspirators—he can still call Brutus an "honourable man" and Caesar "ambitious"—and yet make condemnation of approval and approval of condemnation. Even after the revolutionary moment of Caesar's death, this Rome is all of apiece: a volatile mob, empty ceremonies, and a language as problematic as the reality it describes.

Even names are problematic here. It was with names that Cassius first went to work on Brutus:

'Brutus' and 'Caesar'. What should be in that 'Caesar'? Why should that name be sounded more than yours? Write them together: yours is as fair a name. Sound them: it doth become the mouth as well. Weigh them: it is as heavy. Conjure with 'em: 'Brutus' will start a spirit as soon as 'Caesar'. [I. ii. 142-47]

Cassius's contemptuous nominalism reminds one of Edmund in King Lear, who also thinks that one name—that of "bastard," for instance—is as good as any other. Names, to Cassius and Edmund, are conventional signs having reference to no absolute value, and they may be manipulated at will.

In his funeral oration, Antony also plays freely with names; and with the repetition of those two names "Brutus" and "Caesar" he does indeed conjure a spirit. It is the spirit of riot, of random violence, and its first victim (with a grotesque appropriateness) is a poet and a name:

3 Pleb. Your name sir, truly.Cin. Truly, my name is Cinna.1 Pleb. Tear him to pieces; he's a conspirator!Cin. I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet4 Pleb. Tear him for his bad verses, tear him for his bad verses!Cin. I am not Cinna the conspirator.4 Pleb. It is no matter, his name's Cinna; pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going.3 Pleb. Tear him, tear him! [III. iii. 26-35]

"Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going": it is like Brutus's impossible, "And in the spirit of men there is no blood" [II. i. 168]. Again, it is the confusion between symbol and reality, between the abstract name and the blood-filled man who bears it. Poets, whose genius it is to mediate symbol and reality and to find the appropriate name to match all things, generally have rough going in Julius Caesar. Brutus the liberator shows how he has insensibly aged into a figure indistinguishable from the tyrant when he dismisses a peace-making poet with a curt, "What should the wars do with these jigging fools?" [IV. iii. 137]. And Caesar, too, had rebuffed a poetical soothsayer.

The gratuitous murder of Cinna the poet reflects ironically upon the murder of Caesar. The poet's rending at the hands of the mob is unreasonable, based solely on a confusion of identities (of names, words), and while it bears some resemblance to the sacrifice of a scapegoat figure, it is really no sacrifice at all but unsanctioned murder. Caesar's death, similarly, was undertaken as a sacrificial gesture, but quickly became identified with plain butchery. In the mirror of the Cinna episode the assassination is seen as only one case in a series of perverted rituals—a series that runs with increasing frequency now, until the proper victim and the proper form are at last found.

Immediately following the murder of Cinna we see the new triumvirate pricking the names of its victims. The death of Caesar has released the motive force behind the tragedy, and that force runs unchecked now until the final sacrifice at Philippi. From the very first scene of the play we have witnessed ritual gestures that wither into meaninglessness; with the conspiracy and Caesar's death, we become aware of sacrifice as the particular ritual toward which the world of the play is struggling: the series of mistaken rituals becomes a series of mistaken sacrifices, culminating at Philippi.

The wrong sacrifice, the wrong victim: the play offers an astonishing gallery of them. It has been noticed that all of the major characters implicate themselves in this central action:

each character in the political quartet in turn makes a similar kind of theatrical gesture implying the sacrifice of his own life: to top his refusal of the crown, Caesar offers the Roman mob his throat to cut; Brutus shows the same people that he has a dagger ready for himself, in case Rome should need his death; with half-hidden irony, Antony begs his death of the conspirators; and in the quarrel scene, Cassius gives his "naked breast" for Brutus to strike. [Adrien Bonjour, in his The Structure of "Julius Caesar"]

The idea of sacrifice is imagistically linked to the idea of hunters and the hunted. Caesar, says Antony, lies "like a deer strucken by many princes" [III. i. 209]. The ruthless Octavius feels, improbably enough, that he is "at the stake, / And bay'd about with many enemies" [IV. i. 48-9]. But it was the conspirators themselves who first suggested the analogy between sacrifice and hunting: their blood-bathing ceremony suggests (as Antony makes explicit) the actions of a hunter with his first kill. And finally, appropriately, the sacrifice-hunting imagery fastens on Brutus: "Our enemies have beat us to the pit" [V. v. 23].

From a slightly different perspective, the final scenes at Philippi might be a comedy of errors. Military bungles and mistaken identities follow quickly on each other's heels; the number of suicides, especially, seems excessive. Of the suicide of Titinius, a relatively minor character, [Harley] Granville-Barker asks [in his Prefaces to Shakespeare], "why, with two suicides to provide for, Shakespeare burdened himself with this third?" The answer to his question, and the explanation for the apparent excesses generally, must be found, I believe, in the context of false sacrifice throughout the play. Caesar's death was one such false sacrifice; Cinna the poet's a horrible mistake; the political murders by the triumvirate continued the chain; and now Cassius sacrifices himself on the basis of a mistake, while Titinius follows out of loyalty to the dead Cassius. Brutus embarked on the conspiracy because he misinterpreted the confused signs in, and above, Rome; the intended meaning of his own gesture was in turn subverted by Antony and the mob. And now Cassius has misinterpreted the signs: friendly troops are mistaken for hostile, their shouts of joy are not understood; thus "Caesar, thou art reveng'd," as Cassius dies, in error, "Even with the sword that kill'd thee" [V. iii. 45-6]. And, because Cassius has "misconstrued everything" (as Titinius puts it [V. iii. 84]), Titinius now dies, bidding, "Brutus, come apace" [V. iii. 87].

Titinius places a garland on the dead Cassius before he dies himself; and Brutus, entering when both are dead, pronounces a solemn epitaph:

Are yet two Romans living such as these? The last of all the Romans, fare thee well! It is impossible that ever Rome Should breed thy fellow. Friends, I owe moe tears To this dead man than you shall see me pay. I shall find time, Cassius, I shall find time. [V. iii. 98-103]

The words and the actions form an appropriate tragic device of wonder—but this is no more the end than it was when Brutus spoke an epitaph for Caesar. The death of Cassius is still not the proper sacrifice, and the play has still to reach its culminating ritual.

At Philippi, Brutus at last accepts his role. Against the wishes of Cassius, Brutus insists upon meeting the enemy even before (as the enemy puts it), "we do demand of them" [V. i. 6]. The ghost of Caesar has appeared and Brutus has accepted its portent: "I know my hour is come" [V. v. 20]. Most significant in Brutus's final speeches is their tone of acceptance:

Countrymen, My heart doth joy that yet in all my life I found no man but he was true to me. I shall have glory by this losing day, More than Octavius and Mark Antony By this vile conquest shall attain unto. So fare you well at once; for Brutus' tongue Hath almost ended his life's history. Night hangs upon mine eyes; my bones would rest, That have but labour'd to attain this hour. [V. v. 33-42]

The expressed idea of the glorious defeat is an authentic sign of Shakespearean tragedy ... Brutus recognizes here the necessary end of "his life's history" [V. v. 40]: all, from the very start, has tended to this gesture. (pp. 57-66)

And this gesture receives, as the assassination of Caesar did not, the requisite assent. Brutus "hath honour by his death" [V. v. 57], says Strato; and Lucilius, "So Brutus should be found" [V. v. 58]. The opposing parties join together now in Octavius's service, and it is Antony himself who can pronounce the epitaph, "This was the noblest Roman of them all" [V. v. 68]. His words and the gestures are universally accepted.

But what of Rome and its future? ... [It] is the close involvement of Julius Caesar with widely known historical facts which forces upon us the recognition of ... truth's limitations. Indeed, the play contains hints—the bloody, divisive course of the triumvirate has been made plain, for instance—which, even without prior historical knowledge, might make us temper our optimism over the play's conclusion. With Brutus's death the play has revealed its tragic entelechy [scheme]; the destined shape has been found, and the discovery brings its esthetic satisfactions. That the price of our pleasure is the hero's death is not (as in King Lear it will so terribly be) a source of discomfort. But what we cannot dismiss is our knowledge that every end is also a beginning. History will have its way; "fate" will defeat men's "wills"; and the "glory" of this "losing day" will tarnish and become, in the movement of time, as ambiguous as the glorious loss on the ides of March.

Thus we must entertain two apparently opposite points of view. With Brutus's sacrificial gesture the ritual has been found which can satisfy the dramatic expectations created by the play. The final words are spoken, the language is understood; and thus the play has given us what Robert Frost demanded of all poetry, "a momentary stay against confusion." But if we stress in Frost's definition his modifying word momentary, we find ourselves cast back upon history; and once out of the timeless world of the play, "confusion" predominates. (pp. 66-7)

Lawrence Danson, "Julius Caesar," in his Tragic Alphabet: Shakespeare's Drama of Language, Yale University Press, 1974, pp. 50-67.

Robert E. Knoll [Knoll presents a comprehensive overview of Julius Caesar, arguing that the play lends itself remarkably well to the five-act dramatic structure. Each of the major characters occupies a significant place in one of the five acts, the critic maintains, for their actions generally overshadow and shape the events of those acts which they dominate. Knoll attributes Act I to Cassius, who determines the course of events in the play by persuading Brutus to join the conspiracy. Act II belongs to Brutus, for his soliloquies and conversations establish the idealistic context by which he legitimates Caesar's assassination. Antony is the protagonist of Act III, for it is his rousing funeral oration that turns the tables on the conspirators and ultimately leads to their failure. Caesar is the focus of Act IV, not only because his spirit haunts the guilt-ridden Brutus, but also because his murder creates a chaotic political vacuum in Rome. Finally, Octavius dominates Act V because his confident assumption of leadership over the other major characters promises future political stability in the Roman Empire.]

Though Shakespeare did not divide all his plays uniformly into scenes and acts—these conventional divisions were regularized by editors long after his death—he seems to have conceived Julius Caesar in a five-act structure. If we look at it an act at a time, we may see how it combines to create a unified dramatic whole. The play is "brilliantly constructed," as the editors say. Each act is dominated by a single personage who commands our attention by controlling the direction of its action. By the end of the fifth act a series of archetypical Romans have paraded across the stage and caused us to think of fundamental political and human issues. In Act I, though we learn important facts about the Roman plebians, Caesar, and others, Cassius dominates the stage. In Act II, Brutus is in the center. We follow him in his moment of highest decision. Act III belongs to Antony, who steals the scene from the conspirators and enflames the Roman populace. Act IV belongs to Caesar, whose ghost haunts the quarrel between Cassius and Brutus. Act V is Octavius's and the play ends with his words. Let us consider the play in some detail, act by act.

Cassius is the protagonist in Act I. That is, he determines the course of events. The decisive action in this act is his conversation with Brutus, and it is through this exchange that we come to understand his nature and the political situation in Rome.

When the play begins, we perceive that Rome has reached a turning point in its history. The "Establishment," represented by Flavius and Marullus, is clearly out of touch with the people. The plebians may be mercurial in their loyalties, but they are hardly insensitive or stupid; they are certainly not the blocks and stones and worse than senseless things Marullus says they are. They are witty and full of life. Notice how the cobbler delights in punning and playing with language [I. i. 2 Iff.]. The Tribunes, however, fail to understand the temper of contemporary events and want to "disrobe the images" [I. i. 64] that have been decorated for this day of Caesar's celebrations without sympathy for their significance In the popular Feast of Lupercal. (pp. 6-7)

The second scene gives us Caesar, over whose nature and position the controversy turns. Though the episode in which he first appears is brief, we have an early impression of his authoritative manner. He is one of those rare men who command whatever group they appear in: Wherever this man sits is the "head of the table." "Charisma," that rather silly fashionable word, is much too small for what Caesar has. Everyone accedes to his wishes, whether they want to or not, so much authority has he in his manner. Nearly every line he speaks has a command in it. In this and other scenes, as we will see, he seems aware of this remarkable magnetism and in a sense stands aside from it, observing himself. He seems as fascinated by his power over others as we are.

But in these first lines, we are only given a hint of what we will see later; in Act I the emphasis is not on Caesar's personality. If he were given more lines, he would so overbalance the play that we would neglect to follow the fortunes of Cassius, Brutus, and the others, and the play as Shakespeare has conceived it is not so much about Caesar as it is about the reactions of those persons to his magnificence.

After only twenty-five lines, the scene directs our attention to Cassius, as he persuades Brutus to join in a rebellion against Julius Caesar [I. ii. 25ff.]. We will see as the play proceeds that Cassius, though an intellectual, is a passionate man, a man of feeling. He is filled from top to toe with envy; and from this envy, rebellion grows. Caesar's magnificence diminishes him (see I. ii. 116-17; 135-8; 209-10). As second in command to Brutus, Cassius can be large, for Brutus is not a demi-god, not a superman, not larger than life. As second or third to Caesar, Cassius would disappear and Caesar, of course, does not even give him this chance. Cassius rationalizes his envy by merging it into what he takes to be a passion for republican freedom, but we fear that he is as much concerned with his own place as with the public good. Personal goals and public values are combined inextricably in his mind.

Cassius does have very considerable gifts, and we can admire them. A great observer, "he looks quite through the deeds of men" [I. ii. 202-03] and senses the emotions of persons he talks to. He easily matches his words to their feelings. Watching Brutus, he perceives Brutus's innermost thoughts, and his long speeches of persuasion follow the movements of Brutus's mind, playing first on Brutus's pride in himself and then on what he asserts is Caesar's dangerous ambition. Cassius is genuinely fond of Brutus. Indeed, his ability to love is the other side of his envy; an emotional man, he loves as readily as he hates. His is a restless, not a passive, nature (see I. ii. 139-41). He loves no plays, as Caesar says of him; and he listens to no music. His mind is too active, too full of observations and schemes to be diverted by gaming and play-acting [I. ii. 192-214].

For all his imaginative perception, Cassius allows envy to warp his judgments. He complains that Caesar is not the athlete that he himself is, that Caesar is aging, that his body is less vigorous than it once was. His observations are correct. Caesar speaks of his own deafness [I. ii. 213], and we learn later that he is given to "the falling sickness" [I. ii. 254]; but Cassius should know that it is the spirit of Caesar that rules, not his arm; that leaders may be crippled (like Roosevelt) or small (like Napoleon) or physically weak (like Joan of Arc) and still be strong.

Cassius's judgments of other persons are fairer. He has a fundamental contempt for Casca, but he sees the danger in Casca's malice. Casca is "sour" as the pes are "sour" in Aesop's fable. Notice how Casca begins each reply to Brutus with a disparaging "Why." Cassius's judgment of Brutus is not warped either. He knows that Brutus is large-minded; he also knows that he and Brutus are not made of the same stuff [I. ii. 308-15]. The difference neither intimidates him nor puts him off, for Cassius knows how to deal with people. He turns Casca's superstitious fear of the night storm to his own purposes, even while he rationally remains unmoved. As he spoke of honor, to the honorable Brutus, he speaks of violence to the violent Casca [I. iii. 89-115], and he does not waste his rhetoric on Cinna, who has already been won to the conspiracy. Coolly, he simply directs Cinna to manipulate the vain Brutus [I. iii. 142-47]. Cassius is clearly the ringleader of the faction.

Act I is dominated by Cassius, and by the end we are confident that he will win Brutus over, he is so clever, so determined, so affectionate, and so clear-eyed. He knows what he is doing, and Caesar has reason to be afraid of him. He is a man to have on your team. He is too perceptive, by half, to be left with an enemy, unchecked. But Cassius is also one of those thinkers who prefer people to ideas. The proposed rebellion against Caesar is not ideological for him. It is personal. He rejects the authority of Julius Caesar, but he only incidentally defends republicanism.

The first act of this play is Cassius's. The second belongs to Brutus, and he dominates all its scenes, even those in which he does not appear. The act begins with what amounts to an eighty-five line soliloquy in which Brutus speaks of the decision he has made to kill Caesar [II. i. 10ff.]. The soliloquy is dramatically interrupted four times by the serving boy, Lucius, who briefly turns Brutus's attention to the everyday world. Three of these interruptions are not necessary to the action of the play but serve to intensify our sense of Brutus's purpose. The cumulative strength of this soliloquy is such that Brutus does not need to speak to us directly ever again.

In the first act, we have seen that Brutus's central emotion is a consistent concern for his "honor," an honor that is his by right of both birth and attainment. He is an aristocrat, and this fact is the key to his conduct and his temper. Because he is descended from the founders of the Roman Republic, he holds himself to the highest standards on its defense (II. i. 53ff., for example). He cannot be bought, for he feels himself judged by his ancestors. His personal affection for Julius Caesar and his private relationship to his wife must submit to the high ideals he has had set for him by his forebears. Kind to his servants, he is filled with noblesse oblige [obligations of rank]. Patronizing of his peers insofar as he recognizes any peers—Cassius, his only confidant, does not appear to be a member of the aristocratic party by virtue of ancient birth—he is confident of his judgment as young men brought up in privileged circles are confident of themselves. When Cassius, Decius, and others fear to leave Antony alive, Brutus overrules them without hesitation, [II. i. 155-70]. But Brutus is not young, and by this time he should have learned to respect the judgments of men of the world. Instead, he is ignorant of general human nature, so secluded by his class has he been from the general run of men. He assumes naively that all the conspirators are as disinterested as he is [II. i. 118-40]; and it never occurs to him that the populace might judge his actions as less noble than he claims them to be. He thinks (like Macbeth) that he can commit murder without becoming a murderer and that an assassination is a state ritual, because he says it is [II. i. 166-80].

Right here the trouble lies: Brutus is so high-minded that his vision is distorted. He is not very bright; and worse, by far, he does not know it. He is the only figure in the play whom we see in the agony of decision (II. i. 61-9; 78-85, for example), and we therefore know him considerably better than we know the others. We know him better than he knows himself. He doesn't explore issues but passes hastily over first principles, though he prides himself on his philosophical nature. "A fastidious contempt of the shameful means necessary to achieve his ends is the constant mark of the political idealist," one shrewd critic, John Palmer, has noted. When Brutus finds that he must choose between loyalty to his friend, whom he loves, and loyalty to his country, which he venerates, we see that his patriotic ideals are more important to him than people. Dostoevsky observes that men of philosophic mind are necessarily cruel, and this seems true of Brutus.

Fancying himself a philosopher, Brutus deals in abstract values in a political situation that calls for the practicality of a precinct politician. Brutus is the kind of "idealist" who wants to shape public events rather than that kind of practical man who makes the most of a situation, accepting the "given" and building on that. He is insufficiently humble before facts, before events, before political reality. One might say, rather paradoxically, that he is an intellectual—one who deals in concepts and ideas—who is not very intelligent. Brutus knows, as all the conspirators know, that without him the rebellion against Julius Caesar will fail. One might say that Brutus "legitimatizes" the operation (see I. iii. 158-60), for everybody knows that his hands are clean. But clean hands are only one requirement of statesmanship, and perhaps not the most important. A little touch of humanity might help, but we see in the scene with his wife that even in his bedroom he is a public figure [II. i. 234-309]. He never forgets that he is a Roman, with Roman duties.

Portia is his counterpart, the very model of one kind of Roman matron. Notice how she repeatedly speaks to Brutus in the third person [II. i. 258; 261; 263; 287]. But like Brutus she is a republican aristocrat, making herself morally tall by standing on tiptoe. Perhaps she is playing over her head; her wounding of herself to prove her constancy [II. i. 299-301] and her shocking death suggest that her moral grandeur has more than a touch of neuroticism in it. In her scene with Lucius and the soothsayer [II. iv] she lacks the self-control that Stoics like Brutus and Cato admire [A Stoic is a member of the school of philosophy founded by the Greek thinker Zeno about 300 B.C. This discipline holds that wise men should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law]. In her relationship with Brutus, we see that both have a greater sense of duty than of love; both of them aspire to live by principle.

Caesar, whom we next see in II. ii, is not less an aristocrat than Brutus, but for Caesar, being an aristocrat is not an important fact. He and Calpurnia do not act like aristocrats. Calpurnia "never stood on ceremonies" [II. ii. 13] or strove to be high-minded. She is the wife of a successful politician, superstitious and ordinary. Caesar, like Brutus, has considerable vanity—he refers to himself in the third-person even when talking to his wife!—but he has all the confidence necessary to the truly great. He does seem to be infected with what has come to be called Caesarism, that passion for unlimited power, and like Brutus, he can be manipulated by lesser men. Decius knows how to touch his vanity, although it is not flattery that changes Caesar's mind about going to the Forum. It's ambition [II. ii. 92-105]. His eagerness for power overcomes his respect for his wife's premonitions. But for all his awareness of his high place, Caesar the politician, unlike Brutus the philosopher, never forgets that he deals with men who respond to hospitality and who cherish their own pride of place. Caesar speaks by name to each person who comes to him, and he offers them wine.

Brutus wins our reluctant admiration because of his fidelity to his ideals, his sincerity; but Caesar fascinates us by his complex response to fact. Just as Act I belongs to Cassius only because Caesar is kept in the wings, so Act II belongs to Brutus only because Caesar is kept off center stage.

The climax of Julius Caesar is reached with the assassination in the Forum [III. i. 77]. All the action has been leading to this event, and the first part of Act III increases the rising suspense.

In what transpires before the killing, we learn nothing new about the conspirators or of Caesar himself. All act well within their established natures. Caesar shows not only that he is a kind of superman but that he knows it. He plays a part. "In his two short speeches in the Capitol [III. i. 35-48; 58-73]," Ernest Schanzer has written, "Shakespeare gives us a compendium of Caesar's most unamicable qualities: the cold, glittering hardness, the supreme arrogance, and again the dissociation of himself from the rest of mankind." Brutus's continued self-deception is also exhibited. His political naivete shows itself in his lack of planning for what is to happen after the ceremonial blood bath. "Let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood," he says [II. i. 106]. He seems to feel, as many revolutionists feel, that once the power they identify as evil is removed, good will automatically rise; though a philosopher, Brutus has not thought through the political problem that will face Rome once its leader is removed. Cassius exhibits his continuing emotional and personal dependence on Brutus, but he also shows his understanding of individuals and crowds in urging that Antony not be given the pulpit from which to preach a funeral sermon [III. i. 227-43]. Cassius, like Antony, as we will see, is an enthusiast, one who feels his way to conclusions as often as he thinks his way to them; and he understands Antony's fidelity to Caesar. He has a similar fidelity to Brutus.

The act belongs, however, not to Brutus, Cassius, or even to Caesar, it is Antony who seizes the initiative from the conspirators and determines the future. The conspirators may have set the stage for a new order of things, but it is Antony who acts on it, instinctively and quickly. Hardly is Caesar dead than, without time to plan, he seizes title opportunity that comes to him. Sending a servant to announce his arrival [III. i. 123-37], he quickly appears himself [III. i. 147]. His leader being gone, he has pulled himself together (as we might say) and in his celebrated address to "Friends, Romans, countrymen" [III. ii. 73ff.] instigates civil war in Rome, presumably as vengeance for the assassination. The rhetorical fervor of his address is in marvelous contrast to the rational remarks by Brutus a moment before [III. ii. 12ff.]. Antony plays on the prejudices of his Roman audience like an organist at his console. He is one of that frightening kind of rabble-rouser who is moved by his own words, taken in by his own half-truths. As Granville-Barker says, "Antony ... is more than an actor; for one thing he writes his own part as he goes along. But he gathers the ideas for it as he goes too, with no greater care for their worth than the actors need have so long as they are effective at the moment."

When his speech is finished, Antony is half drunk with the delight of the occasion. He exults [III. ii. 266-67]. The fact that the plebians can be so quickly taken in suggests that the days of Republican individualism are already past, that Caesar or someone like him is necessary to keep Roman order. Certainly after Antony's address all chaos breaks loose, and murder and rampage fill the streets. The plebians who in Act I seemed so witty, so lively, have now become Nazi bully-boys, urged on by Antony (see III. ill). It is significant that Antony does not set out to seize the power of the state exclusively for himself but that he automatically looks for an alliance with Octavius [III. i. 287-97; IV. i]. Younger, less experienced in peace and battle both, on the face of it Octavius should offer Antony little competition for Caesar's position, but Antony, rather like Cassius, is a perpetual number-two man. In the end he is incapable of bearing full authority on his own. In his dealings with Lepidus and the young, cool Octavius [IV. i], Antony talks the most, but Octavius has the veto. Had he observed this conference, Cassius would have seen this in a minute—but then though similar in passion to Antony, Cassius is brighter. "He reads much, / He is a great observer" [I. ii. 201-02]. Antony reaches the peak of his achievement in the Forum immediately after the assassination. Never again does he come so close to final power. His moment of ultimate glory is brief.

The principal scene of Act IV contains a bitter quarrel between Brutus and Cassius. In the previous two scenes, the one with the plebians attacking Cinna the poet [III. iii] and the other with the counter-conspiracy of Lepidus, Octavius, and Antony [IV. i], we have seen what happens when the linchpin of an axle-tree is drawn. Communities become mobs and generals become bandits. In this complementary scene [IV. ii] and the next one [IV. iii] we see what happens to the political idealist and his colleague when central authority has been dissolved. The memory of Caesar and then (a bit later) his ghost preside throughout. In this act we are not allowed to forget Julius Caesar.

The quarrel tells us of Rome and the two conspirators. We see [IV. ii] that they have fallen out even before Cassius and Brutus retire to Brutus's tent. Cassius does not deal "with such free and friendly conference / As he hath used of old" [IV. ii. 17-18], and Brutus has to quiet him: "Speak your grief softly" [IV. ii. 41], he says. Cassius in anger protests that his orders have been countermanded by Brutus, whose authority he says is no greater than his own. With the power of Rome dispersed, this raises a central question: Where does authority lie? Brutus feels that his financial needs have not been met, that Cassius has failed his contractual obligations. Too fine to soil his own hands at collecting revenue from reluctant peasants, Brutus still requires gold from Cassius. Both men act within their natures as we have come to know them, yet we perceive that the stated cause of their anger and the real cause of it are different.

Cassius suffers from a bone fatigue; he is "aweary of the world" [IV. iii. 95] because he can see no possibility of real success. The conspiracy has failed both to bring him unqualified place and to bring freedom to Rome. In his emotional way, he compensates for his disappointment by turning to Brutus for love [IV. iii. 85-7]. If Rome is not his, at least Brutus may be: "I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart" [IV. iii. 104], he says. He is almost childish in his appeal for sympathy, almost uxorious in his dependence.

Brutus is no less frustrated. All his hopes for Republican Rome have come to nothing, and the conspiracy that was to return the state to individual responsibility and to insure it peace and harmony has delivered it, rather, into civil war. We know that without Brutus the conspiracy might have succeeded. Without him Antony as well as Caesar would have been assassinated in the Forum, and more knowing generals than Brutus would have conducted the battles against Octavius. It is ironical that the conspirators needed Brutus and that he is also the cause of their failure. Brutus's dream-revolution has collapsed. But there is more than this. Brutus suffers from a troubled spirit. He has killed his dearest friend and is attacked by what G. Wilson Knight calls "his own trammelling and hindering conscience." Brutus does not confront all this, of course; his aristocratic pride combined with his philosophical obtuseness refuse to allow him to see his actions objectively, let alone his spiritual state accurately. Having chosen his way, he will brave it out, stoically holding to his solitary course, giving way to no remorse or grief, though his wife kills herself in sorrow and in loneliness. Even when Caesar's ghost appears to tell him of impending disaster at Philippi, he clings to his masculine dignity. By the end of the act, Brutus is overwrought beyond endurance: and yet he endures: and however mistaken his individual choices turn out to have been, we come to admire his Roman tenacity. He is as fatigued as Cassius ("If I do live ..." [IV. iii. 265], he says), and like Cassius half longs for an end to the course he must run. But where Cassius gives way, Brutus resists, and his opponent is Caesar. Long before the ghost of Caesar appears on stage, Caesar's spirit has brooded over these proceedings. Caesar is inescapable. His shadow lies across this act as it lies across the Mediterranean world.

Act V is dominated by Octavius, however brief his lines may be. Antony shows himself the enthusiast we have seen before, and Octavius overrules him. "I do not cross you," Octavius says to him, "but I will do so" [V. i. 20]. In the subsequent exchange with Cassius and Brutus, before the approaching battle, Octavius is confident. But even when Octavius is not on stage, he dominates the action. Cassius and Brutus say farewell to each other with a kind of half yearning that the end may quickly come. As in the previous act, Cassius solicits Brutus's love, leaning on it as on a value that no battle can take from him. Perhaps he is even sentimental. Brutus returns his love, insofar as he is capable of considering any person other than himself; and he assures us that his honor will not allow him to be led in Octavius's triumphant procession through the streets of Rome. Cassius thinks of human relationships whereas Brutus thinks of public responsibility; and both are dominated by their awareness of Octavius.

In the next scene Cassius kills himself, thinking his forces defeated because "Brutus gave the word too early" [V. iii. 5]. "My life is run its compass" [V. ill. 25], he says. But it is Octavius who determines Cassius's ultimate fate, though he remains in another part of the battlefield, off stage. When Brutus discovers Cassius dead, like Macbeth whose wife also kills herself, Brutus can only promise that there will be time in another place for thought of him [V. iii. 103]. Octavius's forces command his energies.

If the spirit of Julius Caesar "walks abroad and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails" [V. iii. 95], as Brutus tells us, it is in part to bequeath Octavius Caesar his legacy. Cassius has died impetuously, before his necessary time; Brutus now dies deliberately, unable to see that he has been used, that his life has been a failure because he has been the instrument of other men's aspirations. With nearly his last words, "I found no man but he was true to me" [V. v. 35], he shows that he is unable to understand that all who knew him have used him, the conspirators for their devious political ends, Antony for his. Even in his death Brutus lacks self-knowledge; and though he says that he will have more glory in losing than Octavius and Mark Antony in conquering [V. v. 36ff.], we are not so sure. Indeed we may wonder if there is glory for any of them, in this confused world of politics. Brutus may have been "the noblest Roman of them all" [V. v. 68], because he strove to be disinterested; but he hardly possessed the spirit that calls up the awe due heroic figures—Hamlet, say, Othello, the magnificent Lear. "This was a man!" [V. v. 75]—but he was only a man. Octavius can safely lay his bones ceremonially on the battlefield of Philippi; for Brutus's ghost unlike Caesar's will not walk. His spirit has been exhausted in life. The story of Brutus ends with the end of the play, whereas the story of Julius Caesar continues into the life of Rome. Even if we knew no Roman history, we would know that the last scene of the play is not the last Roman scene. Octavius, Caesar's heir, commands the future as he has dominated this act. (pp. 7-17)

Robert E. Knoll, "The Organization of the Play," in The Shakespeare Plays: A Study Guide, The University of California, 1978, pp. 4-19.

Roman Politics

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10751

Alice Shalvi [Shalvi seeks to determine whether Shakespeare condemns or condones Caesar's assassination. The critic argues that while Shakespeare makes it evident that Brutus's fears of Caesar's tyranny are justified, he nonetheless presents the murder as an immoral act that must be avenged. In Shalvi's opinion, Brutus's sole motive for participating in the plot against Caesar is to safeguard the liberty of the Roman citizens; ironically, however, it is this noble purpose that causes his political ineptitude and contributes to the failure of the conspiracy. Despite the play's insistence on the idea that "blood will have blood," the critic argues, Julius Caesar is more than a revenge tragedy, for it dramatizes the effect of Caesar's assassination not just on the murderers, but also on the Roman populace, who, in another example of irony, will suffer greater injustice under the rule of Octavius and Antony than under Caesar. Although Julius Caesar ends tragically, Shalvi concludes, it affirms humankind's essential goodness by showing how Brutus and Cassius are ennobled through suffering and eventually become aware of the relation between their acts and their destinies.]

The mature comedies which Shakespeare wrote at the turn of the century posited an ideal of nobility, goodness, generosity and moderation—an ideal, based both on chivalry and on Christian-Humanist teaching, which was the guide of the Elizabethan gentleman in his every action. The earliest of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, Julius Caesar and Hamlet, both present a similar ideal in the characters of their heroes, but they serve to illustrate what happens to the noble man when he is placed in a situation which tests his nobility to the uttermost and they show the tragic limitations of nobility when it is confronted by really evil forces such as did not exist in the golden landscapes of Arden [in As You Like It] and Illyria [in Twelfth Night].

Despite the title of the play, it is Brutus who is the tragic hero of Julius Caesar; it is his fate which is the central concern of the play. Brutus's prime characteristic is his honour. Descended of valiant ancestors who 'did from the streets of Rome / The Tarquin drive when he was called a king' [II. i. 53-4], derived from that Brutus who 'would have brooked / The eternal Devil to keep his state in Rome / As easily as a king' [I. ii. 159-61], Marcus Brutus fears the threat to Rome's liberty which is implied in Caesar's desire for kingship and autocratic rule. Unlike Cassius, whose prime motivation is clearly a personal envy of Caesar, Brutus is wholly unselfish in his devotion to the welfare of the Roman Republic and prepared to face even death if this is required for his country's good. 'What is it that you would impart to me?' [I. ii. 84] he asks Cassius, when the latter first broaches the subject of Caesar's ambition:

If it be aught toward the general good, Set honour in one eye and death i' the other, And I will look on both indifferently, For let the gods so speed me as I love The name of honour more than I fear death. [I. ii. 85-91

Brutus is the only one of the conspirators who is portrayed as inwardly debating the justification for commiting the 'dreadful thing' which Cassius proposes, and once again Shakespeare stresses that it is no personal animosity towards Caesar that motivates Brutus, but only a regard for the 'general good'. The ultimate factor in persuading Brutus to join the conspiracy is his belief that his countrymen wish him to act on their behalf, a belief based on the letters cast in at his window or conspicuously left for him in public places. These letters we, however, know to come from the wily Cassius, who realises that there is no other way to win over an honourable man to commit an act of violence and evil than by making him believe the act to be honourable. The conspirators need Brutus precisely because he is known to be honourable and will therefore lend colour to their conspiracy when the time comes to justify their action to the people of Rome. As Casca says:

... he sits high in all the people's hearts: And that which would appear offence in us. His countenance, like richest alchemy, Will change to virtue and to worthiness. [I. iii. 157-60J

So we are shown how the man of virtue, with none but the best of motives, may become the tool of men less noble than himself. Cassius himself draws the correct conclusion:

Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet, I see, Thy honourable metal may be wrought From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes; For who so firm that cannot be seduced? [I. ii. 308-12J

Yet, ironically, it is Brutus's nobility which in fact unfits him for the conspiracy and brings about the reversal of his noble aims. Inevitably, because of his greatness, Brutus becomes the leader of the conspirators and his essential goodness and moderation overrule the subtler perceptions of the wily Cassius. He refuses to permit Antony to be killed together with Caesar and, despite Cassius's arguments to the contrary, he permits Antony to make the funeral-oration over Caesar's body which rouses the populace against the conspirators. Secure in the knowledge that he has acted in all sincerity and for the good of his country, Brutus fails to take into account both Antony's Machiavellian wiles (which the equally Machiavellian Cassius does suspect) and the fickleness of the masses, who are like 'blocks and stones and worse than senseless things' [I. i. 35; Machiavellianism represents the view that politics is amoral and that any means, however unscrupulous, can justifiably be used in achieving political power]. He makes the tactical errors of allowing Antony to have the last word, of leaving him alone with the crowd and of letting him produce the dead body of Caesar. The great difference between Brutus and Antony is excellently conveyed by the contrast between the monotonous rhythms of Brutus's prose and the impassioned, oratorical art of Antony, who skilfully uses the device of repetition with the recurrent phrase, 'honourable men'. There is no doubt which of them better understands the mentality of Rome's masses. It is Brutus's political ineptitude after the assassination and his military ineptitude in insisting on meeting the enemy at Philippi that bring about his own downfall and that of Cassius, and the ineptitude stems primarily from essential innocence, naivete and goodness. As in the case of Henry VI, Shakespeare here stresses that goodness is not sufficient qualification for the dirty business of politics, indeed that it virtually disables a man from fulfilling the tasks of leadership.

But it is not alone Brutus's ineptitude that brings about the reversal of the conspirators' hopes and plans. The real cause of the defeat of Brutus lies in the fact that the murder of Caesar is an act of evil, an act of horror, that has to be expiated. Politically, the overthrow of Caesar may be necessary for the welfare of Rome. This is brought out by the way in which Caesar is portrayed. He is a great warrior, who, in the past, has done good service for his country but he returns to Rome now having triumphed over no alien power but over Pompey, the great Roman general. Caesar is vain and conceited. Infirm in body, deaf in one ear and subject to epileptic fits, fearful of attack from men such as Cassius who 'think too much' [I. ii, 195], Caesar nevertheless believes himself 'immortal' and aspires to be king of Rome. He grows angry when the crowd cheer his repeated rejection of the coronet offered him by Mark Antony instead of urging him to accept it. The people's tribunes are put to death for 'pulling scarves off Caesar's images' [I. ii. 285-86] and, when Calpurnia's prophetic dreams and the augurers' warnings dissuade him from venturing forth on the Ides of March, Caesar camouflages his fears with an imperious message to the senators, whom he contemptuously dismisses as 'greybeards':

Decius, go tell them Caesar will not come ... The cause is in my will: I will not come; That is enough to satisfy the senate. [II. ii. 68, 71-2]

Like most conceited men, Caesar is susceptible to flattery and yet prides himself on being immune to it. As Decius says: 'When I tell him he hates flatterers, / He says he does, being then most flattered' [II. i. 207-08]. It is by appealing to Caesar's vanity and ambition that Decius persuades him to reject the counsels of Calpurnia and the soothsayers, for he tells Caesar that this is the day on which the senators mean to offer him the crown and that they may well change their minds if he fails to appear. Arrived at the Senate, Caesar further reveals his weaknesses of character. Once again he prides himself on immunity to flattery as he rejects the supplications of Metellus Cimber:

... Be not fond. To think that Caesar bears such rebel blood That will be thaw'd from the true quality With that which melteth fools; I mean, sweet words, Low-crooked court'sies and base spaniel-fawning. Thy brother by decree is banished: If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him, I spurn thee like a cur out of my way. Know, Caesar doth not wrong, nor without cause Will he be satisfied. [II. i. 39-48]

As supplicant after supplicant kneels before him to urge the repeal of Publius Cimber's banishment, Caesar remains firm in his sentence, and speaks of himself in terms which indicate clearly that he thinks of himself as a demi-god:

... I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament. The skies are painted with unnumber'd sparks, They are all fire and every one doth shine, But there's but one in all doth hold his place: So in the world; 'tis furnish'd well with men, And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive; Yet in the number I do know but one That unassailable holds on his rank, Unshaked of motion: and that I am he. [in. i. 60-701]

How ironic these assertions of steadfastness are in the light of the previous scene in which we saw him vacillating between the conflicting advice of Calpurnia and Decius. What Caesar is being so adamant about is in refusing pardon and mercy, the truly god-like qualities in man. It is the moment of his downfall: his unyielding pride and vanity lead to his death.

Thus Shakespeare makes it clear that Brutus's fears are justified. It is apparent that Caesar in power would bring servitude to Rome, and, if the only way to prevent Caesar from attaining power is by murdering him, the murder is presumably justified. Nevertheless, the murder is never wholly condoned by Shakespeare. Brutus speaks of it beforehand as a 'dreadful thing' [II. i. 63] and it is important to note his uncertainty as to Caesar's tyranny; the outcome of crowning Caesar is left deliberately uncertain: 'So Caesar may: I Then lest he may, prevent' [II. i. 27-8]. The murder itself is shown onstage in its full brutality and violence, with the out-numbered Caesar helplessly overwhelmed by his enemies, and almost immediately after the murder our feelings are swayed in favour of Caesar by Antony's genuine mourning and the terms of praise in which he refers to the dead man: 'Thou art the ruins of the noblest man / That ever lived in the tide of times' [III. i. 256-57]. Brutus's treachery in participating in the murder is particularly stressed, since it is his presence among the assassins which so appals Caesar as to make him cry out the famous 'Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!' [III. i. 77]. And after the murder we have the strange appeal of Brutus to his colleagues to stoop and bathe their hands in Caesar's blood and then proceed with their blood-besmeared swords to cry 'Peace, freedom and liberty' [III. i. 110] in the market-place. This serves as an ironic counter to his earlier remonstrances:

Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds: And let our hearts, as subtle masters do. Stir up their servants to an act of rage, And after seem to chide 'em ... [II. i. 172-77]

Indeed, the corruption in Brutus has, inevitably, set in earlier, since it was essential for him, together with the other conspirators, to pretend a friendliness towards Caesar which none of them really felt. Brutus is aware of this terrible hypocrisy, for his reaction on seeing the masked conspirators arriving at his house in the night is:

... O conspiracy, Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night, When evils are most free? O, then by day Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy; Hide it in smiles and affability: For if thou path, thy native semblance on, Not Erebus itself were dim enough To hide thee from prevention. [II. i. 77-85]

Yet he himself later bids them

... look fresh and merrily; Let not our looks put on our purposes, But bear it as our Roman actors do, With untired spirits and formal constancy. [II. i. 224-27]

Shakespeare implicitly condemns the conspiracy, then, on two scores: firstly, because it inevitably involves moral corruption even in the best and noblest of men and, secondly, because murder is always, no matter in what circumstances or however it may be justified, bloody and cruel. 'Blood' is the word that echoes and re-echoes throughout the scenes which follow the assassination—and blood will have blood. Murder must be avenged and Caesar does indeed achieve vengeance. Though his ghost appears physically only once, in visitation upon Brutus before the battle of Philippi, Caesar's presence broods over the action after his murder just as much, if not more, than it did during his lifetime. 'He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus' [I. ii. 135-36] and his influence does not end with his death. Antony, at the close of Act III, sc. i, utters a terrible prophecy which ends with what is, in effect, an invocation of Caesar's ghost:

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, To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue— A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; Domestic fury and fierce civil strife Shall cumber all the parts of Italy; Blood and destruction shall be so in use And dreadful objects so familiar That mothers shall but smile when they behold Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war; All pity choked with custom of fell deeds: And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, With Ate by his side come hot from hell, Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war; That this foul deed shall smell above the earth With carrion men, groaning for burial. [ni. i. 258-75]

The prophecy is most horribly fulfilled and Caesar has his revenge on the men who murdered him.

The revenge takes various forms. Firstly, we learn of Brutus and Cassius's desperate flight from the vengeful mob, a flight from the very city they had sought to free from tyranny and for which Brutus, at least, had been prepared to lay down his life. Then we see the dissension which develops between these two men, leading to insult, accusation and open quarrel in IV, iii. We may note the way in which the assassination is referred to here, when Brutus warns Cassius of the consequences of corruption:

Remember March, the ides of March remember: Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake? What villain touch'd his body, that did stab, And not for justice? ... [IV. iii. 18-21]

There is irony here in the fact that Brutus still believes that the murder was commited for wholly noble ends and has still not seen through the essentially corrupt and self-centred motives of the other conspirators.

Later in the same scene we learn of the death of Portia, Brutus's wife, and this, too, is indirectly the outcome of the assassination, for, Brutus says,

Impatient of my absence, And grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony Have made themselves so strong: ... with this she fell distract, And, her attendants absent, swallow'd fire. [IV. iii. 152-56]

The ghost of Caesar calls himself Brutus's 'evil spirit' [IV. iii. 282]; he is unseen by any of the other people present and may, like the ghost of Banquo [in Macbeth], be interpreted as an emanation of the murderer's guilty conscience. He warns Brutus that he will see him at Philippi and although the ghost never reappears it is indeed the assassination which is once again the central theme referred to by the leaders on both sides during the parley that precedes the battle. Octavius warns his opponents that the battle will not end 'till Caesar's three and thirty wounds /Be well avenged; or till another Caesar / Have added slaughter to the sword of traitors' [V. i. 53-5]. The two sides join battle, Cassius's tents are set on fire and he sends his good friend Titinius to ascertain whether the nearby troops are friends or enemies. By a tragic error, he is deceived into believing them enemies, into believing himself responsible for his friend's death and into thinking capture irnminent. He takes the truly noble way out: he kills himself—with the same sword as he had used in killing Caesar. His last words are significant: 'Caesar, thou art revenged, Even with the sword that killed thee'[V.ii. 44-5] ... And equally significant is [Brutus's] comment on Cassius's death: 'O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! / Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails' [V. iii. 94-6]. The same point is made again at the close of the play, when Brutus's dying words as he kills himself are 'Caesar, now be still, / I killed not thee with half so good a will' [IV. v. 50-1]. With the death of Brutus the crime is finally expiated and Caesar's ghost may rest at ease. Vengeance has been achieved.

But to show that blood will have blood and that murder will be avenged is not Shakespeare's main purpose in this play. It is not simply a revenge tragedy in the Senecan tradition so popular in Elizabethan England [Seneca, a Roman statesman, author, and philosopher of the first century A. D., is famous for nine melodramas which had a great influence on tragic drama in Elizabethan England]. The consequences of the murder of Caesar are not confined to his murderers, for perhaps the most tragic result of the assassination lies in Brutus's failure to achieve by this act of violence the original, noble goal for which he had committed the crime. He had, as we have seen, one sole justification for killing his friend: Caesar's death was demanded by the 'common good', the general welfare and prosperity and freedom of the Roman people and the Roman Republic. What we are shown is that an act may lead to the very reverse of what the committer of the act intended and bring about precisely what it aimed at preventing. The immediate result of the assassination is Mark Antony's successful oratorical exploitation of the assassination and the hacked body to arouse the ignorant, fickle Roman mob against the conspirators. Antony cares nothing for the 'common good'. He seeks vengeance for his friend's death and power for himself. This is clear from the coldly callous comment as the mob goes off in fury: 'Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt' [III. iii. 260-61]. The course it takes is the most terrible one of irrational, blood-thirsty violence. In the very next scene we witness the lynching of Cinna the poet, torn to pieces despite his desperate avowals that he is not Cinna the conspirator: 'Tear him to pieces for his bad verses ... Pluck but his name out of his heart, and turn him going ... Tear him, tear him' [III. iii. 30, 33-5]. This wild, unrestrained, blood-thirsty mob-rule finds an icy counter-point in Act IV, sc. i, the scene that immediately follows it. What has been the outcome for Roman government of Caesar's assassination? Who is in power now? Three dictators instead of one. The opening words of the first scene in which we witness the new triumvirate at work are ominous: 'These many then shall die, their names are prick'd' [IV. i. 1]. The cold-bloodedness is stressed by the equanimity with which Lepidus and Antony barter a brother's death for that of a nephew:

ANTONY: These many, then, shall die; their names are prick'd.OCTAVIUS: Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?LEPIDUS: I do consent,—OCTAVIUS: Prick him down, Antony.LEPIDUS: Upon condition Publius shall not live. Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony.ANTONY: He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him. [IV. i. 1-6]

And Antony's cold, calculating hypocrisy is proved by the contempt with which he speaks of 'old Lepidus' and plots to get rid of him once Lepidus has served his own and Octavius's purpose.

It is to this, then, that Brutus's act of salvation has brought Rome and it is now that we can appreciate the full irony of that cry of 'Liberty, Freedom and Justice' [cf. III. i. 81] which succeeded the assassination. The country is divided in civil war, its government in the hands of men as ruthless as Caesar and probably far less honest and valiant than he was—men who, in injustice, will not fall short of what Caesar would have been even had he become king. Brutus's aims are, therefore, tragically reversed; it is for this that he has betrayed friendship and committed a crime.

Nevertheless, despite the tragic reversal of Brutus's aims and the vision of Rome governed by ruthlessly cruel men, the play concludes with the affirmation of the dignity of man and the worthwhileness of human life and this re-affirmation is to be found in the essential nobility of Brutus, which is re-asserted and confirmed in the final scenes of the play that show his suffering and defeat. Similarly, Cassius is now displayed as possessing a nobility of character which had not been revealed earlier in the play. Both men accept their fate with truly noble Roman stoicism [A stoic is a member of the school of philosophy founded by the Greek thinker Zeno about 300 B. C. This discipline holds that wise men should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law]. 'No man bears sorrow better' we are told of Brutus's response to Portia's death [IV. iii. 147], and the same noble acceptance of fate is typical of him and of Cassius before and during the final battle at Philippi.

Acceptance of fate's decrees does not, however, mean passivity and inaction on the part of the individual. Brutus is no Romeo, bemoaning the way in which Fate overrules his plans and hopes. The key words in this play, spoken by Brutus and indicating what is now Shakespeare's view of the respective roles of Destiny and Free Will, are:

There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat; And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures. [IV. iii. 218-24]

This is an echo of Cassius's earlier words: 'The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves that we are underlings' [I. ii. 140-41]. Our destiny lies in ourselves, is dependent on the way we seize the opportunities given to us by chance or fate or destiny or whatever name we choose to give to the superior force which exists in the universe.

Thus both Brutus and Cassius, enlightened as to the cause of their downfall, aware of their guilt in murdering Caesar, take the painful, courageous way of suicide rather than allowing themselves to be led as captives through the streets of Rome. As in the case of Richard II, we feel the truth of Brutus's dying assertion:

I shall have glory by this losing day More than Octavius and Mark Antony By this vile conquest shall attain unto. [V. v. 36-8]

The important thing here, as in all tragedy, is not physical triumph and survival, but self-conquest, the exorcism of all that is weak, ignoble and vilely human in the hero's nature, so that he goes to his death purified and spiritually triumphant over the forces that oppose him.

Courage and endurance are the two important qualities which Brutus proves himself to possess. His plans may have gone tragically awry and, what is more, the very act which he committed may have been shown by Shakespeare to have been evil. Nevertheless his crime is counter-balanced by the magnificent way in which he expiates it, by the suffering which it causes him. This suffering ennobles Brutus, it ennobles his fellow-conspirator, Cassius, its spectacle ennobles the audience and, most significantly, it impresses his enemies. It is Mark Antony who delivers the valedictory oration and correctly describes Brutus as 'the noblest Roman of them all' [V. v. 68]. Antony is aware that:

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!' [V. v. 69-75]

This is a fitting summary of the way in which Brutus has been portrayed throughout the play: a truly gentle, noble, man, kind to his servants, loving to his wife, slow to anger and speedily pacified, honest and generous. He makes one tragic error: he believes a crime to be justified when the aim is a noble one. This is fiercely negated by Shakespeare who here, as in the history-plays, shows that nothing justifies murder. But Shakespeare presents no satisfactory alternative solution to the problem of the just, honourable man living in a time of vice and corruption, other than to imply that if one engages in political combat one must be utterly ruthless and discard all thoughts of mercy and moderation. Had Brutus heeded Cassius and slain Antony all might have been well—except that Brutus would have shown himself even more corrupt and evil. Shakespeare here shows us the tragic dilemma of the good man called upon to combat evil and stresses that it is impossible to fight evil without becoming corrupted oneself. The tragic dilemma of Brutus is also the tragic dilemma of Hamlet. In this, the earlier of the two plays, no solution is offered to the dilemma However firm a reassertion Shakespeare here makes, through the character of Brutus, of man's essential nobility and his capacity for spiritual greatness in the face of physical defeat, politically the play ends on a note of pessimistic query. (pp. 169-78)

Alice Shalvi, "Shakespeare's 'High Roman Fashion': Julius Caesar," in The World & Art of Shakespeare by A A. Mendilow and Alice Shalvi, Israel University Press, 1967, pp. 169-78.

Brents Stirling [Stirling examines the extent to which Shakespeare relied upon his source material in his presentation of the Roman populace in Julius Caesar. The critic notes that although Shakespeare's portrait of the commoners as fickle, unreasonable, and opportunistic generally echoes Plutarch's lives of Caesar and Brutus, the dramatist also elaborated upon Plutarch's account notably in Act III, scene ii, when Brutus and Antony deliver their funeral orations for Caesar, and in Act III, scene iii, when the citizens interrogate the poet Cinna. While the effect of the changes in the first of these scenes is to accentuate the instability of the mob, Stirling maintains, Shakespeare did not deliberately alter his source to further denigrate the populace; rather, the changes were made for dramatic effect and, moreover, were warranted by Plutarch's descriptions of the mob in other episodes of his narratives. The critic states that the second of these scenes, not recorded by Plutarch, reveals an Elizabethan understanding of mob behavior in its emphasis on the hostility and irrationality of class conflict; similarly, Brutus and Antony's funeral orations, only briefly outlined by Plutarch, lend political realism to the tragedy.]

In Julius Caesar the self-interest and sorry instability of the Roman populace turn the tide against Brutus and the other conspirators. Although their ill fortune materializes at Philippi, the climactic change from good to ill for the conspirators occurs in Act III with the shift against them of mob sentiment. Accordingly, it will not surprise those familiar with Shakespeare's methods of exposition that the note of plebeian stupidity and mutability is struck powerfully in the opening scene of the play. There the disorderly citizens, who have decked themselves in their best "to make holiday, to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph" [I. i. 30-1), are denounced by their own tribunes for ingratitude and; change of heart. After the cynical speech by Marullus on the crowd's erstwhile devotion to Caesar's adversary, Flavius pronounces chorally upon its:

See, whether their basest metal be not moved; They vanish tongue-tied in their guiltiness. [I. i. 61-2]

The next we hear of the Roman mob is from Casca who, in the well-known lines of Scene ii, reports its reception of Caesar's refusal of the crown.

... and still as he refus'd it, the rabblement hooted and clapp'd their chapp'd hands and threw up their sweaty nightcaps and uttered such a deal of stinking breath because Caesar refus'd the crown, that it had almost choked Caesar, for he swounded and fell down at it; and for mine own part, I durst not laugh, for fear of opening my lips and receiving the bad air. [I. ii. 243-501]

Casca ends his splenetic account of the populace with the "three or four wenches, where I stood" who cried "Alas, good soul!" [I. ii. 271-72] and one is reminded of Richard II on Bolingbroke's courtship of the people: "Off goes his bonnet to an oyster wench" [Richard II, I. iv. 31]. Both Richard and Casca are jaundiced personalities, and their allusions to humanity in the mass are doubtless in character and part of the characterization process ... [it] will be observed that Shakespeare generally uses characters of a cynically patrician humor for comment upon the populace and that a dramatist's calculation of audience response may be largely revealed by such consistent choice of commentators. Moreover, when the "slanting" is not done by aristocrats, when it is done by the tribunes in the present play, and by Cade's own followers or indeed by Cade himself in Henry VI, the picture drawn of popular assemblage is altogether as scurrilous.

The next appearance of the citizenry is in the second scene of Act III. After the killing of Caesar in the previous scene, Brutus and Cassius enter with a throng of citizens who are given the first line, "We will be satisfied; let us be satisfied" [III. ii. 1]. The citizens divide, some to hear Cassius, others to hear Brutus. The honest and highly epigrammatic speech of Brutus quickly converts the suspicious crowd, and they clamor, "Let him be Caesar"; "Caesar's better parts shall be crown'd in Brutus" [III. ii. 51-2]. The uproar of impulsive approval is so loud that Brutus must implore silence so that Antony may speak, and as Antony goes into the pulpit there are cries, '"Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here" and "This Caesar was a tyrant" [III. ii. 68-9]. (pp. 25-7)

In complete contrast with Brutus, Antony is no expounder but rather an evoker who pulls, one by one and each at the strategic moment, all the stops of the organ. Some forty lines following a self-effacing start, his nostalgic reminiscences of Caesar and his apparent emotional breakdown have the citizens murmuring in his favor. His mention of Caesar's will and quick disavowal of intent to read it increase the murmur to a clamor, in the midst of which he produces Caesar's bloody mantle; the clamor then becomes a frenzy as the citizenry cry, "About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay!" [III. ii. 205]. Caesar's wounds, "poor dumb mouths" [III. ii. 225] are given tongues as the mob is tensed to the critical pitch. In their upheaval the commoners forget the will, and Antony, with what seems cold-blooded cynicism, calls them back to hear Caesar's bequests in their favor. After that there is no check which can be put on them as they rush through the city with firebrands; significantly enough, they accomplish only irrelevant violence in killing Cinna the poet who, for want of a better reason, is torn for his bad verses.

In his chapter on the source of Julius Caesar, [in Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background], M. W. MacCallum is not specifically concerned with Shakespeare's presentation of Rome's unreasonable populace. At the outset, however, he does discuss the peculiar shiftiness of the mob's bullying questions addressed to the poet Cinna. MacCallum observes that none of this is in Plutarch and that it is Shakespeare's realistic contribution based upon intuitive understanding of the behavior of bravoes who have run down a victim. This is valuable. As a short scene in which the bland sadistic stare and the irrelevant retort are thrust upon an innocent who tries to explain himself, the episode deserves more space than MacCallum devotes to it. In its forty lines are packed such an awareness of the hostility and cogent unreason found in class conflict that the scene could be called modern in all senses, sober and ironical, of the term. For in Shakespeare's conception there is surely none of the wistful expectation that aroused masses will act objectively; the scene rests upon a knowledge of such behavior in crisis which is hard to explain other than by the dramatist's intuitive observation.

While he comments briefly upon this bit of realism as a factor not found in Shakespeare's source, MacCallum is silent upon a similar and far more elaborate transmutation of source material. It is well known that the speeches of Brutus and Antony in the funeral scene are Shakespeare's own, but no discussion of altered sources would be adequate which failed to note the political realism which underlies these additions. From Plutarch Shakespeare certainly derived Brutus's high-mindedness and his tactical error in allowing Antony to speak, but there is no implication, in the source, of the kind of speech Brutus made. It has the laconic and functional sparseness of the Gettysburg Address. Tragically, however, it is not delivered as a tribute to men who died in battle, but as justification of a political coup and as an appeal for mass support. Shakespeare conceives of Brutus as an idealist who believes that facts honestly and simply explained are politically adequate. Because of his concern not to sully himself and his pains to represent his opposition fairly, Brutus wins support only until Antony begins to explore crowd responses. And although Shakespeare may not have intended it, Brutus's speech exhibits perfectly the egocentrism of those who make a religion of objectivity. The scorn of emotionality suggested by it, the conviction implied in it that orderly analysis is preeminent, and the perfectionistic compactness of it as a composition, all suggest a self-regard by the inward eye which may be the bliss of solitude, but which is fatal in an emergency requiring audience response.

Antony's famous rejoinder is a tour de force which completes Shakespeare's picture of the kind of persuasion most effective with the citizenry. Plutarch does give the prescription for this speech, but only in formula. "When [Antony] saw that the people were very glad and desirous also to hear Caesar spoken of, and his praises uttered, he mingled his oration with lamentable words, and by amplifying of matters did greatly move their hearts and affections."

The gist of this is the essence of Antony's oration. Antony, above all, is an analyst of audience temper; he first finds what his listeners want to hear and then wanders among the bypaths of their "hearts and aifections." Shakespeare's grasp of crowd psychology has been the subject of study [see Frederick Tupper, "The Shakespearean Mob," PMLA XXVII (1912): 486-523], but there remains a need to examine Antony's speech for its surprising arsenal of cynical devices. There is the vivid and platitudinous beginning:

The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones. [III. ii. 75-6]

Next comes the apparent admission against interest: "If it [Caesar's ambition] were so, it was a grievous fault" [III. ii. 79]. Now occurs a hint of the common touch, "When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept" [III. ii. 91]. Then, just as Antony is beginning to warm to his subject, comes his first exploratory halt; apparently inarticulate with emotion, he must pause till his heart, "in the coffin there with Caesar," [III. ii. 106], comes back to him. The commoners begin to mutter and Antony, sensing it, advances to the next strategic point: he mentions Caesar's will but disclaims all intention of capitalizing upon material interest. Another exploratory pause, and as the citizens clamor for the will Antony knows that he can throw caution away. His subsequent move is to produce the concrete object, the evocative thing which men can touch and see, Caesar's gown with the bloody rents in it. But first he recalls old times and old campaigns.

I remember The first time ever Caesar put it on; 'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent That day he overcame the Nervii. [in. ii. 170-73]

And now, in a climax of mingled sentiment and abuse, he holds the grisly thing up for the crowd to see. Next, and in clinching employment of the concrete objective device, he drives the crowd's attention directly to the hacked body of Caesar, and there is no holding them. They even forget the will which Antony, who has saved material interest as the most telling and final point, must call them back to hear.

This is not a pretty example of how to manipulate the electorate, and it is even less so when we perceive two ingredients which do not occur at any one point, but are pervasive. In contrast with the understatement of Brutus, who tells the crowd briefly why he killed his best friend, Antony's irony, with its six-fold repetition of the "honorable men" phrase, evolves steadily into the most blatant kind of sarcasm. He knows the inadequacy of quiet irony; he also knows the value of repetition and how to use it climactically. The second pervasive factor in Antony's speech is that the crowd really makes it for him. He could have learned nothing from a Dale Carnegie [the author of How to Win Friends and Influence People], for he knows with sure insight that he cannot really convince people unless they think they are convincing themselves or, better yet, that they are convincing him. He is "no orator, as Brutus is," but "just a plain blunt man" [III. ii. 217-18] who is trying to think this thing out with the rest of them.

Shakespeare's penetration into this darker side of political behavior rivals two modern fictional efforts in that direction, both of them based in a non-literal way upon the career of Huey Long [the controversial Louisiana governor; see Number One, by John Dos Passos, and All the King's Men, by Robert Penn Warren]. Whether his cynical picture of mass persuasion is based upon intuition or observation or both, it is impossible to say. One thing is certain, however: the contributions of Plutarch to Shakespeare's conception of how the popular mind may be translated into action are limited to a skeletal formula with bare details concerning the will, the bloody gown, and Caesar's body.

In evaluating Shakespeare's use of Plutarch in this episode, we have not only the demagoguery of Antony's speech to consider but also a portrait of the populace itself. Concerning the latter, the evidence is conflicting. As the account in Plutarch is followed, it would seem at first that Shakespeare had made a gratuitous and major change in order to emphasize the instability of crowd responses. All readers of Shakespeare know that in his play the citizenry plumps solidly for Brutus, only to change over suddenly at Antony's provocation. Plutarch's account of Marcus Brutus, however, runs entirely counter to this.

When the people saw him [Brutus] in the pulpit, although they were a multitude of rakehells of all sorts, and had a good will to make some stir: yet being ashamed to do it for the reverence they bare unto Brutus, they kept silence to hear what he would say. When Brutus began to speak, they gave him quiet audience: howbeit immediately after, they showed that they were not at all contented with the murder. For when another called Cinna [the conspirator] would have spoken, and began to accuse Caesar, they fell into a great uproar among them and marvelously reviled him.

The account of the same event in Plutarch's life of Caesar depicts the citizenry as being moved by Brutus neither one way nor the other.

There are two reasons, however, why this change taken by itself cannot be relied upon to show a transmutation by Shakespeare with intention of casting discredit upon the populace. The first of these is that there is dramatic reason for the change: it is simply more effective to show a populace swayed first one way and then the other, and the story would be flat without it. Perhaps this principle, if extended, would also account, upon a purely dramatic basis, for the cynical virtuosity exhibited in Antony's speech ... A second reason why little can be made of Shakespeare's change in this episode is that although Plutarch does not exhibit a fickle citizenry first in agreement with Brutus and immediately afterward with Antony, he does elsewhere and generally give clear hints of its instability. In the life of Marcus Brutus, and but a few pages beyond the excerpt just quoted, occurs this description of the populace just after Antony's winning of their favor: "The people growing weary now of Antonius' pride and insolency, who ruled all things in manner with absolute power: they desired that Brutus might return again."

Beyond the specific data described in the last few pages, there are some general notions in Plutarch which bear upon the problem and find their way into Shakespeare's adaptation of the episode. There is material throughout which establishes the opportunistic allegiance of the populace to Caesar. Cato, for example, feared "insurrection of the poor needy persons, which were they that put all their hope in Caesar." Caesar, moreover, "began to put forth laws meeter for a seditious Tribune than for a Consul: because by them he preferred the division of lands, and the distributing of corn to every citizen, gratis, to please them withal." The people are described, however, as antagonistic to the idea of Caesar as emperor, and as making outcries of joy when he refused the crown. And in direct line with Shakespeare's conception of a Rome plagued with popular insurrection, we learn from Plutarch that:

Rome itself also was immediately filled with the flowing repair of all the people their neighbors thereabouts, which came hither from all parties like droves of cattle, that there was neither officer nor magistrate that could any more command them by authority, neither by any persuasion of reason bridle such a confused and disorderly multitude: so that Rome had in manner destroyed itself for lack of rule and order.

Plutarch, in fact, declares that "men of deep judgment and learning" were so concerned with the "fury and madness" of the people that they "thought themselves happy if the commonwealth were no worse troubled than with the absolute state of a monarchy and sovereign lord to govern them." Unlike his story of Coriolanus, Plutarch's account of Caesar, and to some extent his story of Brutus, provided Shakespeare with a ready-made aversion to the populace which amounts to contempt. Apparently unnoticed by source studies, which have been more concerned with story and characterization than with social bias, is a brief passage in the life of Marcus Brutus which probably furnished the cue for Shakespeare's opening scene. This scene is begun by Flavius with a denunciation of the commoners, containing the line, "What! know you not, being mechanical... " [II. i. 2-3]. In the scene, moreover, six of the seven responses from the citizenry are made by a cobbler. The suggestion for this may well have been words in Plutarch addressed by Cassius to Brutus: "What! knowest thou not that thou art Brutus? Thinkest thou that they be cobblers, tapsters, or suchlike base mechanical people, that write these bills and scrolls ... ?" Whether the passage suggested part of Shakespeare's opening scene or not, it is typical of the social point of view toward commoners which was available to Shakespeare in his source data.

Finally, in a source-play comparison involving Julius Caesar it should be made plain that Plutarch supplied Shakespeare with the flagrant and literally inflammatory action of the mob which follows Antony's oration:

But when they had opened Caesar's testament and found a liberal legacy of money bequeathed unto every citizen of Rome, and that they saw his body (which was brought into the market place) all bemangled with gashes of swords: then there was no order to keep the multitude and common people quiet ... Then ... they took the firebrands, and went unto their houses that had slain Caesar, to set them afire. Others also ran up and down the city to see if they could meet with any of them, to cut them in pieces.

Directly after this comes Plutarch's description of the mobbing of Cinna the poet. (pp. 27-35)

Brents Stirling, "The Plays: Julius Caesar," in his The Populace in Shakespeare, Columbia University Press, 1949, pp. 25-35.

Virgil K. Whitaker [Whitaker discusses the political and moral implications of Shakespeare's characterization of Brutus and Caesar. The critic describes in detail how Shakespeare altered Plutarch's narratives to represent Caesar as a great ruler and Brutus as a virtuous but self-righteous and muddle-headed man. Shakespeare's purpose in deviating from his source, the critic argues, was to portray Brutus as the tragic hero of the drama—"the first of Shakespeare's superb tragic figures who fail through false moral choice." Brutus's tragic error is presented in his soliloquy at II.i.10-34, in which he assumes that Caesar will become a tyrant if he is crowned emperor and that his death is in the best interests of the Roman people. According to Whitaker, Brutus's wrong moral choice reflects Shakespeare's belief in the superiority of monarchy to democracy; it also underscores his conviction that immoral conduct results from faulty reasoning.]

Julius Caesar, the first of Shakespeare's mature tragedies, can be very confidently dated in 1599, just after Henry VI and alongside As You Like It and Twelfth Night. It is a landmark in the development of Shakespeare's thought. Its very structure results from applying to the sources in Plutarch two postulates ... encountered in the earlier plays—namely, that monarchy is necessary to social order and that wrong conduct results from a failure of reason. (p. 224)

When Shakespeare first read Plutarch, presumably while he was writing the Henry VI plays, he obviously did not approach the life of Caesar without preconceptions. He had doubtless already encountered two contrasting views of the man. The first was that exemplified by Dante, who placed Brutus and Cassius along with Judas Iscariot in the lowest circle of hell. For him the murder of Caesar by bis friends was the second greatest crime recorded in history. The other interpretation was derived from Plutarch himself and from later Roman writers. It portrayed Caesar as a commanding genius but fundamentally an evil man. In later tradition he had become vainglorious as well. (p. 226)

Let us now turn to Shakespeare's handling of his source material in Julius Caesar ... [Contradictory] indications appear; but the preponderant evidence indicates that Shakespeare, while in the main accepting Plutarch's account, attempted to reconcile it with his notion of a great man and ruler.

In Plutarch's "Caesar" Shakespeare found a portrait that emphasized the man's courage, his ambition, his vanity, and his superstition but did scant justice to his greatness as a statesman. Beginning his play in the last days of Caesar's life further emphasized this bias of his source. The conquests were past, and Plutarch gives no adequate indication of the statesmanlike schemes for the government of Rome that we know Caesar to have formulated during his last months. Shakespeare found only one element in his source that he recognized as commensurate with the greatness of Caesar's influence—namely, the omens which marked his death. To these he gave maximum lere is no reason to doubt that Shakespeare, like his contemporaries, accepted these details in classical writers as historically accurate. The achievement of pagan gods and of oracles Christian theory explained by assuming that the fallen angels had masqueraded as gods to work the further damnation of man. But Shakespeare perhaps had no need to rely upon such an explanation of these omens, for subsequent history amply demonstrated Caesar's place in the divine scheme of things; Providence might be expected to intervene directly to foretell his death. As Calphurnia tells him: "The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes" [II. ii. 31], Shakespeare therefore seized upon these details and emphasized them as properly indicating Caesar's surpassing greatness. (p. 228)

In finding a second means of squaring his source with his own notion of Caesar's greatness, Shakespeare was perhaps guided by a passage in the life of Caesar ... :

But his [Caesar's] great prosperity and good fortune, that favoured him all his lifetime, did continue afterwards in the revenge of his death, pursuing the murtherers both by sea and land, till they had not left a man more to be executed, of all them that were actors or counsellors in the conspiracy of his death.

This sentence, which has a marginal gloss "The revenge of Caesar's death," is followed by the information that Cassius "slew himself with the same sword, with the which he strake Caesar" and an account of various prodigies of nature. Plutarch then continues:

But, above all, the ghost that appeared unto Brutus showed plainly that the gods were offended with the murther of Caesar ... looking towards the light of the lamp that waxed very dim, he saw a horrible vision of a man, of a wonderful greatness, and dreadful look, which at the first made him marvellously afraid. But, when he saw that it did him no hurt, but stood by his bedside and said nothing, at length he asked him what he was. The image answered him: "I am thy ill angel, Brutus, and thou shalt see me by the city of Philippi."

Shakespeare had only to convert Plutarch's evil genius into the ghost of Caesar to achieve not only a perfect dramatic revenge ghost but also a personification of the greatness of the man, whose influence Brutus himself confesses on the battlefield:

O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords In our own proper entrails. [V. iii. 94-6]

In addition to selecting his material carefully, Shakespeare attempted by changing various details to alter the impression created by the source. (pp. 229-30)

In Plutarch, Caesar, who is himself superstitious, is frightened by the prodigies of nature and by Calphurnia's dream, whereas she "until that time was never given to any fear or superstition." He has to be shamed out of his decision to stay home by Decius Brutus. Shakespeare presents him as without superstition and gives him bravery. In the play Caesar at first refuses to heed warnings that he stay home, and the fears are Calphurnia's. His words during this episode have been taken as boasting, vacillating, and rationalizing; but they are more likely to be simple statements of fact, such as Shakespeare gives to his great men even though in lesser men they might seem immodest. They are further justified in that they involve a clever reinterpretation of the omens taken by the augurers to be unfavorable:

Caesar should be a heart without a heart, If he should stay at home today for fear ... We are two lions litter'd in one day: And I the elder and more terrible: [II. ii. 42-3, 46-7] (p. 231)

Events on the way to the Senate have also been changed to ennoble Caesar. In Plutarch he "many times attempted" to read the crucial message from Artemidorus warning of the conspiracy, put he could not because of the people who pressed about him. Shakespeare gives the soothsayer significant motives:

My heart laments that virtue cannot live Out of the teeh of emulation. [II. iii. 13-14]

Caesar refuses to read the paper because Artemidorus urges that it touches him personally: "What touches us ourself shall be last serv'd" [III. i. 8]. (Notice, incidentally, that in a public pronouncement he uses the royal "us.")

Most meaningful of all, perhaps, is Shakespeare's handling of Brutus' crucial soliloquy [II. i. 10-34]. This will need to be discussed at length in connection with the structure of the play. But we may note here that it is apparently based in part upon Plutarch's introductory summary of Caesar's character:

His enemies, judging that this favour of the common people would soon quail, when he could no longer hold out that charge and expense, suffered him to run on, till by little and little he was grown to be of great strength and power. But in fine, when they had thus given him the bridle to grow to this greatness, and that they could not then pull him back, though indeed in sight it would turn one day to the destruction of the whole state and commonwealth of Rome: "too late they found, that there is not so little a beginning of anything, but continuance of time will soon make it strong, when through contempt there is no impediment to hinder the greatness. Thereupon Cicero, like a wise shipmaster that feareth the calmness of the sea, was the first man that, mistrusting his manner of dealing in the commonwealth, found out his craft and malice, which he cunningly cloked under the habit of outward courtesy and familiarity."

What the source states as fact, the play develops as a hypothesis, and Brutus says explicitly that it is a hypothesis unsupported by past conduct.

How is one to reconcile these contrary changes from the source, which make Caesar more subject to physical infirmities but also more careful and unselfish as a ruler? In part, probably, Shakespeare is actually trying to contrast human weakness and royal power. But the obvious explanation is to be found, I think, in Plutarch. Shakespeare took Caesar as one who "yielded not to the disease of his body," but triumphed by the strength of his will and intellect as well as by his, bravery:

What can be avoided Whose end is purpos'd by the mighty Gods? ... Cowards die many times before their death; The valiant never taste of death but once. [II. ii. 26-7, 32-3]

To magnify Caesar's achievements, Shakespeare presented him as weaker of body than in the source, and therefore stronger of will. No one ever regarded Franklin D. Roosevelt's paralysis as detracting from his greatness. Quite the contrary. His triumph over it was part of his hold upon men. Shakespeare expected those who were without Cassius' envy to take the same view of Caesar. He was a great and good ruler. To kill him was regicide. (pp. 232-34)

There may be question as to what Shakespeare was trying to accomplish by the changes he made in portraying Caesar. There can be no doubt whatever as to what he was trying to do to Brutus. To Plutarch Brutus was an almost perfect example of the antique and heroic republican mould. To Shakespeare he was a very great man, but, because of fundamental defects in his own mind and character, he made a horrible and tragic error—in short, he was a tragic hero.

Shakespeare therefore emphasized both Brutus' self-righteousness and his impractical and muddled head. His deviations from his source indicate that such was his intention. In the meeting of the conspirators that occupies the latter half of Act II, Scene i, Brutus overrules three suggestions by Cassius. The first is an outright invention, and the other two involve significant divergences from the account of Brutus' reasoning in the source. Cassius first proposes an oath, which Brutus rejects on the grounds that it would "stain the even virtue of our enterprise" [II. i. 132-33]. Cassius then suggests that they invite Cicero to join them. Plutarch implies that the conspirators agreed to omit Cicero "for they were afraid that he being a coward by nature, and age also having increased his fear, he would quite turn and alter all their purpose, and quench the heat of their enterprise, the which especially required hot and earnest execution, seeking by persuasion to bring all things to such safety, as there should be no peril." For this general distrust of a born politician Shakespeare substituted a rejection by Brutus alone on grounds more indicative of his own vanity than of Cicero's incompetence:

O, name him not; let us not break with him. For he will never follow anything That other men begin. [II. i. 150-52]

In Plutarch Brutus' reasons for refusing to kill Antonius, as Cassius wishes, at least show genuine idealism:

But Brutus would not agree to it. First, for that he said it was not honest; secondly, because he told them there was hope of change in him. For he did not mistrust, but that Antonius, being a noble-minded and courageous man, (when he should know that Caesar was dead) would willingly help his country to recover her liberty, having them an example unto him, to follow their courage and virtue.

Shakespeare makes his motives reflect both self-righteousness and a lack of worldly experience. He argues that, because Antony is given to wild living, he is not dangerous:

If he love Caesar, all that he can do Is to himself—take thought and die for Caesar; And that were much he should, for he is given To sports, to wildness, and much company. [II. i. 186-89]

Later, when Antony asks to deliver a funeral oration over Caesar's body, Shakespeare attributes to Brutus himself the very arguments for granting the request which Plutarch makes Antony advance. Coming from Antony they were crafty; coming from Brutus they are fatuous. Brutus also demands the impossible in the following proviso: praise Caesar without dispraising us!

You shall not in your funeral speech blame us. But speak all good you can devise of Caesar. [10. i. 245-46]

Shakespeare tried so obviously to accentuate Brutus' self-righteousness in the quarrel between Brutus and Cassius just before Philippi that his writing is actually clumsy. In Plutarch Brutus gets money from Cassius while they are at Smyrna. Some time later, during the quarrel upon which Shakespeare's scene is based, he reproves Cassius for his way of exacting money. But Shakespeare so arranges matters that Brutus first reproves Cassius for his methods of getting money ... and then, all the while protesting his own superior virtue, upbraids Cassius for not sending him some of the ill-gotten wealth:

I did send to you For certain sums of gold, which you deni'd me; For I can raise no money by vile means.— By heaven, I had rather coin my heart And drop my blood for drachmas than to wring From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash By any indirection.—I did send To you for gold to pay my legions, Which you deni'd me. [IV. iii. 69-77]

These lines suggest that Shakespeare took more pains to emphasize Brutus' self-righteous inconsistency than to construct a credible speech.

Finally, Shakespeare made Brutus alone responsible for the disaster at Philippi by attributing to his order [V. iii. 5] the fatal premature charge which lost the battle. Plutarch says that it was caused by the impatience of the troops. Brutus' failure is further emphasized by Cassius' speech protesting that he fights against his will [V. i. 70-88]. The protest is taken from the source; but this speech, being much the longest in the entire act, focuses attention upon what Plutarch mentions in passing.

Brutus therefore emerges from Shakespeare's hand considerably shorn of the perfection which Plutarch gave him. The importance that one attaches to this shift of emphasis depends, of course, upon the view that one takes of the structure of the play. I must therefore confess my conviction that Julius Caesar is a well-constructed tragedy of which Brutus is the hero. The name is obviously irrelevant; for the respect due kingly rank made Shakespeare name a serious play after the reigning monarch as inevitably as his first printers placed a king's name at the head of the dramatis personae, no matter how slight his part in the action of the play, and we have noted that Shakespeare thought of Caesar as a ruler. (pp. 234-37)

If it be granted that Brutus is the real hero, the changes in characterization fit into an orderly pattern, and the play proves to be worked out in terms of two sets of ideas ... : Shakespeare's political theory and his concept of moral choice.

The very first scene develops the political background for the play. In Plutarch the images were decked by Caesar's flatterers "to allure the common people to call him king, instead of dictator." The tribunes, "meeting with them that first saluted Caesar as king ... committed them to prison." The people rejoiced at this defence of Roman liberty. For Shakespeare all this simply had no meaning. The images are decked for Caesar's triumph over Pompey, and the tribunes are moved by loyalty to the fallen leader. The people are a fickle rabble, as in so many of the plays. As Sir Mark Hunter observed in a stimulating essay on "Politics and Character in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar" [in Essays by Diverse Hands, Vol. X, edited by Sir Francis Youngblood], "Liberty" as an end in itself had no meaning for Shakespeare, obedience being the chief virtue in his political philosophy. Brutus' reliance upon liberty as the basis of his own thinking and in his appeal to the people is simply self-deception. This the people themselves make clear when they respond to his oration by saying, "Let him be Caesar" [III. ii. 51], and Antony's oration depends for its effect upon the contrast between his appeal to Caesar's good deeds and Brutus' nebulous charge that Caesar was ambitious.

As the play progresses, we are introduced to a Roman state organized in the hierarchical fashion that Tudor theory prescribed ...

The throng that follows Caesar at the heels. Of senators, of praetors, common suitors. [II. iv. 34-51]

Here we have the degrees of society that should wait upon a monarch, arranged in proper order. Caesar is still, in fact though not in name, what Margaret called him in Henry VI [III. i. 18]—a king. And he has for Shakespeare the sanctity that surrounds a king. (pp. 238-39)

The conspirators also add their testimony that Shakespeare regarded Caesar as a monarch. They do not justify their attack, as in Plutarch, only on the grounds that he wanted to be king. They repeat the word "king," it is true; but, like all Shakespeare's regicides, they add "tyrant" and "tyranny." "And why should Caesar be a tyrant then?" asks Cassius [I. iii. 103], "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" proclaims Cinna as Caesar is stabbed [III. i. 78]. The first plebian concedes, "This Caesar was a tyrant" [III. ii. 69]. And young Cato boasts three distinctions: he is "the son of Marcus Cato, ho! a foe to tyrants, and my country's friend" [V. iv. 4-5].

Shakespeare's Tudor absolutism was therefore at complete odds with Plutarch's idealization of Brutus as the epitome of the old republican virtues. That Shakespeare approached his source with the presuppositions of his own times is not surprising. What does mark his intellectual development is the fact that he was able to read Plutarch with such sympathetic understandin

Public and Private Values

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6322

Maynard Mack [Mack discusses the public and private values of Brutus and Caesar in terms of what he views as the primary theme of the play: "the always ambiguous impact between man and history." The private Brutus, the critic asserts, is a gentle, sensitive, and studious man who loves Caesar and deplores violence, while the public figure is a noble idealist who participates in the conspiracy because he believes he must act on behalf of the state. Mack contends that in the first half of the drama Shakespeare focuses on "human will as a force in history" by portraying individuals, such as Brutus, choosing courses of action and controlling events; in contrast, the second half of Julius Caesar demonstrates the inadequacies of noble intentions, rationalism, and human will, once they are displayed in action, in influencing history. Caesar's dual nature, the critic continues, similarly dramatizes Shakespeare's thesis that history is only partially responsive to human will. The private Caesar, an ordinary man plagued by physical weaknesses and susceptible to superstition, cannot escape being assassinated. However, the public Caesar is the "marble superman of state," the "everlasting Big Brother—the Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Peron, Stalin, Kruschev, to mention only a handful of his more recent incarnations ... who must repeatedly be killed but never dies."]

I am one of those who believe that Shakespeare can be taught to almost any sort of audience. I am perfectly aware, of course, of the language problem that Shakespeare presents for today's students ... ; and I am perfectly willing to admit that there are classes to whom it would be preposterous to offer his plays. I would only argue that to any group to whom literature in any form may be offered with a prospect of success, Shakespeare may be offered with equal and usually with greater success. After all, it was not mainly the verbalizers and the "brighties" of Elizabethan London who showed up with their penny at the Globe to stand for two and a half hours in the pit. It was the odoriferous and stupid, the groundlings, capable, as Shakespeare himself said, of little but "inexplicable dumb shows and noise" [Hamlet, III. ii. 12]. Yet he had something to say to these people: he held them. In the hands of a patient teacher, who will make the most of student participation, he still does—as no other reading but the comics will. And when he does not, I suggest it is almost invariably for one of two reasons. On the one hand, the teacher is a bardolater and holds the play aloft for distant veneration as if it were a thing too refined for human nature's daily food. I had a teacher like this myself. Whenever we came to any of the great speeches in the plays, he would lean back in his chair, close his eyes, and murmur, in a voice you could pour on a waffle, "ah, the magic of it, the magic!" That same magic took me a whole year to get over and almost sent me into chemical engineering.

Then there is the other alternative: the teacher is not actually interested in the play except as a scratching post of the student's memory. In this teacher's class, the interminable question is "What next? What after that? What then?" as though the play were a time-table to a destination that will never be reached. I get a good many of that teacher's pupils in my classes ... They know exactly what follows what in the first act of Macbeth, say, but nobody has ever asked them any questions beginning with "Why?" Why does the play open with the witch scene? Why is the number of the witches three? Is there any significance in the fact that there are also three banquets, three murders, three apparitions, and even three murderers at Banquo's death? And what does the second witch mean by saying "When the battle's lost and won"? What battle? and how can it be won and lost at the same time?

Questions like these, I feel, suggest the approach that most of us who are neither bardolaters nor mnemonicists will wish to take to Shakespeare, and if we are taking it with Julius Caesar, I think the place we may want to begin is with I. ii; for here, as in the first witch scene in Macbeth, most of the play to come is already implicit. We have just learned from scene i of Caesar's return in triumph from warring on Pompey's sons, we have seen the warm though fickle adulation of the crowd and the apprehension of the tribunes; now we are to see the great man himself. The procession enters to triumphal music; with hubbub of a great press of people; with young men stripped for the ceremonial races, among them Antony; with statesmen in their togas: Decius, Cicero, Brutus, Cassius, Casca; with the two wives Calpurnia and Portia; and, in the lead, for not even Calpurnia is permitted at his side, the great man. As he starts to speak, an expectant hush settles over the gathering: what does the great man have on his mind?

CAES. Calpurnia.CASCA. Peace, ho! Caesar speaks.CAES. CalpurniaCAL. Here, my lord.CAES. Stand you directly in Antonius' way When he does run his course. Antonius.ANT. Caesar, my lord?CAES. Forget not, in your speed, Antonius, To touch Calpurnia; for our elders say, The barren, touched in this holy chase, Shake off their sterile curse.ANT. I shall remember: When Caesar says, "Do this," it is perform'd. [I. ii. 1-10]

What the great man had on his mind, it appears, was to remind his wife, in this public place, that she is sterile; that there is an old tradition about how sterility can be removed; and that while of course he is much too sophisticated to accept such a superstition himself—it is "our elders" who say it—still, Calpurnia had jolly well better get out there and get tagged, or else!

Then the procession takes up again. The hubbub is resumed, but once more the expectant silence settles as a voice is heard.

SOOTH. Caesar!CAES. Ha! Who calls?CASCA Bid every noise be still; peace yet again!CAES. Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music Cry "Caesar!" Speak. Caesar is turn'd to hear.SOOTH. Beware the ides of March.CAES. What man is that?BRU. A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.CAES. Set him before me; let me see his face.CAS. Fellow, come from the throng; look upon Caesar.CAES. What say'st thou to me now? Speak once again.SOOTH. Beware the ides of March.CAES. He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass. [I. ii. 11-24]

It is easy to see from even these small instances, I think, how a first-rate dramatic imagination works. There is no hint of any procession in Plutarch, Shakespeare's source. "Caesar," says Plutarch, "sat to behold." There is no mention of Calpurnia in Plutarch's account of the Lupercalian race, and there is no mention anywhere of her sterility. Shakespeare, in nine lines, has given us an unforgettable picture of a man who would like to be emperor pathetically concerned that he lacks an heir, and determined, even at the cost of making his wife a public spectacle, to establish that this is owing to no lack of virility in him. The first episode thus dramatizes instantaneously the oncoming theme of the play: that a man's will is not enough; that there are other matters to be reckoned with, like the infertility of one's wife, or one's own affliction of the falling sickness which spoils everything one hoped for just at the instant when one had it almost in one's hand. Brutus will be obliged to learn this lesson too.

In the second episode the theme develops. We see again the uneasy rationalism that everybody in this play affects; we hear it reverberate in the faint contempt—almost a challenge—of Brutus' words as he turns to Caesar: "A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March." Yet underneath, in the soothsayer's presence and his sober warning, Shakespeare allows us to catch a hint of something else, something far more primitive and mysterious, from which rationalism in this play keeps trying vainly to cut itself away: "He is a dreamer. Let us leave him. Pass." Only we in the audience are in a position to see that the dreamer has foretold the path down which all these reasoners will go to that fatal encounter at the Capitol.

Meantime, in these same two episodes, we have learned something about the character of Caesar. In the first, it was the Caesar of human frailties who spoke to us, the husband with his hopeful superstition. In the second, it was the marble superman of state, impassive, impervious, speaking of himself in the third person: "Speak! Caesar is turn'd to hear." He even has the soothsayer brought before his face to repeat the message, as if he thought that somehow, in awe of the marble presence, the message would falter and dissolve: how can a superman need to beware the ides of March?

We hardly have time to do more than glimpse here a man of divided selves, when he is gone. But in his absence, the words of Cassius confirm our glimpse. Cassius' description of him exhibits the same duality that we had noticed earlier. On the one hand, an extremely ordinary man whose stamina in the swimming match was soon exhausted, who, when he had a fever once in Spain, shook and groaned like a sick girl, who even now, as we soon learn, is falling down with epilepsy in the market place. On the other hand, a being who has somehow become a god, who "bears the palm alone," who "bestrides the narrow world like a colossus" [I. ii. 131, 135-36]. When the procession returns, no longer festive now, but angry, tense, there is the same effect once more. Our one Caesar shows a normal man's suspicion of his enemies, voices some shrewd human observations about Cassius, says to Antony, "Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf" [I. ii. 213]. Our other Caesar says, as if he were suddenly reminded of something he had forgotten, "I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd / Than what I fear, for always I am Caesar" [I. ii. 211-12].

Whenever Caesar appears hereafter, we shall find this singular division in him, and nowhere more so than in the scene in which he receives the conspirators at his house. Some aspects of this scene seem calculated for nothing else than to fix upon our minds the superman conception, the Big Brother of Orwell's 1984, the great resonant name echoing down the halls of time. Thus at the beginning of the scene:

the things that threatened me Ne'er look'd but on my back; when they shall see The face of Caesar, they are vanished. [II. ii. 10-12]

And again later:

danger knows full well That Caesar is more dangerous than he: We are two lions litter'd in one day, And I the elder and more terrible. [II. ii. 44-7]

And again still later: "Shall Caesar send a lie?" [II. ii. 65]. And again: "The cause is in my will: I will not come" [II. ii. 71]. Other aspects, including his concern about Calpurnia's dream, his vacillation about going to the senate house, his anxiety about the portents of the night, plainly mark out his human weaknesses. Finally, as is the habit in this Rome, he puts the irrational from him that his wife's intuitions and her dream embody; he accepts the rationalization of the irrational that Decius skillfully manufactures, and, as earlier at the Lupercalia, hides from himself his own vivid sense of forces that lie beyond the will's control by attributing it to her:

How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia! I am ashamed I did yield to them. Give me my robe, for I will go. [H. ii. 105-07]

So far in our consideration of the implications of I. ii. we have been looking only at Caesar, the title personage of the play, and its historical center. It is time now to turn to Brutus, the play's tragic center, whom we also find to be a divided man—"poor Brutus," to use his own phrase, "with himself at war" [I. ii. 46]. The war, we realize as the scene progresses, is a conflict between a quiet essentially domestic and loving nature, and a powerful integrity expressing itself in a sense of honorable duty to the commonweal. This duality in Brutus seems to be what Cassius is probing at in his long disquisition about the mirror. The Brutus looking into the glass that Cassius figuratively holds up to him, the Brutus of this moment, now, in Rome, is a grave studious private man, of a wonderfully genitle temper, as we shall see again and again later on, very slow to passion, as Cassius' ill-concealed disappointment in having failed to kindle him to immediate response reveals, a man whose sensitive nature recoils at the hint of violence lurking in some of Cassius' speeches, just as he has already recoiled at going on with Caesar to the market place, to witness the mass hysteria of clapping hands, sweaty nightcaps, and stinking breath. This is the present self that looks into Cassius' mirror.

The image that looks back out, that Cassius wants him to see, the potential Brutus, is the man of public spirit, worried already by the question of Caesar's intentions, the lineal descendant of an earlier Brutus who drove a would-be monarch from the city, a man whose body is visibly stiffening in our sight at each huzza from the Forum, and whose anxiety, though he makes no reply to Cassius' inflammatory language, keeps bursting to the surface: "What means this shouting? I do fear the people / Choose Caesar for their king" [I. ii. 79-80]. The problem at the tragic center of the play, we begin to sense, is to be the tug of private versus public, the individual versus a world he never made, any citizen anywhere versus the selective service greetings that history is always mailing out to each of us. And this problem is to be traversed by that other tug this scene presents, of the irrational versus the rational, the destiny we think we can control versus the destiny that sweeps all before it.

Through I. ii, Brutus' public self, the self that responds to these selective service greetings, is no more than a reflection in a mirror, a mere anxiety in his own brain, about which he refuses to confide, even to Cassius. In II. i, we see the public self making further headway. First, there is Brutus' argument with himself about the threat of Caesar, and in his conclusion that Caesar must be killed we note how far his private self—he is, after all, one of Caesar's closest friends—has been invaded by the self of public spirit. From here on, the course of the invasion accelerates. The letter comes, tossed from the public world into the private world, into Brutus' garden, and addressing, as Cassius had, that public image reflected in the mirror: "Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake and see thyself" [II. i. 46]. Then follows the well-known brief soliloquy ... , showing us that Brutus' mind has moved on now from the phase of decision to the inquietudes that follow decision:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing And the first motion, all the interim is Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream. [II. i. 63-5]

What is important to observe is that these lines stress once again the gulf that separates motive from action, that which is interior in man and controllable by his will from that which, once acted, becomes independent of him and moves with a life of its own. This gulf is a no man's land, a phantasma, a hideous dream.

Finally, there arrives in such a form that no audience can miss it the actual visible invasion itself, as this peaceful garden quiet is broken in on by knocking, like the knocking of fate in Beethoven's fifth symphony, and by men with faces hidden in their cloaks. Following this, a lovely interlude with Portia serves to emphasize how much the private self, the private world has been shattered. We have something close to discord here—as much of a discord as these very gentle people are capable of—and though there is a reconciliation at the end and Brutus' promise to confide in her soon, this division in the family is an omen. So is that knock of the late-comer, Caius Ligarius, which reminds us once again of the intrusions of the public life. And when Ligarius throws off his sick man's kerchief on learning that there is an honorable exploit afoot, we may see in it an epitome of the whole scene, a graphic visual renunciation, like Brutus', of the private good to the public; and we may see this also in Brutus' own exit a few lines later, not into the inner house where Portia waits for him, but out into the thunder and lightning of the public life of Rome. It is perhaps significant that at our final view of Portia, two scenes later, she too stands outside the privacy of the house, her mind wholly occupied with thoughts of what is happening at the Capitol, and trying to put on a public self for Brutus' sake: "Run, Lucius, and commend me to my Lord / Say I am merry ..." [II. iv. 44-5].

Meantime, up there by the Capitol, the tragic center and the historical center meet. The suspense is very great as Caesar, seeing the Soothsayer in the throng, reminds him that the ides of March are come, and receives in answer, "Ay, Caesar, but not gone" [III. i. 2]. More suspense as Artemidorus presses forward with the paper that we know contains a full discovery of the plot. Decius, apprehensive, steps quickly into the breach with another paper, a petition from Trebonius. More suspense still as Popilius sidles past Cassius with the whisper, "I wish your enterprise today may thrive" [III. i. 13], and then moves on to Caesar's side, where he engages him in animated talk. But they detect no tell-tale change in Caesar's countenance; Trebonius steps into his assignment and takes Antony aside; Metellus Cimber throws himself at Caesar's feet; Brutus gives the signal to "press near and second him," and Caesar's "Are we all ready?" draws every eye to Caesar's chair [III. i. 29,31]. One by one they all kneel before this demigod—an effective tableau which gives a coloring of priest-like ritual to what they are about to do. Caesar is to bleed, but, as Brutus has said, they will sublimate the act into a sacrifice:

Let's kill him boldly but not wrathfully; Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds. [II. i. 172-74]

Everything in the scene must underscore this ceremonial attitude, in order to bring out the almost fatuous cleavage between the spirit of this enterprise and its bloody purpose.

The Caesar that we are permitted to see while all this ceremony is preparing is almost entirely the superman, for obvious reasons. To give a color of justice to Brutus' act and so to preserve our sense of his nobility even if we happen to think the assassination a mistake, as an Elizabethan audience emphatically would, Caesar has to appear in a mood of superhumanity at least as fatuous as the conspirators' mood of sacrifice. Hence Shakespeare makes him first of all insult Metellus Cimber: "If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him, / I spurn thee like a cur" [II. i. 45-6]; then comment with intolerable pomposity, and, in fact, blasphemy, on his own iron resolution, for he affects to be immovable even by prayer and hence superior to the very gods. Finally, Shakespeare puts into his mouth one of those supreme arrogances that will remind us of the destroying hubris which makes men mad in order to ruin them. "Hence!" Caesar cries, "Wilt thou lift up Olympus?" [III. i. 74]. It is at just this point, when the colossus Caesar drunk with self-love is before us, that Casca strikes. Then they all strike, with a last blow that brings out for the final time the other, human side of this double Caesar: "Et tu, Brute?" [III. i. 77].

And now this little group of men has altered history. The representative of the evil direction it was taking toward autocratic power lies dead before them. The direction to which it must be restored becomes emphatic in Cassius' cry of "Liberty, freedom, and enfranchisement" [III. i. 81]. Solemnly, and again like priests who have just sacrificed a victim, they kneel together and bathe their hands and swords in Caesar's blood. Brutus exclaims:

Then walk we forth, even to the market place; And waving our red weapons o'er our heads, Let's all cry, "Peace, freedom, and liberty!" [III. i. 108-10]

If the conjunction of those red hands and weapons with this slogan is not enough to bring an audience up with a start, the next passage will be, for now the conspirators explicitly invoke the judgment of history on their deed. On the stages of theatres the world over, so they anticipate, this lofty incident will be re-enacted, and

So oft as that shall be. So often shall the knot of us be call'd The men that gave their country liberty. [III. i. 16-18]

We, the audience, recalling what actually did result in Rome—the civil wars, the long line of despotic emperors—cannot miss the irony of their prediction, an irony that insists on our recognizing that this effort to control history is going to fail. Why does it fail?

One reason why is shown us in the next few moments. The leader of this assault on history is, like many another reformer, a man of high idealism, who devoutly believes that the rest of the world is like himself. It was just to kill Caesar—so he persuades himself—because he was a great threat to freedom. It would not have been just to kill Antony, and he vetoed the idea. Even now, when the consequence of that decision has come back to face him in the shape of Antony's servant, kneeling before him, he sees no reason to reconsider it. There are good grounds for what they have done, he says; Antony will hear them, and be satisfied. With Antony, who shortly arrives in person, he takes this line again:

Our reasons are so full of good regard That were you, Antony, the son of Caesar You should be satisfied. [III. i. 224-26]

With equal confidence in the rationality of man, he puts by Cassius' fears of what Antony will do if allowed to address the people: "By your pardon; I will myself into the pulpit first / And show the reason of our Caesar's death" [III. i. 235-37]. Here is a man so much a friend of Caesar's that he is still speaking of him as "our Caesar," so capable of rising to what he takes to be his duty that he has taken on the leadership of those who intend to kill him, so trusting of common decency that he expects the populace will respond to reason, and Antony to the obligation laid on him by their permitting him to speak. At such a man, one hardly knows whether to laugh or cry.

The same mixture of feelings is likely to be stirring in us as Brutus speaks to the people in III. ii. As everybody knows, this is a speech in what used to be called the great liberal tradition, the tradition that assumed, as our American founding fathers did, that men in the mass are reasonable. It has therefore been made a prose oration, spare and terse in diction, tightly patterned in syntax so that it requires close attention, and founded, with respect to its argument, on three elements: the abstract sentiment of duty to the state (because he endangered Rome, Caesar had to be slain); the abstract sentiment of political justice (because he was ambitious, Caesar deserved his fall); and the moral authority of the man Brutus. As long as that moral authority is concretely before them in Brutus' presence, the populace is impressed. But since they are not trained minds, and only trained minds respond accurately to abstractions, they do not understand the content of his argument at all, as one of them indicates by shouting, "Let him be Caesar!" [III. ii. 51]. What moves them is the obvious sincerity and the known integrity of the speaker; and when he finishes, they are ready to carry him off on their shoulders on that account alone, leaving Antony a vacant Forum. The fair-mindedness of Brutus is thrilling but painful to behold as he calms this triumphal surge in his favor, urges them to stay and hear Antony, and then, in a moment very impressive dramatically as well as symbolically, walks off the stage, alone. We see then, if we have not seen before, the first answer to the question why the attack on history failed. It was blinded, as it so often has been, by the very idealism that impelled it.

When Antony takes the rostrum, we begin to get a second answer. It has been said by somebody that in a school for demagogues this speech should be the whole curriculum. Antony himself describes its method when he observes in the preceding scene, apropos of the effect of Caesar's dead body on the messenger from Octavius, "Passion, I see, is catching" [III. i. 283]. This is a statement that cannot be made about reason, as many a school teacher learns to his cost. I have not time at my disposal to do anything like justice to Antony's speech, but I should like to make the following summary points. First, Brutus formulates from the outset positive propositions about Caesar and about his own motives, on no other authority than his own. Because of his known integrity, Brutus can do this. Antony takes the safer alternative of concealing propositions in questions, by which the audience's mind is then guided to conclusions which seem its own:

He hath brought many captives to Rome, Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill: Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? ... You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown, Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? [III. ii. 88-90, 95-7]

How well Shakespeare knew his crowds can be seen in the replies to Antony. Brutus, appealing to their reason, was greeted with wild outbursts of uncomprehending emotion: "Let him be Caesar!" [III. ii. 51]. Antony appeals only to their emotions and their pockets, but now they say, "Methinks there is much reason in his sayings" [III. ii. 108], and chew upon it seriously.

Second, Antony stirs up impulses and then thwarts them. He appeals to their curiosity and their greed in the matter of the will, but then he doesn't come clean on it. In the same manner, he stirs up their rage against the conspirators, yet always pretends to hold them back: "I fear I wrong the honorable men / Whose daggers have stabb'd Caesar; I do fear it" [III. ii. 151-52]. Third, and this is largely the technical means by which he accomplishes the stirring up, his speech is baited with irony. The passage just quoted is a typical specimen. So is the famous refrain, "For Brutus is an honorable man" [III. ii. 82,87,94]. Now the rhetorical value of irony is that it stimulates the mind to formulate the contrary, that is, the intended meaning. It stimulates what the psychologists of propaganda nowadays call the assertive factor. "Are you the one man in seven who shaves daily?'' "Did your husband forget to kiss you this morning?" The advertiser's technique is not, of course, ironical, but it illustrates the effect.

Finally, Antony rests his case, not, like Brutus, on abstractions centering in the state and political justice, but on emotions centering in the individual listener. The first great crescendo of the speech, which culminates in the passage on Caesar's wounds, appeals first to pity and then to indignation. The second one, culminating in the reading of Caesar's will, appeals first to curiosity and greed and then to gratitude. The management of the will is particularly cunning: it is an item more concrete than any words could be, an actual tantalizing document that can be flashed before the eye ... It is described, at first vaguely, as being of such a sort that they would honor Caesar for it. Then, closer home, as something which would show "how Caesar lov'd you" [III. ii. 141]. Then, with an undisguised appeal to self-interest, as a testament that will make them his "heirs." The emotions aroused by this news enable Antony to make a final test of his ironical refrain about the "honorable men," and finding the results all that he had hoped, he can come down now among the crowd as one of them, and appeal directly to their feelings by appealing to his own: "If you have tears to shed, prepare to shed them now" [III. ii. 169].

The success of this direct appeal to passion can be seen at its close. Where formerly we had a populace, now we have a mob. Since it is a mob, its mind can be sealed against any later seepage of rationality back into it by the insinuation that reasoning is always false anyway—simply a surface covering up private grudges, like the "reason" they have heard from Brutus; whereas from Antony himself, the plain blunt friend of Caesar, they are getting the plain blunt truth and (a favorite trick of politicians) only what they already know to be the truth.

But also, since it is a mob and therefore will eventually cool off, it must be called back one final time to hear the will. Antony no longer needs this as an incentive to riot; the mingled rage and pity he has aroused will take care of that. But when the hangover comes, and you are remembering how that fellow looked swaying a little on the rope's end, with his eyes bugging out and the veins knotted at his temples, then it is good to have something really reasonable to cling to, like seventy-five drachmas (or even thirty pieces of silver) and some orchards along a river.

At about this point, it becomes impossible not to see that a second reason for the failure of the attack on history is what it left out of account—what all these Romans from the beginning, except Antony, have been trying to leave out of account: the phenomenon of feeling, the non-rational factor in men, in the world, in history itself—of which this blind infuriated mob is one kind of exemplification. Too secure in his own fancied suppression of the sub-rational, Brutus has failed altogether to reckon with its power. Thus he could seriously say to Antony in the passage I quoted earlier: Antony, even if you were "the son of Caesar / You should be satisfied," as if the feeling of a son for a murdered father could ever be "satisfied" by reasons. And thus, too, he could walk off the stage alone, urging the crowd to hear Antony, the very figure of embodied "reason," unaware that only the irrational is catching.

Meantime, the scene of the mob tearing Cinna the Poet to pieces simply for having the same name as one of the conspirators (III. iii) gives us our first taste of the chaos invoked by Antony when he stood alone over Caesar's corpse. And as we consider that prediction and this mob, we are bound to realize that there is a third reason why the attack on history failed. As we have seen already, history is only partly responsive to noble motives, only partly responsive to rationality. Now we see—what Shakespeare hinted in the beginning with those two episodes of Calpurnia and the soothsayer—that it is only partly responsive to human influence of any sort. With all their reasons, the conspirators and Caesar only carried out what the soothsayer foreknew. There is, in short, a determination in history, whether we call it natural or providential, which at least helps to shape our ends, "rough hew them how we will" [Hamlet, V. ii. 11]. One of the names of that factor in this play is Caesarism. Brutus put the point, all unconsciously, in that scene when the conspirators were gathered at his house. He said:

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar: And in the spirit of men there is no blood: O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit, And not dismember Caesar! But, alas, Caesar must bleed for it. [II. i. 167-711]

Then Caesar did bleed for it; but his spirit, as Brutus' own remark should have told him, proved to be invulnerable. It was only set free by his assassination, and now, as Antony says, "ranging for revenge, ... Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice / Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of war" [III. i. 272-73].

The rest of the play, I think, is self-explanatory. It is clear all through Acts IV and V that Brutus and Cassius are defeated before they begin to fight. Antony knows it and says so at V. i. Cassius knows it too. Cassius, an Epicurean in philosophy, and therefore one who has never heretofore believed in omens, now mistrusts his former rationalism: he suspects there may be something after all in those ravens, crows, and kites that wheel overhead. Brutus too mistrusts his rationalism. As a Stoic, his philosophy requires him to repudiate suicide, but he admits to Cassius that if the need comes he will repudiate philosophy instead. This, like Cassius' statement, is an unconscious admission of the force of unreason in human affairs, an unreason that makes its presence felt again and again during the great battle. Cassius, for instance, rails to realize that Octavius "Is overthrown by noble Brutus' power" [V. iii. 52], becomes the victim of a mistaken report of Titinius' death, runs on his sword crying, "Caesar, thou are reveng'd" [V. iii. 45], and is greeted, dead, by Brutus, in words that make still clearer their defeat by history: "O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! / Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails" [V. iii. 94-6]. In the same vein, when it is Brutus' turn to die, we learn that the ghost of Caesar has reappeared, and he thrusts the sword home, saying, "Caesar, now be still" [V. v. 50].

To come then to a brief summary. Though I shouldn't care to be dogmatic about it, it seems clear to me that Shakespeare's primary theme in Julius Caesar has to do with the always ambiguous impact between man and history. During the first half of the play, what we are chiefly conscious of is the human will as a force in history—men making choices, controlling events. Our typical scenes are I. ii, where a man is trying to make up his mind; or II. i, where a man first reaches a decision and then, with his fellows, lays plans to implement it; or II. ii, where we have Decius Brutus persuading Caesar to decide to go to the senate house; or II. i and ii, where up through the assassination, and even up through Antony's speech, men are still, so to speak, impinging on history, moulding it to their conscious will.

But then comes a change. Though we still have men in action trying to mould their world (or else we would have no play at all), one senses a real shift in the direction of the impact. We begin to feel the insufficiency of noble aims, for history is also consequences; the insufficiency of reason and rational expectation, for the ultimate consequences of an act in history are unpredictable, and usually, by all human standards, illogical as well; and finally, the insufficiency of the human will itself, for there is always something to be reckoned with that is non-human and inscrutable ... Accordingly, in the second half of the play, our typical scenes are those like III. iii, where Antony has raised something that is no longer under his control; or like IV. i, where we see men acting as if, under the control of expediency or necessity or call it what you will, they no longer had wills of their own but prick down the names of nephews and brothers indiscriminately for slaughter; or like IV. iii and all the scenes thereafter, where we are constantly made to feel that Cassius and Brutus are in the hands of something bigger than they know.

In this light, we can see readily enough why it is that Shakespeare gave Julius Caesar that double character. The human Caesar who has human ailments and is a human friend is the Caesar that can be killed. The marmoreal Caesar, the everlasting Big Brother—the Napoleon, Mussolini, Hitler, Franco, Peron, Stalin, Kruschev, to mention only a handful of his more recent incarnations—that Caesar is the one who must repeatedly be killed but never dies, because he is in you, and you, and you, and me. Every classroom is a Rome, and there is no reason for any pupil, when he studies Julius Caesar, to imagine that this is ancient history. (pp. 322-36)

Maynard Mack, "Teaching Drama: 'Julius Caesar'," in Essays on the Teaching of English: Reports of the Yale Conferences on the Teaching of English, edited by Edward J. Gordon and Edward S. Noyes, Appleton-Century-Crafts, Inc., 1960, pp. 320-36.


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Brents Stirling [Stirling discusses the significance of ritual and ceremony to the thematic design of Julius Caesar. According to the critic, the play is structured around a central ceremonial rite—Brutus's attempt to raise Caesar's assassination to the level of formal sacrifice. Nearly every scene prior to Caesar's murder, Stirling asserts, features a ceremony, which is then followed by a counter-ritual mocking it. The effect of these satirical scenes, the critic argues, is to reveal Brutus's self-deception in thinking he can purify Caesar's assassination through ceremony. After Caesar's death, Stirling continues, the hollowness of the ritual surrounding the murder and the savagery of the conspirators' act are further underscored by Antony in another series of counter-rituals. Stirling also notes that Shakespeare's portrait of Brutus is consistent with the sixteenth-century view of Roman history, for most Elizabethans acknowledged the figure's honorable intentions but questioned the validity of both his political goals and his efforts to justify Caesar's assassination.]

Modern readers are prone to find the tragedy of Brutus in his rigid devotion to justice and fair play. Many members of the Globe audience, however, believed that his virtues were complicated by self-deception and doubtful principle. In sixteenth-century views of history the conspiracy against Caesar often represented a flouting of unitary sovereignty ... and exemplified the anarchy thought to accompany "democratic" or constitutional checks upon authority. Certain judgments of Elizabethan political writers who refer to Brutus are quite clear upon this point. Although naturally aware of his disinterested honor and liberality, contemporary audiences could thus perceive in him a conflict between questionable goals and honorable action, a contradiction lying in his attempt to redeem morally confused ends by morally clarified means. The Elizabethan tragedy of Brutus, like that of Othello, is marked by an integrity of conduct which leads the protagonist into evil and measures him in his error.

The distinction between modern and Elizabethan views of Julius Caesar is not the point of our inquiry, but it is a necessary beginning, for the older view of Brutus determines both the symbolic quality and the structure of the play. I hope to show that a sixteenth-century idea of Brutus is as thoroughly related to Shakespeare's art as it is to his meaning.

"When a dramatist wishes to present an idea, his traditional method, of course, is to settle upon an episode in which the idea arises naturally but vividly from action and situation. Such an episode in Julius Caesar is the one in which Brutus resolves to exalt not only the mission but the tactics of conspiracy: having accepted republicanism as an honorable end, he sets out to dignify assassination, the means, by lifting it to a level of rite and ceremony. In II. i, as Cassius urges the killing of Antony as a necessary accompaniment to the death of Caesar, Brutus declares that "such a course will seem too bloody... / To cut the head off and then hack the limbs" [II. i. 162-63]. With this thought a sense of purpose comes over him: "Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius" [II. i. 166]. Here his conflict seems to be resolved, and for the first time he is more than a reluctant presence among the conspirators as he expands the theme which ends his hesitation and frees his moral imagination:

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar, And in the spirit of men there is no blood; Oh, that we then could come by Caesar's spirit, And not dismember Caesar! But, alas, Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle Mends, Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully; Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods. Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds. [II. i. 167-74]

This proposed conversion of bloodshed to ritual is the manner in which an abstract Brutus will be presented in terms of concrete art. From the suggestion of Plutarch that Brutus' first error lay in sparing Antony, Shakespeare moves to the image of Antony as a limb of Caesar, a limb not to be hacked because hacking is no part of ceremonial sacrifice. From Plutarch's description of Brutus as high-minded, gentle and disinterested, Shakespeare proceeds to the Brutus of symbolic action. Gentleness and disinterestedness become embodied in the act of "unwrathful" blood sacrifice. High-mindedness becomes objectified in ceremonial observance.

A skeptical reader may ask why the episode just described is any more significant than a number of others such as Brutus' scene with Portia or his quarrel with Cassius. If more significant, it is so only because of its relation to a thematic design. I agree, moreover, that Shakespeare gains his effects by variety; as a recognition, in fact, of his complexity I hope to show that the structure of Julius Caesar is marked by reference both varied and apt to Brutus' sacrificial rite, and that this process includes expository preparation in earlier scenes, emphasis upon "mock-ceremony" in both earlier and later scenes, and repeated comment by Antony upon butchery under the guise of sacrifice—ironical comment which takes final form in the parley before Philippi.

Derived in large measure from Plutarch, but never mechanically or unselectively, the theme of incantation and ritual is thus prominent throughout Julius Caesar, and this is no less true at the beginning than during the crucial episodes of Acts II and III. In the opening scene of the play we are confronted with a Roman populace rebuked by Marullus for ceremonial idolatry of Caesar:

And do you now put on your best attire? And do you now cull out a holiday? And do you now strew flowers in his way That comes in triumph over Pompey's blood? [I. i. 48-51]

For this transgression Marullus prescribes a counter-observance by the citizens in immediate expiation of their folly:

Run to your houses, fall upon your knees, Pray to the gods to intermit this plague That needs must light on this ingratitude. [I. i. 53-5]

To which Flavius adds:

Go, go, good countrymen, and for this fault. Assemble all the poor men of your sort; Draw them to Tiber banks, and weep your tears Into the channel, till the lowest stream Do kiss the most exalted shores of all. [I. i. 56-60)

And after committing the populace to these rites of atonement for their festal celebration of Caesar, the two tribunes themselves leave to remove the devotional symbols set up for his welcoming. "Go you ... towards the Capitol; / This way will I Disrobe the images / If you do find them decked with ceremonies. / ... let no images / Be hung with Caesar's trophies" [l. i. 63-5. 68-9]. It is the hope of Flavius that these disenchantments will make Caesar "fly an ordinary pitch, / Who else would soar above the view of men" [I. i. 73-4].

Act I, scene ii is equally unusual in carrying the theme of ritual. It is apparent that Shakespeare had a wide choice of means for staging the entry of Caesar and his retinue; yet he selects an entry based upon Plutarch's description of the "feast Lupercalia" in which the rite of touching or striking barren women by runners of the course is made prominent. Caesar, moreover, after ordering Calpurnia to be so touched by Antony, commands: "Set on; and leave no ceremony out" [I. ii. 11 ]. It can be said, in fact, that the whole of this scene is written with ceremonial observance as a background. Its beginning, already described, is followed by a touch of solemnity in the soothsayer's words; next comes its main expository function, the sounding of Brutus by Cassius, and throughout this interchange come at intervals the shouts and nourishes of a symbolic spectacle. When the scene is again varied by a formal reentry and exit of Caesar's train, Casca remains behind to make a mockery of the rite which has loomed so large from off-stage. Significantly, in Casca's travesty of the ceremonial crown-offering and of the token offering by Caesar of his throat for cutting, Shakespeare has added a satirical note which does not appear in Plutarch.

The process, then, in each of the two opening episodes has been the bringing of serious ritual into great prominence, and of subjecting it to satirical treatment. In the first scene the tribunes denounce the punctilio planned for Caesar's entry, send the idolatrous crowd to rites of purification, and set off themselves to desecrate the devotional images. In the second scene a multiple emphasis of ceremony is capped by Casca's satire which twists the crown ritual into imbecile mummery. At this point, and in conformity with the mood set by Casca, occurs Cassius' mockery in soliloquy of Brutus:

Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see Thy honorable mettle may be wrought From that it is dispos'd; therefore it is meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes: For who is so firm that cannot be seduc'd? [I. ii. 308-12]

The next scene [I. iii] is packed with omens and supernatural portents, a note which is carried directly into II. i where Brutus, on receiving the mysterious papers which have been left to prompt his action, remarks,

The exhalations whizzing in the air Give so much light that I may read by them. |II. i. 44-5]

Appropriately, the letters read under this weird glow evoke his first real commitment to the "cause":

O Rome, I make thee promise If the redress will follow, thou receivest Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus! [I. i. 56-8]

Now appear his lines on the interim "between the acting of a dreadful thing / And the first motion" in which "the state of man / Like to a little kingdom, suffers then / The nature of a insurrection" [II. i. 63-4, 67-9]. This conventional symbolizing of political convulsion by inward insurrection is followed by the soliloquy on conspiracy:

O, then by day Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, Conspiracy! Hide it in smiles and affability. [II. i. 79-82]

The conflict within Brutus thus becomes clear in this scene. First, the participant in revolution suffers revolution within himself; then the hater of conspiracy and lover of plain dealing must call upon Conspiracy to hide in smiling courtesy.

We have now reached the critical point [II. i. 154 ff.] to which attention was first called, an outward presentation of Brutus' crisis through his acceptance of an assassin's role upon condition that the assassins become sacrificers. Already a theme well established in preceding scenes, the idea of ritual is again made prominent. As the soliloquy on conspiracy closes, the plotters gather, and the issue becomes the taking of an oath. Brutus rejects this as an idle ceremony unsuited to men joined in the honesty of a cause and turns now to the prospect of Caesar's death. This time, however, honorable men do need ceremony, ceremony which will purify the violent act of all taint of butchery and raise it to the level of sacrifice. But although Brutus has steadied himself with a formula his conflict is still unresolved, for as he sets his course he "unconsciously" reveals the evasion which Antony later will amplify: to transmute political killing into ritual is to cloak it with appearances. We began with Brutus' passage on carving Caesar as a dish for the gods; these are the lines which complete it:

And let our hearts, as subtle masters do, Stir up their servants to an act of rage, And after seem to chide 'em. This shall make Our purpose necessary and not envious; Which so appearing to the common eyes, We shall be called purgers, not murderers. [II. i. 175-80]

The contradiction is interesting. In an anticlimax, Brutus has ended his great invocation to ritual with a note on practical politics: our hearts shall stir us and afterward seem to chide us; we shall thus "appear" to the citizenry as purgers, not murderers.

Shakespsare never presents Brutus as a demagogue, but there are ironical traces of the politician in him ... It is curious, in fact, that although Brutus is commonly thought to be unconcerned over public favor, he expresses clear concern for it in the passage just quoted and in II. i. 244-51, where he sanctions Antony's funeral speech only if Antony agrees to tell the crowd that he speaks by generous permission, and only if he agrees to utter no evil of the conspiracy. Nor is Brutus' speech in the Forum wholly the non-political performance it is supposed to be; certainly Shakespeare's Roman citizens are the best judges of it, and they react tempestuously. Although compressed, it scarcely discloses aloofness or an avoidance of popular emotive themes.

Act II, scene ii now shifts to the house of Caesar, but the emphasis on ritual continues as before. With dramatic irony, in view of Brutus' recent lines on sacrificial murder, Caesar commands, "Go bid the priests do present sacrifice" [II. ii. 5]. Calpurnia who has "never stood on ceremonies" (omens) is now terrified by them [II. ii. 13]. News comes that the augurers, plucking the entrails of an offering, have failed to find a heart. Calpurnia has dreamed that smiling Romans have laved their hands in blood running from Caesar's statue, and Decius Brutus gives this its favorable interpretation which sends Caesar to his death.

The vivid assassination scene carries out Brutus' ritual prescription in dramatic detail, for the killing is staged with a formalized approach, ending in kneeling, by one conspirator after another until the victim is surrounded. This is met by a series of retorts from Caesar ending in "Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus," and the "sacrifice" is climaxed with his "Et tu Brute!" [III. i. 74, 77]. The conspirators ceremonially bathe their hands in Caesar's blood, and Brutus pronounces upon "this our lofty scene" with the prophecy that it "shall be acted over / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!" [III. i. 112-13].

The mockery in counter-ritual now begins as a servant of Antony enters and confronts Brutus:

Thus, Brutus, did my master bid me kneel, Thus did Mark Antony bid me fall down; And being prostrate, thus he bade me say: Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest. [III. i. 123-26]

Here a threefold repetition, "kneel," "fall down," and "being prostrate," brings the ceremonial irony close to satire. Following this worship of the new idol by his messenger, Antony appears in person and with dramatic timing offers himself as a victim, in one speech he evokes both the holy scene which the conspirators so desired and the savagery which underlay it:

Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke, Fulfill your pleasure. Live a thousand years, I shall not find myself so apt to die; No place will please me so, no mean of death, As here by Caesar, and by you cut off. [III. i. 158-62]

The murder scene is thus hallowed by Antony in a manner which quite reverses its sanctification by the conspirators. Brutus, forbearing, attempts to mollify Antony with his cherished theme of purgation:

Our hearts you see not. They are pitiful. And pity to the general wrong of Rome— As fire drives out fire, so pity pity Hath done this deed on Caesar. [III. i. 169-72]

Antony's response is again one of counter-ceremony, the shaking of hands in formal sequence which serves to make each conspirator stand alone and unprotected by the rite of blood which had united him with the others. The assassins had agreed as a token of solidarity that each of them should stab Caesar. Antony seems to allude to this:

Let each man render me his bloody hand. First, Marcus Brutus, will I shake with you; Now, Caius Cassius, do I take your hand; Now, Decius Brutus, yours; now yours, Mettellus; Yours, Cinna; and, my valiant Casca, yours; Though last, not least in love yours, good Trebonius. Gentlemen all—alas what shall I say? [III. i. 184-90]

It is then that Antony, addressing the body of Caesar, suddenly delivers his first profanation of the ritual sacrifice:

Here wast thou bay'd brave hart; Here didst thou fall; and here thy hunters stand, Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in thy lethe. [III. i. 204-06]

And lest the allusion escape, Shakespeare continues Antony's inversion of Brutus' ceremonial formula: the dish carved for the gods is doubly transformed into the carcass hewn for hounds with further hunting metaphors of Caesar as a hart in the forest and as "a deer strucken by many princes" [III. i. 209]. Brutus agrees to give reasons why Caesar was dangerous, "or else were this a savage spectacle" [III. i. 223], and the stage is set for what may be called the play's chief counter-ritual. Only Brutus, who planned the rite of sacrifice, could with such apt irony arrange the "true rites" and "ceremonies" which are to doom the conspiracy.

I will myself into the pulpit first And show the reason of our Caesar's death. What Antony shall speak, I will protest He speaks by leave and by permission, And that we are contented Caesar shall Have all true rites and lawful ceremonies. [III. i. 236-41]

But exactly after the manner of his speech announcing the ritual sacrifice [II. i] Brutus concludes again on a note of policy: "It shall advantage more than do us wrong" [II. i. 242].

Next follows Antony solus [alone rendering his prophecy of "domestic fury and fierce civil strife" [III. i. 263] symbolized in Caesar's ghost which will

Cry "Havoc," and let slip the dogs of war, That this foul deed shall smell above the earth. [III. i. 273-74]

The passage is similar in utterance, function, and dramatic placement to Carlisle's prophecy on the deposition of Richard II, and for that reason it is to be taken seriously as a choric interpretation of Caesar's death. Significantly, the beginning lines again deride Brutus' erstwhile phrase, "sacrificers but not butchers":

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers! [III. i. 254-551]

It is unnecessary to elaborate upon the Forum scene; Antony's oration follows the speech of Brutus with consequences familiar to all readers. But there is an element in Antony's turning of the tables which is just as remarkable as the well-known irony of his references to "honorable men." If we remember that Shakespeare has emphasized ritual at various planes of seriousness and of derision, the conclusion of Antony's speech to the populace will link itself with the previous theme. For here Antony reenacts the death of Caesar in a ritual of his own, one intended to show that the original "lofty scene" presented a base carnage. Holding Caesar's bloody mantle as a talisman, he reproduces seriatim [in a series] the sacrificial strokes, but he does so in terms of the "rent" Casca made and the "cursed steel" that Brutus plucked away with the blood of Caesar following it. Again, each conspirator had struck individually at Caesar and had symbolically involved himself with the others; for the second time Antony reminds us of this ritual bond by recounting each stroke, and his recreation of the rite becomes a mockery of it. Brutus' transformation of blood into the heady wine of sacrifice is reversed both in substance and in ceremony.

For the "realists" among the conspirators what has occurred can be summed up in the bare action of the play: the killing of Caesar has been accomplished, but the fruits of it have been spoiled by Brutus' insistence that Antony live and that he speak at Caesar's funeral. "The which," as [Thomas North's translation of] Plutarch has it, "marred all." With reference to Brutus, however, something much more significant has been enacted; the "insurrection," the contradiction, within him has taken outward form in his attempt to purify assassination through ceremony. This act, not to be found in Plutarch, symbolizes the "Elizabethan" Brutus compelled by honor to join with conspirators but required by conscience to reject Conspiracy.

We have followed the ritual theme in Julius Caesar from early scenes to the point of Antony's oration, at which it is completely defined. There remains, however, a terminal appearance of the theme in the first scene of Act V. The ultimate clash between the idealism of Brutus and Antony's contempt for it comes during the parley on the eve of Phillippi, at which Antony again drives home the old issue of ceremonial imposture. Brutus has observed that his enemy wisely threats before he stings; the reply is Antony's last disposition of the sacrificial rite:

Villains, you did not so when your vile daggers Hack'd one another in the sides of Caesar, You show'd your teeth like apes, and fawn'd like hounds, And bow'd like bondmen, kissing Caesar's feet; Whilst damned Casca, like a cur, behind Struck Caesar on the neck. [V. i. 39-44]

Antony invokes the "hacking" which Brutus earlier foreswore, and he again inverts the cherished formula of sacrifice: once more the dish carved for gods becomes the carcass hewn for hounds. Over the body of Caesar he had previously employed the hunting-hound figure ("Here wast • thou bay'd, brave hart."); the apes, the hounds, and the cur of these lines complete his vengeful irony of metaphor.

What, finally, is to be inferred from Antony's concluding passage on "the noblest Roman of them all" [V. v. 68]? Commonly found there is a broad vindication of Brutus which would deny an ironical interpretation. When Antony's elegiac speech is read plainly, however, its meaning is quite limited: it declares simply that Brutus was the only conspirator untouched by envy, and that, in intention, he acted "in a general honest thought / And common good to all" [V.v. 71-2]. The Elizabethan view of Brutus as tragically misguided is thus consistent with Antony's pronouncement that he was the only disinterested member of the conspiracy. But Brutus is not to be summed up in an epitaph; as the impersonal member of a conspiracy motivated largely by personal ends, he sought in a complex way to resolve his contradiction by depersonalizing, ritualizing, the means.

Shakespeare's achievement, however, is not confined to the characterization of a major figure, for we have seen that the ceremonial motive extends beyond the personality of Brutus into the structure of the play. Exposition stressing the idea of ritual observance leads to the episode in which Brutus formulates the "sacrifice," and clear resolution of the idea follows in event and commentary. Structural craftsmanship thus supplements characterization and the two combine, as in Richard II, to state the political philosophy implicit in the play. (pp. 34-43)

Brents Stirling, "'Or Else Were This a Savage Spectacle' [Ritual in Julius Caesar]," in Shakespeare, The Tragedies: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Alfred Harbage, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964, pp. 34-43.

Imagery and Language

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10759

Maurice Charney [Charney provides a detailed analysis of the principal image patterns in Julius Caesar—the storm and its supernatural elements, blood, and fire—and demonstrates how each set of images connotes two contradictory meanings that contribute to the thematic ambiguity of the play. According to the critic, the violent storm in Act I, scene iii can be interpreted as evidence of either the evil of Caesar's tyranny or the evil of the conspirators who plot to assassinate him. Charney also suggests that blood imagery in the play may, on the one hand, be viewed as a symbol of the injustice of Caesar's murder and the conspirators' guilt or, on the other, as a ritual blood-letting that restores the Roman political state to new health. Similarly, fire may be regarded as a purifying force that eliminates political treachery (either Caesar's tyranny or the evil of the conspiracy) or as a destructive force symbolizing civil strife. Additionally, the critic points out, fire imagery is used to signify passion and its power to enkindle emotion. Charney also stresses that regardless of the way the storm, blood, and fire imagery are interpreted in Julius Caesar, the action of the play progresses from chaos to restoration of order.]

... The chief image themes in Julius Caesar are the storm and its portents, blood, and fire. All of these have two opposed meanings, depending upon one's point of view. With reference to the conspirators, the storm and its portents indicate the evil of Caesar's tyranny in the body politic of Rome, while blood and fire are the means of purging and purifying this evil. But with reference to Caesar and his party, the storm and its portents indicate the evil of conspiracy that is shaking the body politic of Rome, while blood and fire are the signs of assassination and civil strife this evil brings in its wake. From either point of view, however, the action of the play moves from disorder (Caesar's tyranny or the conspiracy) to an uneasy restoration of order at the end (murder of Caesar or destruction of the conspiracy). These issues are never clearly resolved in the play. Although the defeat and death of the conspirators seem to be a comment on the futility of their enterprise, the rise of Antony and Octavius is by no means an affirmation of justice, truth, and human values.

The imagery of the storm and its portents allows Shakespeare to range freely among the correspondences of man, the state, and the cosmos. The tempest in nature reflects disturbances in man and the state, or, conversely, these disturbances are projected or externalized in the tempest. (pp. 42-3)

The final couplet of Cassius' soliloquy in I. ii serves as a prologue to the storm theme:

And after this let Caesar seat him sure, For we will shake him, or worse days endure. [I. ii. 321-221]

The thunder and lightning of I. iii follow immediately as a comment of the heavens on Cassius' words; this is the beginning of "worse days" for Rome. After the thunder and lightning, Casca enters "breathless" and staring [I. iii. 2], with his sword drawn [I. iii. 19], and in great anxiety. This disordered entrance conveys an immediate visual impression of the storm's awesome power, for the present Casca is entirely different from the blunt and somewhat cynical figure of I. ii. He asks Cicero with obvious agitation: "Are not you mov'd when all the sway of earth / Shakes like a thing unfirm?" [I. iii. 3-4]. There has never been such a storm as this, so terrible and so full of unnatural prodigies, for

never till tonight, never till now, Did I go through a tempest dropping fire. Either there is a civil strife in heaven, Or else the world, too saucy with the gods, Incenses them to send destruction. [I. iii. 9-13]

Casca seeks the meaning of the storm in the relations between the "gods" and the "world," and the "civil strife in heaven" will soon serve as a pattern for the conflict on earth.

Casca goes on to enumerate wonders—the slave with the burning hand, the lion near the Capitol, the men in fire seen by women, the screech-owl at noon in the market place—they are all impossible things that the gods have sent as signs and warnings to men:

When these prodigies Do so conjointly meet, let not men say 'These are their reasons—they are natural,' For I believe they are portentous things Unto the climate that they point upon. [I. iii. 28-32]

These prodigies serve as a choric comment on the evil that is taking place (growing conspiracy) and on the evil that is about to occur (murder of Caesar and consequent civil war).

The entrance of Cassius marks a movement from description of the storm to an application of its meaning. Since it signifies so much, this is indeed "A very pleasing night" [I. iii. 43] to Cassius, who has walked about the streets

And, thus unbraced, Casca, as you see, Have bar'd my bosom to the thunder-stone; And when the cross blue lightning seem'd to open The breast of heaven, I did present myself Even in the aim and very flash of it. [I. iii. 48-52]

Cassius does not remain in fear and trembling like Casca, because the "true cause" [I. iii. 62] of this "strange impatience of the heavens" [I. iii. 61] is at once apparent:

Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts, Why birds and beasts, from quality and kind; Why old men, fools, and children calculate; Why all these things change from their ordinance, Their natures, and preformed faculties, To monstrous quality—why, you shall find That heaven hath infus'd them with these spirits To make them instruments of fear and warning Unto some monstrous state. [I. iii. 63-71]

This is a key passage for understanding the effect of the storm, and unnaturalness and disorder are emphasized in every line. These prodigies represent a twisting of things from their natural course ("ordinance") and essential being ("preformed faculties") into a "monstrous" sort. The word "monstrous" specifically links the condition of the state with what is occurring in external nature, and it is a strong indication of disorder. Remember that conspiracy wears a "monstrous visage" [II. i. 81], and that the Ghost of Caesar is to Brutus a "monstrous apparition" [IV. iii. 277]. Cassius proceeds to identify the storm and its portents with Caesar, the ruler of the "monstrous state":

Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man Most like this dreadful night That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars As doth the lion in the Capitol; A man no mightier than thyself or me In personal action, yet prodigious grown And fearful, as these strange eruptions are. [I. iii. 72-8]

The analogy is very close, and Cassius' identification is driven home by the naive question of Casca: "Pis Caesar that you mean. Is it not, Cassius?" [I. iii. 79].

The sense of storm is maintained in II. i by several references, although it remains a minor motif. Brutus comments that "The exhalations, whizzing in the air, / Give so much light that I may read by them" [II. i. 44-5]. Further, Cassius wonders whether Caesar will stay away from the Capitol because of

these apparent prodigies, The unaccustom'd terror of this night, And the persuasion of his augurers. [II. i. 198-200]

Cassius fears that Caesar may be interpreting the signs of the storm as he himself has done in I. iii. In the dialogue between Brutus and Portia atmospheric detail is added to our feeling of the storm by references to the "raw cold morning" [II. i. 236], the "dank morning" [II. i. 263], and the "rheumy and unpurged air" [II. i. 266].

At the very end of the scene there is a stage direction, "Thunder," and the next scene opens with "Thunder and lightning." Julius Caesar appears in his dressing gown ("nightgown") and comments on what is occurring:

Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight. Thrice hath Calphurnia in her sleep cried out 'Help, hoi They murther Caesar!' [II. ii. 1-3]

To Calphurnia the storm and its portents point to the murder of Caesar, and we should remember that this is the same storm in which Casca and Cassius have actually plotted his death, and in which Brutus has been won to the conspiracy. Calphurnia tries to dissuade Caesar from going forth by an account of unnatural prodigies: "O Caesar, these things are beyond all use, I And I do fear them!" [II. ii. 25-6]. "Use" is a word for what is to be expected, what is natural, the proper "ordinance" [II. iii. 66] of things. Calphurnia fears that the portents by their very magnitude cry out the death of Caesar; there is a proportion in these things, and portents are not the same for all men:

When beggars die there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes. [II. ii. 30-1]

Finally, we have Calphurnia's dream of Caesar's statue running pure blood, which she interprets as "warnings and portents / And evils imminent" [II. ii. 80-1].

The central issue about the meaning of Julius Caesar is raised most forcefully and vividly by the imagery of blood. If the murder of Caesar is indeed a "savage spectacle" [III. i. 223], then the blood with which the conspirators are smeared "Up to the elbows" [III. i. 107] is the sign of their guilt. But if the murder of Caesar is a ritual blood-letting of the body politic of Rome, then blood is the sign of purification and new life. The latter point of view marks the tragedy of Brutus, for he cannot foresee that his high-minded but specious motives will be drowned in the bloodiness of murder and civil strife. He is tragically unable to bridge the gap between reasons and acts.

The blood theme begins in II. i, where it becomes a powerful symbol for the conspiracy. The question of what to do with Antony after the murder of Caesar is a crucial one. The shrewd and practical Cassius wants to kill him, but Brutus objects and makes ... the first great tactical error of his career. This decision also indicates the rift between the other conspirators and Brutus, who argues his position from the analogy between the bodies human and politic:

Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, To cut the head off and then hack the limbs, Like wrath in death and envy afterwards; For Antony is but a limb of Caesar. [II. i. 162-65]

He thinks of blood as the symbol of common murder, and he fears the stain of its guilt. The slaying of Caesar is a necessary and beneficial act, but Brutus wishes that there were no blood:

Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius. We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar, And in the spirit of men there is no blood. O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit And not dismember Caesar! But, alas, Caesar must bleed for it! [II. i. 166-71]

This is one of the most important passages in the play for showing the tragic wrongness of Brutus. The murder of Caesar proves to be not a loving sacrifice, but only a fruitless act of butchery, and its bloodiness is stressed as significantly as the murder of Duncan in Macbeth. When all is done, only the body of Caesar has been killed, not the spirit, which stays very much alive in Antony and Octavius and wins vengeance in civil strife. The meaning of the play can almost be formulated by taking the negative of all these statements of Brutus. (pp. 44-9)

Blood imagery is of greatest importance in III. i, where it is not only a repeated verbal theme, but also enters into the stage action. Animal blood from concealed bladders or sponges was probably used to represent Caesar's murder on the Elizabethan stage, and, from all indications, there was a frank emphasis on the spectacular effects of murder scenes. (p. 51)

A number of blood images in III. i show Caesar in the height of pride just before his fall. He thrusts aside Metellus Cimber, who "might fire the blood of ordinary men" [III. i. 37], but not Caesar's. He does not bear "such rebel blood" [III. i. 40] that can be melted by emotional persuasion, and the chief connotation of "blood" is the passion that Caesar forswears. The world is full of men who are "flesh and blood, and apprehensive" [III. i. 67], but only Caesar remains in cold, unchanging constancy. Yet ten lines later he is stabbed to death as readily as any mortal, and the blood that would not be fired or thawed now flows freely from the dagger wounds of the conspirators.

From this point until the end of the play the fact of Caesar's assassination is kept constantly before the audience, and this is done to a large extent by blood imagery. Of course, Caesar's bloody and rent body is on stage through all of this scene, and at a number of important moments [III. i. 148-50, 194-210, 254-75] Antony addresses it as if it were a living presence; Octavius' Servant does the same [III. i. 281]. In the next scene it is absent only for the short time of Brutus' oration. At line 41 Antony and others enter with the body, which remains on stage until removed by the plebeians for the funeral pyre [s.d., III. ii. 259]. Thus Caesar's body dominates the scene for almost 450 lines after his death. The body plays a conspicuous role during Antony's funeral oration, but throughout the time it is on stage it serves as a visible indictment of the conspirators. Its commanding presence on stage, possibly on the elevated platform or dais on which the "throne" usually stood, keeps the audience aware of the crime of assassination.

Shortly after the murder, Brutus directs the conspirators in a fearful blood ritual:

Stoop, Romans, stoop, And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood Up to the elbows and besmear our swords. Then walk we forth, even to the market place. And waving our red weapons o'er our heads, Let's all cry 'Peace, freedom, and liberty!' [III. i. 105-10]

This action fulfills the prophecy of Calphurnia's dream [II. ii. 76-9], and we may assume that stage blood was liberally used for these effects, since the conspirators' hands and swords need to remain very vividly bloody for about 150 lines (until the exit at III. i. 253). The blood ritual that Brutus began at II. i. 166 seems now a sacrilege rather than a consecration. It is continued as Cassius takes up Brutus' invocation:

Stoop then and wash. How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over In states unborn and accents yet unknown! [III. i. 111-13]

And Brutus answers antiphonally in the same spirit of uncontrolled exaltation:

How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport, That now on Pompey's basis lies along No worthier than the dust! [III. i. 114-16]

The eyes of the conspirators are on posterity, which they are sure will approve their present acts. These speeches represent the highest point in the development of the conspirators; with the entrance of Antony's Servant their downward course begins.

Antony's speeches in this scene reiterate "blood" both as the symbol of the murdered Caesar and as the sign of the conspirators' guilt. The double emphasis is made almost in his first words:

I know not, gentlemen, what you intend, Who else must be let blood, who else is rank. If I myself, there is no hour so lit As Caesar's death's hour; nor no instrument Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich With the most noble blood of all this world. I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard, Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke, Fulfil your pleasure. [III. i. 151-59]

Antony's thoughts run on blood as he boldly dares the conspirators to kill him, too. Their hands and swords have been bathed in Caesar's blood, whose visual signs they now flaunt to all Rome as justification of their deed. Throughout this scene Antony provides a bitter, sarcastic commentary on these "purpled hands" and swords, for they bear the stain of guilt upon them just as surely as Macbeth's hands and dagger do. (pp. 51-4)

[It] is the bloody hands of the conspirators that Antony is insisting on as the outward badge of their guilt. In a supremely ironic ceremony Antony shakes each of their hands:

Let each man render me his bloody hand. First, Marcus Brutus, will I shake with you; Next, Caius Cassius, do I take your hand; Now, Decius Brutus, yours; now yours, Metellus; Yours, Cinna; and, my valiant Casca, yours. Though last, not least in love, yours, good Trebonius. [III. i. 184-89]

This ceremony parallels the one by which Brutus entered the conspiracy: "Give me your hands all over, one by one" [II. i. 112]. We need to supply the all-important expression and attitude of Antony here, the mingling of intense loathing and feigned reconciliation. From this hand-shaking Antony acquires "bloody fingers" [III. i. 198] ... , and he speaks as if to undo the guilty ritual in which he has participated:

Pardon me, Julius! Here wast thou bay'd, brave hart; Here didst thou fall; and here thy hunters stand, Sign'd in thy spoil, and crimson'd in they lethe. O world, thou wast the forest to this hart; And this indeed, O world, the heart of thee! How like a deer, stroken by many princes, Dost thou here lie! [III. i. 204-10]

He has almost gone too far, and Cassius says menacingly "Mark Antony—" [III. i. 211], but Brutus, who himself loved Caesar, will now shield Antony. The hunting imagery of this speech stresses butchery rather than the sacrifice Brutus hoped for in [II. i. 166 ff.]. A grotesque pun demonstrates that the "heart" of the world can be killed bloodily like a "hart." Perhaps "lethe," too, is a part of this imagery and refers to the marking of hunters with the blood of a slain deer. When Cassius asks Antony if he will be a friend, Antony answers ironically: "Therefore I took your hands ..." [III. i. 218]. By sharing in Caesar's blood he has seemed to condone the murder, but behind this mask vengeance for Caesar is being prepared. (pp. 54-5)

Antony's soliloquy after the conspirators leave says directly and forcefully what has already been said ironically ... Antony apologizes to the dead Caesar for his conciliatory role with "these butchers" [III. i. 255], and he prophesies the vengeance of blood for blood that must follow:

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 To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue), A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; Domestic fury and fierce civil strife Shall cumber all the parts of Italy; Blood and destruction shall be so in use And dreadful objects so familiar That mothers shall but smile when they behold Their infants quartered with the hands of war, All pity chok'd with custom of fell deeds ... [III. i. 258-69]

Antony's vision of civil war is like the Bishop of Carlisle's in Richard II [IV. i. 136-49], and both serve as turning points in the action. The conspirators have shed Caesar's "costly" (precious) blood, which will indeed prove "costly" (dear, expensive) to them.

In III. i we learn that Antony will use his funeral oration to see "how the people take / The cruel issue of these bloody men ... " [III. i. 293-94], and the oration never allows us to forget the blood of Caesar. If Antony read Caesar's will, the commons would "go and kiss dead Caesar's wounds / And dip their napkins in his sacred blood ..." [III. ii. 133-34]. This blood has now become that of a martyr or a saint. Brutus' "most unkindest cut of all" [III. ii. 183] burst Caesar's heart, and

Even at the base of Pompey's statue (Which all the while ran blood) great Caesar fell. [III. ii. 188-89]

We recall Caesar's triumphing "over Pompey's blood" [I. i. 51] at the beginning of the play; now Pompey triumphs over Caesar's blood. Antony very artfully disclaims any power as an orator "To stir men's blood" [III. ii. 223]. The "most bloody sight" [III. ii. 202] of Caesar's body and "sweet Caesar's wounds, poor poor dumb mouths" [III. ii. 225] speak for themselves and act as a powerful persuasion to vengeance.

There is a general slackening of the blood imagery in Acts IV and V. After Brutus' "bloody spur" [IV. ii. 25] image for the civil war, the next significant use of "blood" is in the quarrel scene. Brutus counters Cassius' waspish indignation with the fact of Caesar's murder:

Remember March; the ides of March remember. Did not great Julius bleed for justice sake? What villain touch'd his body that did stab And not for justice? [IV. iii. 18-21]

If the purpose of the assassination were not justice, then Caesar's blood is the mark of butchery and murder. By the time of this scene the first flush of idealism has gone out of the conspiracy. It is seen here on the defensive, and Cassius' venality is a sign of disillusion. Only Brutus persists in his original uprightness, which is repeatedly expressed with all the insolent frankness of the morally sure. There is also a suggestion here that Brutus is beginning to be aware of the tragic betrayal of the original ideals of the conspiracy. This awareness creates a sense of doom and fatality in the scene, which is climaxed by the appearance of Caesar's Ghost.

The blood imagery of V. i sets the tone for the battle of Philippi in V. ii. A Messenger reports the enemy's "bloody sign of battle" [V. i. 14] to Antony and Octavius. Further on, Octavius cuts off the ingenious conceits of the battle parley with the words of a practical man:

Come, come, the cause! If arguing make us sweat, The proof of it will turn to redder drops. Look, I draw a sword against conspirators. When think you that the sword goes up again? Never, till Caesar's three-and-thirty wounds Be well aveng'd, or till another Caesar Have added slaughter to the sword of traitors. [V. i. 48-55]

This is the case against Brutus, Cassius, and their party: they are "conspirators" and "traitors" who must answer for it in battle; the arbitration of the issue will be in blood, not words. The final blood image is used by Titinius for the dead Cassius:

O setting sun, As in thy red rays thou dost sink to night, So in his red blood Cassius' day is set! The sun of Rome is set. [V. iii. 60-3]

So Cassius ends in his own "red blood," slain by the same hand and with the same sword that stabbed Caesar. This is the reciprocity of blood for blood.

The fire imagery of Julius Caesar follows the basic conflicts in the play in a manner similar to the themes of storm and blood. Here, too, the interpretation of the images depends on our attitude toward Caesar and the conspirators.

Does fire refer to Caesar's tyranny or to the evils of conspiracy? It is the conspirators' tragic error to think of the destructive power of fire as also being purgative and purifying. Brutus, for example, justifies the murder by a proverb: "As fire drives out fire, so pity pity" [III. i. 171]—the fire of conspiracy will destroy the fire of Caesar's tyranny. But the conspirators are themselves consumed in the fire of civil war that avenges Caesar. These comments may serve as a schematic and simplified pattern of the fire imagery, in which there are also two distinct lines of development. First, "fire" is used in the sense of passion, emotional power, the ability to inflame or enkindle, as Antony's oration inflames the mob. Second, "fire" is considered as a destructive and purifying force. This is the literal sense of fire, and it is carried into the stage action when the mob which Antony has inflamed lights firebrands to burn the conspirators' houses. In this scene the two meanings of fire merge.

The theme of fire as passion and its kindling power begins in the dialogue of Brutus and Cassius in I. ii. Brutus is aware of the fact that Cassius is "working" him to conspiracy [I. ii. 163], so that there is a certain sense of triumph in Cassius' remark:

I am glad That my weak words have struck but thus much show Of fire from Brutus. [I. ii. 176-77]

Brutus is the flint that the passionate Cassius strikes against in his effort of persuasion. The flint image is used again more explicitly in the quarrel scene, where Brutus confesses his weakness:

O Cassius, you are yoked with a lamb That carries anger as the flint bears fire; Who, much enforced, shows a hasty spark, And straight is cold again. [IV. iii. 110-13]

This imagery points the contrast between the hot Cassius and the cold Brutus (compare the hot-cold contrast between Cleopatra and Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra).

The fire of conspiracy that Cassius ignited in Brutus is thoroughly confirmed in the fire imagery of II. i. Brutus shrinks from a formal oath, since the motives for conspiracy themselves should

bear fire enough To kindle cowards and to steel with valour The melting spirits of women ... [II. i. 120-22]

The noble Brutus thinks of himself as kindled to conspiracy by justice alone. "Enkindled" [II. i. 249] is indeed the word which Portia uses for her husband later in the scene (it is significant how often Portia uses Brutus' words—it strengthens the bond between them and attests to Portia's dependence on her husband). At the end of the scene Brutus is able to persuade Caius Ligarius to abandon his sickness for an "exploit worthy the name of honour" [II. i. 317]. Caius needs only the example of Brutus,

And with a heart new-fir'd I follow you, To do I know not what; but it sufficeth That Brutus leads me on. [II. i. 332-34]

Brutus, fired to conspiracy by Cassius, is now able to fire others, and Caius Ligarius is a good example of Brutus' power to win an unquestioning assent. This passage suggests one obvious reason why Cassius was so anxious to gain the support of Brutus.

These images of fire as passion and its kindling power are strongly associated with the conspiracy. It is interesting to note that shortly before his murder in III. i Caesar renounces this sense of fire by asserting his cold constancy. Metellus Cimber's suit "Might fire the blood of ordinary men ..." [III. i. 37], but not Caesar's. He is "constant as the Northern Star" [III. i. 60], and fire to him implies inconstancy:

The skies are painted with unnumb'red sparks, They are all fire, and every one doth shine; But there's but one in all doth hold his place. [III. i. 63-5]

Caesar's murder follows soon after these declarations of starry stability.

The second sense of fire, as a destructive and purifying force, is developed in the theme of the storm and its portents. Casca has never until this night been through "a tempest dropping fire" [I. iii. 10], nor seen a sight like this:

A common slave (you know him well by sight) Held up his left hand, which did flame and burn Like twenty torches join'd; and yet his hand, Not sensible of fire, remain'd unscorch'd. [I. iii. 15-18]

Shakespeare dramatizes Plutarch here with a personal touch: the anonymous "common slave" becomes a figure whom Cicero knows "well by sight." Among the prodigies are also the "Men, all in fire," who "walk up and down the streets" [I. iii. 25]. In II. ii, Calphurnia warns Caesar that "Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds ..." [II. ii. 19], and the fiery comet portent of this scene [II. ii. 30-1] is a heavenly emblem of Caesar's murder. To Cassius fire is a symbol of the base passivity of Rome, which lets itself be used as kindling matter for Caesar's tyranny:

Those that with haste will make a mighty fire Begin it with weak straws. What trash is Rome, What rubbish and what offal, when it serves For the base matter to illuminate So vile a thing as Caesar! [I. iii. 107-11]

This "monstrous state" [I. iii. 71] of Rome can only be righted by deeds "Most bloody, fiery, and most terrible" [I. iii. 130].

Both senses of fire—as passion and its kindling power, and as a destructive and purifying force—are brought together in the scene of Antony's funeral oration. At the end of this scene the fire imagery emerges into the dramatic action, which marks the culmination of the theme in the play. Antony's oration, by its persuasive rhetoric, enkindles and inflames the mob. When he pauses for tears, the Second Plebeian remarks: "Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping" [III. ii. 115]. Antony's success depends on his ability to communicate the "fire" of his own emotions, and he has soon gained such hypnotic power over the mob that he is able to control their reactions. At line 169, for example, he says: "If you have tears, prepare to shed them now"; this achieves its effect some twenty-five lines further: "O, now you weep, and I perceive you feel / The dint of pity" [III. ii. 193-94].

It is just this technique of suggestion that Antony uses in connection with Caesar's will:

You are not wood, you are not stones, but men; And being men, hearing the will of Caesar, It will inflame you, it will make you mad. [III. ii. 142-44]

With masterful rhetoric Antony suggests the effect if only he provide the cause, and he seems to take pleasure in playing with effects. In this respect both he and Cassius (compare his soliloquy at the end of I. ii) have qualities of the Machiavel [one who views politics as amoral and that any means, however unscrupulous, can justifiably be used in achieving political power]. Antony is able to withhold the will for almost a hundred lines while he himself stirs up the mob to cry for vengeance: "Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay! / Let not a traitor live!" [III. ii. 204-05]. Fire now becomes the instrument of destruction as Antony's own insinuation of mutiny is taken up by the plebeians:

1. Pleb. We'll burn the house of Brutus.3. Pleb. Away then! Come, seek the conspirators. [III. ii. 231-32]

When Antony reads the will, the incensed mob seeks fire to wreak havoc on its enemies:

1. Pleb. Come, away, away! We'll burn his body in the holy place And with the brands fire the traitors' houses. Take up the body.2. Pleb. Go fetch fire!3. Pleb. Pluck down benches!4. Pleb. Pluck down forms, windows, anything! [III. ii, 253-58]

We recall that this same violent, enthusiastic mob was the hostile group of citizens before whom Antony began his oration. Antony observes his effect with all the aloofness of the successful plotter: "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt" [III. ii. 259-60]. He has finished with his inflammatory rhetoric, and he now speaks in the cold, political tone of the proscription scene (IV. i) some fifty lines further.

After the concentrated verbal imagery of fire in Antony's oration, we have the image of actual fire as the mob goes to burn Caesar's body and the houses of the conspirators. This stage imagery of fire is the logical climax of the theme. The Second Plebeian's cry, "Go fetch fire!" suggests that firebrands are brought in from off-stage, but the mob could also ignite the firebrands right there in front of the audience. Actual fire at this hectic moment is a powerful image of the citizens' passionate and destructive temper, and there is a sense of poetic justice in the use of brands from Caesar's funeral pyre to burn the conspirators' houses. It shows the double aspect of fire: consecration and destruction. In an over-all view, fire, which was first identified with the conspiracy as a symbol of destruction, has now, after the murder of Caesar, become an instrument of vengeance. It thus takes on a purgative, consecrating role. (pp. 56-65)

There is not much further use of fire imagery in Acts IV and V. In IV. iii. Brutus tells Cassius of Portia's death by swallowing fire [IV.iii. 156]; the political events in their personal turn have been too much for her. The only reference to fire in the battle of Philippi is made when Cassius asks Titinius: "Are those my tents where I perceive the fire?" [V. iii. 13]. This is a further indication of the destruction of the conspirators by fire, a point emphasized in III. ii and III. iii. The final fire image provides a significant conclusion to the theme. Strato, who held the sword for Brutus, affirms the honor of his master:

The conquerors can but make a fire of him; For Brutus only overcame himself, And no man else hath honour by his death. [V. v. 55-7]

The fire of conspiracy, having been turned as an instrument of vengeance against the conspirators, now ends with the dead body of Brutus ready for the pyre. This is the final requiting of Caesar. (p. 66)

Maurice Charney, "The Imagery of Julius Caesar," in his Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in the Drama, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961, pp. 41-78.

Gayle Greene [Greene examines the use of rhetoric and persuasive language in four crucial passages of Julius Caesar. In the first of these scenes, the critic claims, Cassius attempts to convince Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar (Act I, scene ii) by making vague, unspecified charges of Caesar's tyranny and by subtly suggesting that Brutus is the "ideal of Roman manhood." Greene then demonstrates that although Brutus appears to be offering rational arguments for the necessity of killing Caesar in his soliloquy in Act II, scene i, his use of analogy and metaphor lead him to numerous lapses in logic. For example, he likens Caesar to a dangerous "serpent's egg" though he has no solid reason for doing so; nevertheless, he pursues the image and concludes that, like a serpent Caesar should be killed before he can do harm. The critic then examines the rhetorical strategies of Brutus's and Antony's speeches in Act III, scene ii. Brutus's principal technique, she notes, is to imply that his listeners must choose between mutually exclusive alternatives—dying as slaves under Caesar's tyrannical rule or killing him and living as freemen in the republic, for example—without proving that these are the actual alternatives. Antony's oration is, Greene states, characterized by its extensive use of irony and repetition, as well as by action words, and therefore excites the commoners' emotions rather than appealing to their sensibilities. Significantly, since neither Brutus nor Antony present rational proofs of their arguments regarding Caesar but rely solely on verbal strategies, we are left "at the mercy of rhetoric" and cannot determine what is true. The play thus reveals that "if a point of view is persuasively stated, it passes for truth."]

When Antony concludes his funeral oration by modestly disclaiming the powers of rhetoric he has so abundantly displayed—

I am no orator, as Brutus is; But (as you know me all) a plain blunt man ... For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth, ... nor the power of speech To stir men's blood; I only speak right on. [III. ii. 217-18, 221, 222-23]

—he draws attention to the very arts of oratory which have enabled him to seize triumphant control of his world. Indeed, his rhetorical tour de force turns the course not only of the action of the play, but of the tide of times. Effecting the shift of power from Brutus to Antony, it marks the end of the Republic and the beginning of events which will issue in the Empire; and, as his words "inflame" [III. ii. 144] his audience, their "fire" [III. ii. 15] becomes more than metaphorical, to spark the actual blaze that burns Rome. Nor is the oration an isolated instance: it is but one of a series of persuasion scenes on which the play as a whole is structured, wherein language is used to "work," "fashion," "move," "fire," its listeners. (pp. 67-8)

The markedly rhetorical style has often been noted, and Dr. [Samuel] Johnson's opinion [in his Notes on Shakespeare's Plays: "Julius Caesar"] that "Shakespeare's adherence to ... Roman manners [was] cold and unaffecting" has been echoed by critics such as Mark Van Doren, who characterizes the play as "more rhetoric than poetry" and its characters as "more orators than men" [see Sources for Further Study]. But rhetoric in this play is a theme as well as a style: according prominence by structure and imagery, it is integral to characterization, culture, and to the central political and epistemological concerns [Epistemology is the study of what knowledge is and how it is acquired]. In Shakespeare's depiction of Rome as a society of skilled speakers whose rhetorical expertise masks moral and political truth is implied a criticism of rhetoric and of language itself which is central to the play's tragic vision. (p. 69)

An analysis of four crucial "persuasion" scenes will demonstrate how language functions to "work," "fashion," "move," "fire" its listeners, leaving the central political questions veiled in obscurity. Brutus is, as we hear repeatedly from him and from others, an honorable man and a man of reason, a stoic who prides himself on reason and is forever urging "reasons" to others; this leads us to expect that his participation in the conspiracy will be undertaken with deliberation and cause [A stoic is a member of the school of philosophy founded by the Greek thinker Zeno about 300 B.C. This discipline holds that wise men should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law]. But if we look to the scenes where we most expect to find cause for Caesar's assassination—the scene in which Cassius "seduces" [I. ii. 312] Brutus to come into the conspiracy; the soliloquy in which Brutus "fashions" [II. i. 30] an argument for himself to join the conspiracy; the forum scene, where first Brutus, then Antony, "move" [III. ii. 229] the crowd, Antony "working" [III. ii. 271] and "inflaming" [III. ii. 144] them to riot and mutiny—we find no reasons, only a rhetoric that obscures questions of Caesar's ambition and the justice of his death.

The "seduction scene" [I. ii. 31-175], in which "Cassius first did whet [Brutus] against Caesar" [II. i. 61], is the first place where we would expect to hear the case against Caesar, or at least some specific grievance. Yet, as [Ernest] Schanzer observes, "in this crucial scene ... Cassius ... does not mention any specific acts of tyrannical behaviour" [see excerpt in section on Julius Caesar's character]. Schanzer concludes that Cassius is not well suited to his role of guileful seducer. His case against Caesar is made in terms like "this age's yoke" [I. ii. 61], "these hard conditions as this time / Is like to lay upon us" [I. ii. 174-75]—hardly convincing enough to warrant murder. In fact, on the surface, Cassius and Brutus seem barely to hear or to speak to one another. In the first part of the scene (to [I. ii. 88]), they essay one another, Cassius trying both to ascertain Brutus's feelings and to persuade him of his own point of view, without actually stating that point of view, while Brutus, partly defensive, partly enticed, simultaneously backs off and beckons him on. Twice, Brutus asks directly what Cassius wants of him ("Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius?" [I. ii. 63]; "wherefore do you hold me here so long?" [I. ii. 83], and twice, Brutus's attention is deflected so that Cassius does not have to reply. On neither occasion does Brutus seem to notice or object. The first time, Cassius merely continues his line of thought, without any indication that he has even heard Brutus's question [I. ii. 66]; and the second time, rather than waiting for a reply to his question, Brutus continues his own line of thought [I. ii. 85-9]. Twice, Cassius declares intentions to speak of subjects he never again refers to: Brutus's hidden worthiness" [I. ii. 57] and "honor." Though he announces "honor is the subject of my story" (in the first of the two long speeches [I. ii. 92-131] which comprise the second movement of the scene), honor is not his subject; it is, rather, his outrage at Caesar's physical infirmities.

Yet by the end of the exchange, they have communicated, and Brutus indicates, in veiled, vague terms, that he assents:

What you would work me to, I have some aim: How I have thought of this, and of these times, I shall recount hereafter ... What you have said I will consider; what you have to say I will with patience hear, and find a time Both meet to hear and answer such high things. [I. ii. 163-65, 167-70]

In measured, balanced phrases (as though a control of language could assure a control of reality), he refers the whole matter to another time.

Though Brutus nowhere, here or later, insists on clearer definition of Cassius's suggestions, he is persuaded because something else is going on in the exchange. Cassius's real appeal is made in veiled, allusive terms which communicate, not through what they state but through what they suggest "thoughts of great value, worthy cogitations" [I. ii. 50], noncommital terms with enticing innuendoes which Brutus is echoing by the end of the scene—"such high things" [I. ii. 170]. The real argument is made through indirection and insinuation because the actual grounds of Cassius's appeal are not the sort he can state: they are to Brutus's vanity and image of himself as a noble Roman, and are inarticulated because inadmissible.

Cassius reveals these terms in solioquy at the end of the scene, when he describes the petitions he plans to throw in at Brutus's window:

... all tending to the great opinion That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at. [I. ii. 318-20]

"Opinion," "Rome," the "name"—and only then is Caesar's ambition "obscurely glanced at." Indeed, these terms are implicit throughout the "seduction," and are the power of an otherwise nonexistent argument. When Cassius offers to be Brutus's "glass" [I. ii. 68] to show him an image of his "hidden worthiness" [I. ii. 57], Brutus's acknowledgment that "the eye sees not itself / But by reflection, by some other things" [I. ii. 52-3] is an admission of his dependence on the opinions of others for knowledge of himself. A few lines later, Cassius again evokes the imaginary audience he knows is so essential to Brutus's self-esteem, mirrors without which he cannot see and does not know himself: "many of the best respect in Rome /... Have wish'd that noble Brutus had his eyes" [I. ii. 59, 62]. A similar appeal is contained in his second long speech, "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world" [I. ii. 135ff.], where he weaves the words "Rome," "man," "Brutus," "Caesar," "name," "fame," and "shame" into a pattern that creates an ideal of Roman manhood: an ideal represented by the name ("yours is as fair a name" [I. iL 144]), by opinion ("When could they say, till now, that talk'd of Rome ..." [I. ii. 154]), by "our fathers" and the first Brutus [I. ii. 158,159]. According to this ideal, Cassius urges Brutus to define himself, and this "works" [I. ii. 163, 308] more strongly than logical argument.

"Rome," "honor," "name" are words which are loaded with affective connotations that make them capable of kindling powerful responses. Though for the moment Brutus says nothing, their effect on him is obvious later when, again asked to "see thyself!" [n. i. 46], he responds with an outburst about Rome and his ancestors [II. i. 53-5]. These words are powerful because they enshrine the dominant cultural values, the thought and belief of the past—libertarian ideals of republican Rome passed down through what "our fathers say" [I. ii. 158] ... These words and notions are bound up with Brutus's conception of himself, determining the way he experiences himself and reality.

The most important of these is "honor." Honor words are used so frequently by Brutus or with reference to him that they become, as [Maurice] Charney notes, "almost an identifying tag for his character" [in Shakespeare's Roman Plays: The Function of Imagery in Drama], Brutus's susceptibility to what touches his honor is indicated by his outburst in this scene:

Set honour in one eye, and death i' th' other, And I will look on both indifferently; For let the gods so speed me as I love The name of honour more than I fear death. [I. ii. 86-9]

Though his general intention is clear, his language is not, and this is typical of Brutus's confusions when his imagination has been kindled and of his real confusions concerning honor: it is, as he says, "the name of honor" he loves. This conception of honor—as "name" or "reputation"—was associated, by the Renaissance, with classical antiquity, and is an aspect of Shakespeare's depiction of Rome. But the idea of honor as a social attribute conferred by the "opinion" of the community is a notion of which Shakespeare is elsewhere critical, one which he associates elsewhere, as here, with confusion in language. (pp. 73-7)

Brutus's uncritical acceptance of the Roman ideal both results from and reinforces the confusions in language which make him obtuse to the real terms of Cassius's appeal.

The real strengths of Cassius's argument are thus weaknesses in Brutus's character—his concern with reputation and appearance, his subtle vanity and pride—and it is on these grounds that the noble Brutus is seduced. Depending on the opinions of others for his image of himself, Brutus does not know himself, and is vulnerable to whoever provides the desired "reflection." Indeed, the entire exchange begins with Cassius's assurance that he loves Brutus, and ends with Brutus's "That you do love me, I am nothing jealous" [I. ii. 162], as though its entire purport had been to assure Brutus only of this—which, in a way, it has. It is Brutus's confusion of real and professed motives that accounts for Cassius's verbal obliquity: Cassius "palters with him in a double sense" [Macbeth, V. viii. 20], with different meanings for the heart and ear, seeming to appeal to "honor" and concern for "the general good" [I. ii. 85], while actually appealing to vanity. He is, contrary to what Schanzer says of him, an extremely guileful seducer, who looks quite through the words of men to their real concerns and appeals to the one while seeming to appeal to the other.

But Brutus's fatal confusions are most apparent when, in soliloquy [II. i. 10-34], he defends his decision to take part in the murder of a man he protests he loves. He is, as Antony says, the only conspirator not motivated by "envy of great Caesar" [V. v. 70], so we look to these lines when he is alone with himself—the only time in the play—for a cause why Caesar should be killed. Yet the issue disturbingly blurs, disappearing into a tangle of strange and disconnected images of uncertain relevance to one another or to their supposed subject, Caesar. Brutus's language, always more metaphorical than the other characters', is even more metaphorical than usual in this speech. Attempts to make sense of the soliloquy—like John Dover Wilson's "Brutus' theme is the effect of power upon character" [see excerpt in section on Roman Politics]—probably represent something like what Brutus would have liked to have said, but nothing this coherent emerges until we have supplied certain missing logical links, and in making this much sense of it, we are ignoring what the language is communicating. Its broken rhythms, uncompleted thoughts, and associational movement present a glimpse into the mind of a man who has not slept for weeks and who has never, in his clearest moments, defined the issues that are tearing him. The sequence of thought and statement is not logical, the conscious, active intellect is not in control, and what emerges is a sense of exhaustion, a linguistic image of the "phantasma" [II. i. 65] Brutus describes a few lines later.

Brutus begins with "It must be by his death" [II. i. 10]—words which have more clarity and conviction than any in the soliloquy, until, perhaps, the final "kill him in the shell" [II. i. 34]. Finding "no personal cause to spurn at him [II. i. 11], he looks to "the general" [II. i. 12], but finding no "general" cause either, by the third line, he has shifted to the conditional: "He would be crown'd: / How that might change his nature, there's the question" [II. i. 12-13]. Now, instead of evidence from Caesar's past or present conduct to answer the "question" he has posed about a hypothetical future, Brutus reaches for a metaphor:

It is the bright day that brings forth the adder, And that craves wary walking. [II. i. 14-15]

Again he returns to the question of Caesar's potential—"Crown him?—That;—" [II. i. 15]. The broken thought creates the sense of groping, but what Brutus is groping for is not, as we might expect, reasons for supposing that Caesar is like an adder; rather, he develops the metaphor: "And then I grant we put a sting in him" [II. i. 16].

Brutus's next statement is a generalization, somewhat confusingly worded, about the misuse of power: "Th' abuse of greatness is when it disjoins / Remorse from power" [II. i. 18-19]. But he has difficulty applying this generalization specifically to Caesar, since he can find nothing in Caesar's conduct to warrant it:

... and, to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections sway'd More than his reason. [II. i. 19-21]

So he makes another generalization—"But 'tis a common proof " [II. i. 21]—which he supports with a metaphor: "... That lowliness is young ambition's ladder" [II. i. 22]. Though he has admitted difficulty in applying his general principle to Caesar, finding an appropriate metaphor seems to suffice and relieve him of having to justify its applicability. The relevance of this image to Caesar is even less obvious than that of the "adder"; perhaps, in view of the associational movement of the lines, it is there because it rhymes. It is startling, as Schanzer points out, "to find Brutus ... speak of Caesar as if he were still at the beginning of his career." But it seems to satisfy Brutus because he develops it for the next seven lines, until the "climber-upward" attains "the upmost round" and,

... then unto the ladder turns his back, Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees By which he did ascend. [II. i. 23, 24, 25-7]

Though strangely ineffectual for the weight it carries in the argument, the figure seems to serve Brutus's need, demonstrating his general principle about the effect of power upon purpose, while still not specifying its relevance to Caesar. What follows weakens the argument even further: "So Caesar may; / Then lest he may, prevent" [II. i. 27-8]. The only possible application of "vehicle" to "tenor" puts the whole case back in the conditional. Since "the thing he is" [II. i. 29] will not warrant killing him, Brutus states his intention to "fashion,", "color," "And therefore think him," and thus takes the leap that clinches the argument—once more, reaching for metaphor:

And since the quarrel Will bear no colour for the thing he is, Fashion it thus: that what he is, augmented, Would run to these and these extremities; And therefore think him as a serpent's egg. Which, hatch'd, would as his kind, grow mischievous, And kill him in the shell. [II. i. 28-34]

There is the same incongruity about this metaphor as the last: Caesar is not "in the shell"; he is, as Brutus himself calls him, "the foremost man of all this world" [IV. ill. 22].

What Brutus has said in this soliloquy is that there is no complaint about Caesar as he is or has been, but, on the basis of what often happens to people when they get power. Caesar might, given power, change. Brutus cites no "reasons," no cause, for supposing that he would change: images of "adder," "ladder," and "serpent's egg" develop his argument, carrying it to the conclusion to which he is committed. His thought moves back and forth between general observations about human behavior and metaphors that illustrate them, and nowhere does he look outside this self-referential linguistic construct to the supposed subject, Caesar himself. Brutus could "think him" anything on the basis of metaphors enlisted to support "common proofs," and his interpretation need bear no more, or less, relation to his subject than "a serpent's egg"; but the progression of tenses in the soliloquy, from the tentative "might" [II. i. 13] to "may" [II. i. 17], to the final "would" [II. i. 33], indicates that he has blurred the distinction between the hypothetical or metaphorical and the actual. The tentativeness of the subordinate clauses and appositions of the last five lines are overriden by the inexorable rhythms of "And since ... And therefore ... And kill," with their strong sense of causal necessity; the uncertain, choppy rhythms find release in the smooth, clinching "kill him in the shell." With his conscious mind relaxed, the conceptual controls dulled by exhaustion, the mechanism of Brutus's fatal construing is obvious: his willingness to let words do his thinking for him. (pp. 77-81)

The strategies of deception that work privately, between a man and his friend, and, more insidiously, between a man and himself, are merely subtler, less obvious versions of the rhetorical tactics used publicly in the funeral orations. Brutus's oration [in. ii. 13-47], his prose, "attic" statement of "public reasons" [III. ii. 7] is traditionally contrasted to Antony's impassioned "asiatic" style, and is usually read as an appeal to the intellect rendered powerless by Antony's more effective appeal to the emotions. These misreadings of Brutus's lines are extremely revealing, since they are based on effects which Brutus himself carefully creates. Brutus explicitly, in the first lines, establishes his authority as a man of reason addressing the reason of others--

Romans, countrymen, and lovers, hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear. Believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe. Censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge. [III. ii. 13-17]

—associating himself, by the repetition of key words, with honor, wisdom, and judgment. The technique is ethos, establishing the personal character of the speaker, on the basis of the principle—stated by Aristotle—that we are likely to accept the argument of a good man. And despite the confusions Brutus has manifested, critics seem simply to have taken him at his word, interpreting the oration, nearly unanimously, as an appeal to the reason—a "straightforward statement" of "real reasons" "logically delivered." Yet when we look more closely, no reasons appear, no argument that could appeal to logic. The one accusation of Caesar—"he was ambitious" [II. i. 26-7]—is slipped in among protestations of Brutus's love for him and is nowhere supported or even referred to again. Caesar's ambition is again, in Cassius's phrase, "obscurely ... glanced at" [I. ii. 319-20], in a linguistic construction which makes use of formal patterning, abstract terminology, and brevity to gloss over issue and event. Yet critics who have read the oration as an appeal to the reason are taking their cues from actual elements in it, from rhetorical and syntactical effects carefully contrived to create the illusion Brutus desires.

Brutus's most effective device is to present the issue as though it were a choice between two alternatives which leave no choice but to assassinate Caesar, but which rest on unexamined assumptions concerning Caesar: so that, again, the argument is a self-referential construct that makes sense in its own terms but casts no light outside itself to its supposed subject. He is aided in this by rhetorical figures that are related to logical processes and enable him to suggest logical distinctions and relationships, while actually falsifying the distinctions they imply. The first three sentences (quoted above) make use of one such figure, "antimetabole," a figure which "repeats words in converse order, often thereby sharpening their sense" [Miriam Joseph, in her Shakespeare's Use of the Arts of Language]. But, while seeming to "sharpen the sense," its function in Brutus's speech is simply tautology [a redundant or self-defining statement]: "Believe me for mine honor and for mine honor believe." The necessity of choice between two mutually exclusive alternatives, love of Caesar and love of Rome, is asserted in the line, "Not that I lov'd Caesar less, but that I lov'd Rome more" [III. ii. 21-2], but nowhere does Brutus substantiate that these were the alternatives, or that they excluded one another. The question he then springs ("Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen?" [III. ii. 22-4]) again implies logical distinction and the necessity of choice between alternatives suggested to be mutually exclusive—living in freedom or dying in bondage—but again, without evidence that these were the real alternatives. Both these distortions involve "enthymeme," an abridged syllogism, in which the omission of one premise results in "a strong tendency to accept the conclusion without scrutinizing the missing premise on which the argument rests" [Joseph]. The implicit premise on which all these claims depend is an assumption about Caesar: that Caesar's nature was such that it was necessary to choose between love of him and love of Rome, that Caesar living would have necessitated their "dying all slaves." This is the missing premise, nowhere confronted or supported, on which Brutus bases his entire case. The rhetorical questions which conclude his oration again present a choice between alternatives that again rest on an unexamined assumption regarding Caesar: "Who is here so base that he would be a bondman? If any, speak, for him have I offended" [III. ii. 29-30]. Brutus creates a context wherein any objection would be an admission of rudeness, baseness, or vileness—so that, within this circular construct, it is indeed true, "Then none have I offended" [III. ii. 36].

There are, moreover, close-knit causal relationships Implied within nearly every line that further this illusion of logic. The first three sentences make use of a construction that twice implies causality—"for" (on account of) and "that" (in order that). The next two lines are conditional clauses setting up "if ... then" relationships. Brutus uses the figure "taxis" to mete reward and penalty in a syntactical arrangement implying distribution of effect according to cause: the cumulative effect of "as Caesar was ... so I," repeated three times, lends finality to the concluding "but, as he was ambitious, I slew him" [III. ii. 26-7]. Of the sixteen sentences in the oration, six begin with "if," lending the final "Then none have I offended" a weight that clinches the argument. Even his last lines, which are not part of the argument but merely refer his audience to the records in the Capitol, use a construction that metes out reward and punishment in logical distribution: "his glory ... wherein he was worthy ... his offences ... for which he suffer'd death" [III. ii. 38-40]. Such syntactical arrangements occur from beginning to end of his speech, creating an illusion of irrefutable logic, causing the mind to fill out the pattern suggested by the syntax and to perceive reasons where there are none.

The oration is far from an appeal to the intellect with "real reasons"; nor is it an ineffective piece of oratory showing the intellectual's inability to communicate with the masses, as it has also been interpreted. It is a brilliant piece of oratory, brilliantly suited to manipulating a difficult crowd, while resorting to none of the obviously cheap tricks so conspicuous in Antony's performance. Thus it enables Brutus to preserve his conception of himself in his own eyes and others' as a rational man reasonably motivated—an effect he accomplishes with spectacular success, judging from critics' misreadings. (pp. 82-5)

All Antony does in the opening speech of his remarkable oration—"Friends, Romans, countrymen" [III. ii. 73-107]—is to pretend to accept Brutus's claim, Caesar "was ambitious," and then set about undermining it, by twisting a few crucial words. Merely by repeating, at regular and strategic intervals within a subtly changing context, "Brutus says he was ambitious and Brutus is an honorable man" [III. ii. 86-7,93-4,98-9], he causes the words "honor" and "ambition" to assume opposite and ironic meanings, and Brutus's claim to redound on itself: the repetition is "anh'phrases, or the broad flout ... irony of one word" [Joseph]. Thus twenty-one lines into the speech, "Brutus says he was ambitious, / And Brutus is an honorable man" actually means, "Caesar was not ambitious, nor is Brutus honorable," and by [III. ii. 153], the crowd itself can draw the conclusion which Antony nowhere has to state: "They were traitors; honorable men!" Master of irony, Antony is a master of language who has power to make words mean what he wills.

His power derives from his understanding of irony, his skill in adapting language to audience, and his superior insight into the value of pathos in persuasion. The oration is a lurid and dramatic appeal to a whole range of feelings, from grief for the loss of a leader and friend, desire to honor the dead, to curiosity, greed, fury, and revenge. At the end of this first long section, Antony pauses, ostensibly to compose himself, actually to calculate his effect on the crowd, and from this point on, he makes use of techniques and props to supplement the verbal: the will, the bloody mantle, and the body. In the next long speech [III. ii. 169-97], he "comes down." has the crowd make a ring around the corpse, and, holding up the bloody mantle, reenacts the murder. Antony's language and action are all concentrated on evoking the deed, with effects quite opposite to Brutus's distancing, obfuscating techniques. Injunctions occur at the beginnings of four lines—"Look" [III. ii. 174], "See" [III. ii. 175]. "Mark" IIII. ii. 178], "Judge" [iii. ii. 184]--building to the final moment when he reveals the body itself--"Look you here" [III. ii. 196]. His language is characterized by a quality R. W. Zandvoort describes as "animation," the ascription of life to lifeless objects, somewhat in the manner of the pathetic fallacy ["Brutus's Forum Speech in Julius Caesar," Review of English Studies XVI, No, 61 (January 1940): 62-6]: Caesar's wounds are "poor, dumb mouths" which "speak for me" [III. ii. 225-26]: the "blood of Caesar" followed Brutus's sword "As rushing out of doors to be resolv'd / If Brutus so unkindly knock'd or no" [III. ii. 179-80]; while Pompey's statue "all the while ran blood" [III. ii. 189]. This is the key to the vitality of his language, the energy that enables him to seize hold of his world. Finally, sweeping aside the garment to reveal the body, he releases forces of chaos and destruction: "Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Slay!" [III. ii. 204-05] "power of speech" [III. ii. 222]—in a triumphant flourish of his own showmanship. This gesture is an appropriate conclusion to a performance which is pervaded with irony, for irony is the essence of his oration, from his persona of "a plain blunt man / That ... speak[s] right on" [III. ii. 218-19, 223], to the more specific rhetorical forms of "anti-phrases" and "paralipsis." "Paralipsis," a mode of irony which works by disclaiming the very things the speaker wishes to emphasize, is one of his most effective techniques. Repeating the word "wrong" six times within four lines [III. ii. 123, 125,126,127], he insinuates that wrong has been done in the very process of denying that it has. Pretending to try to quiet the crowd, to dissuade them from "mutiny and rage" [III. ii. 122], he achieves his ends even as he disclaims them. His handling of the will, "which, pardon me, I do not mean to read" [III. ii. 131], similarly makes use of "paralipsis": in enumerating all his reasons for withholding the will, he describes exactly the ways it will "inflame" [III. ii. 144] them.

Not the least of his ironies is his claim to appeal to the reason: "O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts, / And men have lost their reason" [III. ii. 104-05]. Yet in a sense, for all his histrionics, Antony does offer more information about Caesar than Brutus did, offering at least the assertions, "He was my friend" [III, ii. 85], he brought captives home to Rome [III. ii. 88], he wept for the poor [III. ii. 91], he thrice refu

Julius Caesar

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4329

Ernest Schanzer [Schanzer suggests that Shakespeare intentionally presented an enigmatic, or contradictory, portrait of Caesar to satisfy the different views of him held by Elizabethan audiences. By the close of Act III, the critic declares, various characters offer evaluations of Caesar's nature that bear little resemblance to one another. Shakespeare calls into question the validity of each of these estimates, at the same time presenting Caesar as a figure who is alternately pompous, shrewd, and benevolent. The dramatist thus provides no direct response to the question of who is the real Caesar. Noting that our view of Caesar depends to a large extent on our estimate of the justifiability of the assassination, Schanzer asserts that although Shakespeare points up the futility of the murder through his emphasis on Caesar's spirit in the last two acts of the play, he offers no conclusive judgment of the morality of the conspiracy.]

Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare's most controversial plays. Commentators have been quite unable to agree on who is its principal character or whether it has one; on whether it is a tragedy and, if so, of what kind; on whether Shakespeare wants us to consider the assassination as damnable or praiseworthy; while of all the chief characters in the play contradictory interpretations have been given. To illustrate this polarity of views it will be enough to quote two of its editors. Professor Dover Wilson tells us that in this play Shakespeare adopted what he claims to be the traditional Renaissance view of Caesar, derived from Lucan, which regarded him as 'a Roman Tamburlaine of illimitable ambition and ruthless irresistible genius; a monstrous tyrant who destroyed his country and ruined "the mightiest and most flourishing commonwealth that the world will ever see"'. The play's theme 'is the single one, liberty versus Tyranny' [see excerpt in section on Roman Politics].

The assassination is depicted as wholly laudable, the conspirators as unselfish champions of freedom, while Brutus's tragedy consists in his vain struggle against the destiny of Rome which lies in the establishment of Caesarism.

When we turn to Sir Mark Hunter's interpretation of the play, we find that 'there can be no doubt that to Shakespeare's way of thinking, however much he extends sympathy to the perpetrators of the deed, the murder of Julius was the foulest crime in secular history'. Of Caesar we learn, 'when put to the test of the stage the personality of Julius "moves before us as something right royal", a character sufficiently great to render the impassioned eulogy of Antony and the calm tribute of Brutus not inconsistent with what we have actually heard and seen of the object of their praise'. Of the conspirators we are told, 'Brutus excepted, there is no sign anywhere that the enemies of the Dictator, though they have all the political catchwords at command—Liberty, Enfranchisement, etc.—care one jot for the welfare of any one outside their own order'. And of Brutus, 'Noble-hearted and sincere beyond question, Brutus is intellectually dishonest', he is self-righteous, pathetically inconsistent, a 'befogged and wholly mischievous politician' [Transactions of the Royal Society of Literature 10 (1931): 136ff.]. Thus, while Dover Wilson roots the play in the republican tradition of the Renaissance, which is overwhelmingly hostile to Caesar, Hunter, with equal confidence, places it in the popular medieval and Renaissance tradition, which is wholly eulogistic.

The reader of Shakespeare's play is consequently faced with a difficult choice. Is he to throw in his lot with Dover Wilson and Cassius, and regard Shakespeare's Caesar as a boastful tyrant, strutting blindly to his well-merited doom, and the assassination as a glorious act of liberation? Or is he to follow Mark Hunter and Mark Antony, and look at him as 'the noblest man / That ever lived in the tide of times' [III. i. 256-57], and at the assassination as a hideous crime? Fortunately for the irresolute there is a third way in which the play may be viewed and a third tradition in which it may be placed.

Perhaps more than any other figure in history, Julius Caesar has evoked a divided response in the minds of those who have written about him. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that such a response, made up of attraction and repulsion, admiration and hostility, was the prevailing one among informed and educated men throughout Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, so that we can speak of it as forming a tradition extending from Caesar's own day down to that of Shakespeare. (pp. 10-11)

[This] tradition of a complex and divided response to the Caesar story [makes] clear that in all ages well-informed men have belonged to it and that it ... includes, with very few exceptions, all writers on Caesar whom Shakespeare is known or suspected to have read. A simple, undivided response, like that claimed by Dover Wilson, or, conversely, by Sir Mark Hunter, would thus constitute a surprising deviation by Shakespeare from almost all his known reading. But I do not wish to argue that the complex and divided attitude to the Caesar story found in Shakespeare's play is merely an accidental inheritance from his 'sources'. On the contrary, I believe, and hope to show, that, however much it may also be a reflection of what he had read and felt about the matter, it is used by him as a deliberate dramatic device. (pp. 22-3)

[Let us look at Shakespeare's] presentation of Caesar in this play. Its true nature will be most clearly perceived if we follow it rapidly, scene by scene, from the play's opening until Antony's funeral oration.

In Flavius and Marullus we get our first glimpse of the Republican opposition to Caesar's rule. The metaphor which Flavius uses to justify their 'disrobing' of Caesar's images strikes an ominous note.

These growing feathers pluck'd from Caesar's wing Will make him fly an ordinary pitch, Who else would soar above the view of men, And keep us all in servile fearfulness. [I. i. 72-5]

It points forward to the image of the serpent's egg applied to Caesar in Brutus's soliloquy. There a more drastic operation is advocated, but in both cases the action is thought of as preventive, directed not against what Caesar is but what he may become if not checked in time. (pp. 24-5)

Immediately upon Flavius's words Caesar makes his first appearance, and the imaginative impact of this short scene tends to bear out rather than to discredit Flavius's fears. With the utmost economy Shakespeare creates the atmosphere of an oriental court, with its cringing attendants and fawning favourites. 'Peace, ho! Caesar speaks' [I. ii. 1]. 'When Caesar says "Do this", it is perform'd' [I. ii. 10]. And into this atmosphere intrudes the first of many warnings that come ever thicker as the moment of the murder approaches, and like all the others it is contemptuously brushed aside by Caesar. 'He is a dreamer; let us leave him. Pass' [I. ii. 24].

From this slow-moving and portentous scene we pass at once to the rapid, feverish, and impassioned utterances of Cassius in his great seduction-scene. The contrast which he draws between Caesar's physical defects, which make him succumb in a swimming-match and shake when suffering from a fever-fit, and the greatness of the position he has come to occupy, is part of a general contrast, pervading the whole play, between Caesar's frailties of body and the strength of his spirit, which has enabled him to become 'the foremost man of all the world' [IV. iii. 22]. Cassius is genuinely perplexed by this contrast. He is like a schoolboy who is puzzled and angry that someone whom he has always beaten at games should have become perfect and exact obedience from his physical equals and superiors.

Now, in the names of all the gods at once, Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, That he is grown so great? [I. ii. 148-50]

Contrary to his intention, he does not throw doubt on Caesar's courage but unwittingly testifies to it. It is the fever-fit that makes him shake, not the prospect of jumping into 'the troubled Tiber chafing with her shores' [I. ii. 101]. The story of the swimming-match epitomizes the triumph of Caesar's 'spirit' over his physical frailties.

It is significant that in this crucial scene, where Cassius can be relied upon to make the most of the opposition's case against Caesar, he does not mention any specific acts of tyrannical behaviour. There is only the general assertion that Rome is 'groaning underneath this age's yoke' [I. ii. 61 ]. But the yoke to Cassius lies in one man's usurpation of the honours and powers that previously belonged to many. To him it is therefore very much an existing reality, whereas to Brutus the threat lies not in present but in impending conditions.

Brutus had rather be a villager Than to repute himself a son of Rome Under these hard conditions as this time Is like to lay upon us, [I. ii. 172-75]

he tells Cassius. And in his soliloquy it is again not what Caesar is but what he may become that causes his fears.

What, then, is the effect of this scene upon our mental picture of Caesar? It heightens, rather than alters, our previous impression of him as an oriental monarch, a Colossus with clay feet, and begins the process, continuing through much of the play, of disjoining and contrasting the human and the super-human Caesar, the man with his physical and moral frailties and the God who is beyond all fault--John Palmer so well puts it [in his Political Characters of Shakespeare], in his own deification, yet reminding us of his weaknesses on each of his appearances, underlines this dissociation. In the very next episode we find him angry at the mob's opposition to his acceptance of the crown, afraid of Cassius, yet assuring Antony,

I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar. [I. ii. 211-12]

And at once follows the body-spirit contrast:

Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf, And tell me truly what thou think's of him. [I. ii. 213-14J

As Dover Wilson remarks, the atmosphere is again that of an oriental court. When Caesar is angry, 'all the rest look like a chidden train' [I. ii. 184]. In his remarks about Cassius we get our chief glimpse of the Caesar we know from Plutarch, the shrewd politician, the keen observer of men, the writer of the Commentaries.

In Casca's narration of the day's events a new Caesar is revealed to us, again with Plutarchian traits; Caesar the play-actor, skilfully exploiting the passions of the common people. While his fall in the market-place is a kind of preview of his later fall in the Capitol, his adroit play upon the feelings of the plebs [commoners] adumbrates Antony's manipulation of them in his funeral oration. Casca's report ends on an ominous note, which for the moment makes the worst fears of the enemies of Caesar seem justified: 'Marullus and Flavius, for pulling scarfs off Caesars' images, are put to silence' [I. ii. 285-86]. Not deprived of their tribuneship, as in Plutarch. Just the sinister 'put to silence'.

Up to this point Shakespeare has tipped the balance in favour of the conspirators' views of Caesar and has made us share Brutus's apprehensions. Now, by making Cassius, in his soliloquy, so frankly impugn the integrity of his own motives and show so clearly the personal nature of his opposition, Shakespeare brings us to question the truth of our impressions of Caesar, so many of which we have received through Cassius. And our doubts are strengthened by the play's next image of him, again drawn by Cassius, this time for the terror-stricken Casca, For Cassius's picture of Caesar and his explanation of the portents are clearly part of an argumentum ad hominem [evasive argument]. Cassius himself is an Epicurean and does not, at least not yet, 'credit things that do presage' [V. i. 78]. But to convince Casca, who does credit them, of the monstrosity of Caesar's rule, he is quite ready to put them to use to prop up his arguments. Against Cassius's explanation of the omens we have been indirectly warned just before by Cicero:

But men may construe things after their fashion, Clean from the purpose of the things themselves. [I. ii. 34-5]

The groundwork of Cassius's indictment of Caesar here is much the same as in his scene with Brutus. There is again the contrast between what Caesar really is and what he has become, but what he has become is something rather different, fitting the altered circumstances. It is no longer a God or a Colossus who dwarfs his fellow men and blocks the road to glory. This image of Caesar had seemed appropriate for Brutus, in whom Cassius is trying to awaken a feeling of thwarted ambition. But upon the terrified Casca it is above all a sense of the fearfulness of Caesar that he is trying to impress.

Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man Most like this dreadful night; That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars As doth the lion in the Capitol; A man no mightier than thyself or me In personal action, yet prodigious grown, And fearful, as these strange eruptions are ... [I. iii. 72-8]

But while the picture of Caesar as a God and Colossus bore some resemblance to the reality of which we have been allowed a few glimpses, the Caesar that 'thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars' is too obviously a fabrication of the moment to affect our conceptions of him. (The ironic fact that Caesar later seems to bear out this description by referring to himself as a lion, and Danger's elder twin-brother, does not alter this impression. For it is Caesar's most ludicrous utterance, and no more affrights us than Snug the joiner's impersonation of that 'fearful wildfowl' [in A Midsummer Night's Dream].)

Our image of Caesar receives its next modification in Brutus's soliloquy. His Caesar bears no resemblance either to Cassius's God and Colossus or to his roaring lion. He appears to Brutus in the image of a serpent's egg, someone yet harmless, but potentially mischievous. At the very moment when it is most in his interest to incriminate Caesar, his honesty forces him to declare,

and to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections sway'd More than his reason. [II. i. 19-21]

But are we to take this as a valid view of Caesar? Or is it as mistaken as Brutus's view of Antony? His reference to Caesar's 'lowliness' suggests this, for it is absurdly out of accord with what we see of him in this play. Thus Shakespeare calls in doubt the validity of Brutus's image of Caesar, just as he calls in doubt that of Cassius's and Antony's image, so that the nature of the real Caesar remains an enigma.

Nor is this enigma dispelled by what we see of Caesar in the following scenes. Even in the privacy of his home he is strenuously engaged in the creation of the legendary figure. There is never any real intimacy in his scene with Calpurnia, no momentary lifting of the mask in soliloquy or aside. Here and in the Capitol, Shakespeare gives us above all the thrasonical [boastful] Caesar, who sees himself as outside and above humanity. Only upon the arrival of the conspirators does he unbend a little, for the first and last time in the play. For his bearing here Shakespeare was, no doubt, drawing on Plutarch's description of the youthful Caesar. "And the people loved him marvellously also, because of the courteous manner he had to speak to every man, and to use them gently, being more ceremonious therein than was looked for in one of his years. Furthermore, he ever kept a good board, and fared well at his table, and was very liberal besides Plutarch's coupling of Caesar's hospitality with his courtesy probably suggested to Shakespeare his

Good friends, go in and taste some wine with me; And we, like friends, will straightway go together.

[II. ii. 126-271]

But these lines also call up memories of the ceremonial sharing of wine before another betrayal, memories which are strengthened by the kiss which Brutus gives to Caesar in the Capitol ("I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar" [III. i. 52]), and later by Antony's reproach of Brutus at Philippi:

In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words; Witness the hole you made in Caesar's heart. Crying 'Long live! Hail, Caesar!' [V. i. 30-2]

('And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said. Hail master; and kissed him.' Matthew xxvi, 49.)

We are next given another view of Caesar and the conspiracy in Artemidorus's

My heart laments that virtue cannot live Out of the teeth of emulation. If thou read this, O Ceasar, thou mayest live; If not, the fates with traitors do contrive. [II. 111. 13-16]

Having engaged our sympathies for Caesar more fully than at any previous point in the play, Shakespeare loses little time to alienate them again, so that by the moment of the assassination our antipathies are more strongly aroused than ever before. In his two short speeches in the Capitol Shakespeare gives us a compendium of his Caesar's most unamiable traits. He here speaks with the voice of the Angelo of Measure for Measure, rejecting, like him, a plea for the pardon of a brother by insisting on the rigour of the law and on his own separateness from common humanity.

I must prevent thee, Cimber. These couchings and these lowly courtesies Might fire the blood of ordinary men. And turn pre-ordinance and first decree Into the law of children ... Thy brother by decree is banished; If thou dost bend, and pray, and fawn for him, I spurn thee like a cur out of my way. [III. i. 35-9. 44-6]

His next speech, like Othello's comparison of himself to the Pontic sea, is full of irony, both in view of the vacillation we have witnessed in his scene with Calpurnia, and of his impending fall,

I could be well mov'd.\, if I were as you; If I could pray to move, prayers would move me But I am constant as the northern star, Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality There is no fell fellow in the firmament [III. I. 58-621]

A final ironic touch is added in his 'Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus?' [III. i. 74], which, juxtaposed with the immediately succeeding spectacle of his lifeless body lying at the foot of Pompey's statue, crystallizes the contrast between the corporeal and spiritual Caesar, which is summed up a little later by Antony's

O mighty Caesar! dost thou lie so low? Are all thy conquests, glories, triumphs, spoils. Shrunk to this little measure? [III. i. 148-50]

From Antony we now receive our last image of Caesar. His is the Caesar of popular tradition, the mighty conqueror, the Mirror of Knighthood, the noble Emperor. There is Caesar's nobility,

Thou art the ruins of the noblest man That ever lived in the tide of times; [III. i. 256-57]

his fidelity, He was my friend, faithful and just to me; [III. ii. 85]

his largesse,

To every Roman citizen he gives, To every several man, seventy-five drachmas; [III. ii. 241-42]

his military prowess,

He hath brought many captives home to Rome; [III. ii. 88]

his compassion,

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept. [III. ii. 91]

Yet though we are not made to doubt the sincerity of Antony's tribute to Caesar in his soliloquy, the image of him created in the funeral oration is called into question by its forming part of his carefully contrived play upon the emotions of the plebs. Nor are we encouraged to put much trust in the judgement of the man who assures Caesar that Cassius is not dangerous but 'a noble Roman, and well given' [I. ii. 19].

Throughout the first half of the play, then, we are given a series of images of Caesar, none of which bear much mutual resemblance, though some of them are not irreconcilable. But doubt is thrown in one way or another on the validity of most of them. And to these Shakespeare adds his own presentation of Caesar, a presentation so enigmatic and unrevealing that none of the other images are really dispelled by it. It is a dramatic treatment of Caesar in the manner of [Luigi] Pirandello. 'Which of all these is the real Caesar?', Shakespeare seems to ask. And he takes care not to provide an answer. But does not Shakespeare further anticipate Pirandello by making us feel that perhaps there is no real Caesar, that he merely exists as a set of images in other men's minds and his own? For his Caesar is continuously engaged in what Pirandello calls costruirsi, 'building himself up', creating his own image of himself, until we are left to wonder whether a lifting of the mask would reveal any face at all. (pp. 25-32)

Shakespeare seems to me to be playing on his audience's varied and divided views of Caesar, encouraging and discouraging in turn each man's preconceptions. And since on our view of Caesar depends, very largely, our judgement of the justifiability of the entire conspiracy, the whole drama is thus kept within the area of the problem play. For though, as it seems to me, Shakespeare makes abundantly clear the folly and the catastrophic consequences of the murder, he does not, I think, make clear its moral indefensibility. His enigmatic presentation of Caesar's character and motives allows responses like that of Dover Wilson to be formed. And I see no reason to doubt that there were people who shared these responses in Shakespeare's audience. In fact, the diversity of critical opinion on the main characters and on Shakespeare's attitude to the conspiracy bears witness to his success in making Julius Caesar a problem play. It is a problem play in much the same way as [Henrik] Ibsen's Wild Duck, which has a very similar theme: the tragic mischief created by the actions of a young idealist in fulfilment of the highest principles, partly through his utter blindness to what people really are like. In both cases the question is put to the audience: 'Was he morally justified in doing what he did?' And in both cases the dramatist's answer seems to me to be an insistent but not a compulsive 'No'.

The main purpose of Shakespeare's persistent dissociation of Caesar's body and spirit is, no doubt, to show up the foolishness and futility of the assassination. The whole second part of the play is an ironic comment on Brutus's

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar, And in the spirit of men there is no blood. O that we then could come by Caesar's spirit, And not dismember Caesar! [II. i. 167-70]

What is involved in the last two acts is something more than a grim pun, which makes the conspirators find that, while they have dismembered Caesar's body, his spirit, i.e. his ghost, still walks abroad, and exacts his revenge. For the spirit of Caesar is also that legendary figure, that God and Colossus, whom Cassius deplores, and whom Caesar seeks to impose upon the imagination of his countrymen. In this he is handicapped by frailties of body and character from which the murder frees him and allows the legendary Caesar to come into his own, assisted by Antony's rhetoric, just as Antony's military skill later assists that other 'spirit' of Caesar, his ghost, in executing his revenge.

That the spirit of Caesar in the sense of 'Caesarism', the absolute rule of a single man, informs the second part of the play, as many critics maintain, seems to me unsupported by anything in the text. Dover Wilson, for instance, writes: When Brutus exclaims

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar, [II. i. 1671]

he sums up the play in one line. For the spirit of Caesar, which was the destiny of Rome, is the fate against which Brutus struggles in vain.' And MacCallum [in his Shakespeare's Roman Plays] from a rather different standpoint, tells us that 'Shakespeare makes it abundantly clear that the rule of the single mastermind is the only admissible solution for the problems of the time.' Both these critics seem to me to be reading Plutarch's view into Shakespeare's play. Nothing there suggests to me that Caesar is to be thought of as the Man of Destiny, or that the establishment of one man's rule is the inevitable outcome of the Civil Wars. As in Plutarch, who declares that the people 'could not abide the name of a king, detesting it as the utter destruction of their liberty', they are shown to be strongly opposed to Caesar's acceptance of the crown [I. ii. 241 ff.]. Against this can only be set the people's shouts after Brutus's oration, 'Let him be Caesar', 'Caesar's better parts shall be crown'd in Brutus' [III. ii. 51-2], but to take this as evidence of strong monarchic feelings in plebs seems rather naive. At Philippi it is not Caesarism or the providential scheme of Plutarch and Dante which defeats Brutus and Cassius, but their human flaws, which make Brutus give the word for attack too early, and make Cassius slay himself rashly, in premature despair. As far as the supernatural interferes in the affairs of men, it is Caesar's ghost rather than Destiny or the hand of God that contributes to the defeat of the conspirators. Nor are we made to feel anywhere ... that the Roman Republic has sunk into a state of disorder and corruption which only the establishment of one man's rule can cure. (pp. 33-6)

Ernest Schanzer, "Julius Caesar," in his The Problem Plays of Shakespeare: A Study of "Julius Caesar," "Measure for Measure," "Antony and Cleopatra," Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963, pp. 10-70.


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T. S. Dorsch [Dorsch argues that critics have generally viewed Brutus as a more admirable person than Shakespeare intended him to be. While acknowledging Brutus's honor and virtue, Dorsch contends that he is arrogant, self-righteous, and opinionated. According to the critic, Brutus honestly believes that Caesar's death will benefit Rome, but he is blind to the consequences of the assassination and to his fellow conspirators' lack of moral principles. Dorsch does note, however, that Brutus is capable of expressing love and tenderness, as shown by his relationships with his wife Portia and his servant Lucius.]

Brutus is the dramatic hero of Julius Caesar. He is the most prominent figure, and at almost every stage our interest is focused on his deliberations and decisions. Obviously Shakespeare was greatly interested by the mind of Brutus. As presented by Plutarch, he was a man of great probity and integrity, and of sound judgement backed by a philosophical training, and he was loved and esteemed by his compatriots. Yet he slew the one undoubted genius of his age, partly, we gather from Plutarch, because he was ambitious of succeeding him as leader of the state, partly because of some not clearly specified private quarrel, and partly because he was incensed against him by Cassius. His hatred of tyranny, which is mentioned almost in passing, made him the readier to listen to Cassius's promptings. We may suppose that Shakespeare found it difficult to reconcile the conspicuous wisdom and virtue of Plutarch's Brutus with the motives he was given for desiring Caesar's death. At any rate, he modified his character in several ways, making him at the same time more obviously consistent in the purity of his intentions, and less amiable and less intelligent.

I cannot help feeling that the majority of past critics have been misled by Brutus's estimate of himself into regarding him as a more wholly admirable person than Shakespeare intended him to be. The dramatist, says MacCallum [in his Shakespeare's Roman Plays], "reserves his chief enthusiasm for Brutus"; and "throughout the piece, it is the personality of Brutus that attracts our chief sympathy and concern." The terms in which almost all other commentators discuss the character of Brutus are similarly those of admiration and approval.

In Julius Caesar the virtue and nobility of Plutarch's Brutus are brought out, but beside them are set a number of faults for which there is little or no warrant in Plutarch. Shakespeare's Brutus is, with all his estimable qualities, pompous, opinionated and self-righteous. His judgement is not to be trusted. He is led by the nose by Cassius and gulled by Antony. At almost every crisis in his fortunes he makes decisions, against the advice of experienced men of the world, that contribute materially to the failure of his cause. He seems completely blind to reality, an ineffectual idealist whose idealism cannot prevent him from committing a senseless and terrible crime. We may respect the motives for which he spares Antony's life, and later allows him to speak in Caesar's funeral—if not the reasoning by which he led himself to think Caesar's death necessary; but on both occasions his decisions are foolish blunders as far as the success of the conspiracy is concerned.

The character of Caesar is established by incidental phrases and by implication rather than by statement or description. Of Brutus we hear much more, both from other people and from himself. We soon learn that he is greatly respected by all who know him. Cassius declares that he is noble [I. il. 308], and adds that he is one of those honourable men who, themselves innocent of guile, may easily be "seduced" by less honourable but cleverer men. At the end of the next scene Casca pays him a high tribute:

O, he sits high in all the people's hearts: And that which would appear offence in us, His countenance, like richest alchemy, Will change to virtue and to worthiness. [I. Hi. 157-60]

All the conspirators, even Cassius, defer to his opinions at their first meeting. Caius Ligarius calls him "Soul of Rome" [II. i. 321 ], and pledges himself to an unknown enterprise simply because Brutus leads him on. Caesar, too, loves Brutus dearly.

For the modern play-goer admiration is somewhat tempered by the manner in which Brutus himself frequently stresses his sense of his own disinterestedness and honour. In one of his very first speeches he says:

What is it that you would impart to me? If it be aught toward the general good, Set honour in one eye, and death i' th' other, And I will look on both indifferently; For let the gods so speed me as I love The name of honour more than I fear death. [II. ii. 84-9]

It should be remembered, however, that one of Shakespeare's simplest—and habitual—methods of telling us what a person is really like is to let that person himself tell us. We must be on our guard against judging Brutus's estimate of himself according to modern notions of how people should speak about themselves, and saying that in this and similar utterances he is merely "talking big". Nevertheless, his manner at various points in the play does not give us as favourable an impression of him as his friends entertain.

Although he has been drawn into the conspiracy by Cassius, he assumes the role of leader as his natural due, though it must be admitted that no one questions his right to the position. However, he takes advantage of it to veto every proposal put forward by any one else. Cassius wants the conspirators to bind themselves by an oath. No, says Brutus, conscious of his own integrity, the word of a Roman is inviolable; and he delivers a pompous little homily on the virtue of their enterprise and the sacredness of a Roman promise. Then Cassius, seconded by Casca, Cinna, and Metellus, suggests that Cicero be sounded about joining them, but Brutus firmly rejects the suggestion. Cassius points out the potential danger in sparing Antony's life, and urges that he should fall with Caesar. And again Brutus knows better: Antony, he says, "can do no more than Caesar's arm when Caesar's head is off" [II. i. 182-83]. It is not the moral rightness of his decision here that we question, but the immediate grounds on which he bases it, and his inability to see that, once committed to the monstrous conspiracy, he would be defeating its ends if he did not ensure its success by whatever means. Surely it is with deliberate irony that Shakespeare in the middle of this discussion makes Brutus say of another man,

For he will never follow any thing That other men begin. [II. i. 151-52]

In much the same tone Brutus, after the death of Caesar, overrides Cassius's prudent objection to letting Antony speak in Caesar's funeral. Antony will be speaking with his gracious permission, and after he himself has given the people unanswerable reasons for Caesar's death; and in any case he sees no cause to distrust Antony's professions. Throughout this episode he shows an almost ludicrous naivete, yet at the end his self-esteem is probably higher than at any other time in the play—as of course Antony intended it should be.

It is during his quarrel with Cassius that Brutus shows to least advantage. No one who reads with care the first hundred lines of Act IV, Scene iii, could feel that Shakespeare meant us to have any sympathy with Brutus during this exchange. It is otherwise in later parts of the scene; but while the altercation is at its height, though we may grant that Brutus has right on his side in the main points at issue, his demeanour is intolerable. He adopts the tone of an Olympian god chiding an erring mortal, and at the same time lapses into the language of a squabbling schoolboy. Caesar himself is no more arrogant than Brutus when he says, for example:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats; For I am arm'd so strong in honesty That they pass by me as the idle wind, Which I respect not. [IV. iii. 66-9]

This aspect of Brutus is brought into prominence several times in later scenes. For instance, when Octavius says, "I was not born to die on Brutus' sword," Brutus replies,

O, if thou wert the noblest of thy strata, Young man, thou could'st not die more honourable. [V. i. 58-60]

Later in the same scene he declares to Cassius:

Think not, thou noble Roman, That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome; He bears too great a mind. [V. i. 110-12]

And finally, a few moments before he abjures his Stoic principles and takes his life, when the battle to which he has inadvisedly committed the republican armies is lost, and all that he stands for is in ruins, he says:

I shall have glory by this losing day More than Octavius and Mark Antony By this vile conquest shall attain unto. [V. v. 36-8]

However, as I have said, we must beware of hasty judgements. "All that he stands for is in ruins"; "this vile conquest": if we bear these words in mind we shall not put too harsh a construction on Brutus's speeches. Some of his "thrasonical" utterances must be put down to Shakespeare's technique of making his characters reveal their own qualities by direct reference to them; some, in the later scenes, to a species of unconscious compensation in Brutus for the defeat of all the high principles by which he had been governed in joining the conspiracy and in his subsequent actions. In Brutus Shakespeare gives us a very subtle portrait of a man divided against himself—"with himself at war" [I. ii. 46], to use Brutus's own phrase. Even before his first encounter with Cassius he has been torn by conflicting passions: his admiration for Caesar's high gifts and noble qualities and his fears of his ambition, his love for Caesar as a personal friend and his sense of duty to the republic. Throughout the play he is to some degree accompanied by this internal conflict. It is this that leads him to justify and assert himself so positively, this that stands behind much of his demeanour to Cassius during the quarrel, this that causes him to kill himself with a better will than that with which he slew Caesar. He is an entirely honourable man engaged in what he does not realize is a dishonourable cause, and associated with unscrupulous men whose lack of principle he does not see and would not understand. The sense of conflict in him is best seen in his soliloquy in his garden ... [This] soliloquy is a wonderful exposition of the state of mind of a man who, with reasons that are very nearly right, reaches a conclusion that is entirely wrong.

It is impossible not to sympathize with Brutus in his agonizing dilemma; but it is even more impossible to sympathize with its outcome. For, having reached the wrong conclusion, Brutus goes no further. The other conspirators "did that they did in envy of great Caesar" [V. v. 70]; all that mattered to them was that Caesar should be got out of the way. Brutus thinks that he is acting from the purest patriotic motives; it does not occur to him that he is doing the state no service by robbing it of its head and making no provision for its safety thereafter—for so it appears in the play. When Caesar has fallen the conspirators, including Brutus, are at a loss. Until Antony imposes on them a course of action for the following day, all they can think of doing, apart from bathing their hands in the murdered man's blood, is to walk about in a transport of republican enthusiasm, waving their bloody swords and shouting, "Peace, freedom, and liberty!" [II. i. 110]. Within twenty-four hours of Caesar's death, Antony is in charge of the city, not Brutus; he and Cassius have fled for their lives.

Caesar grows in stature as the play proceeds; Brutus deteriorates. In his quarrel with Cassius he is irritable, undignified, and unjust; he is more intolerant of the meddlesome poet than Cassius; and though he vehemently disputes Cassius's claim to be the abler soldier, his reasons for engaging the enemy at Philippi are less convincing than those of Cassius for deferring the battle. It is impossible to reconcile Shakespeare's presentation of Brutus with the common Renaissance view of him as the great liberator and patriot, the second of his name to free the Romans from the tyrant's yoke.

He is shown at his most sympathetic in his intimate personal relationships. Hard upon the meeting of the conspirators comes the beautiful episode in which Portia insists on sharing his anxieties. Here he is seen as the tender and loving, and dearly loved, husband. The prelude to this encounter brings out his affectionate consideration for his serving-lad Lucius, and this is seen again at the end of the quarrel scene.

The loyal friendship that Brutus can inspire is well illustrated in the last scene of the play, when he asks them in turn to hold his sword while he runs upon it, and they shrink back from the request in horror. In this moment of defeat and humiliation their sorrow is all for him, not for themselves; and conscious of their love, Brutus is moved to say,

My heart doth joy that yet in all my life I found no man but he was true to me. [V. v. 34-5]

If I seem to have emphasized Brutus's less admirable qualities at the expense of the many fine qualities with which Shakespeare endows him, it is not that I underrate the latter, but because the majority of commentators have brought out what is sympathetic in him to the virtual exclusion of the faults that Shakespeare must equally want us to see in him. Brutus seems to me to be a man whom we must respect, but for whom it is difficult to feel love. Shakespeare accentuates any weaknesses or errors for which there is the slightest warrant in Plutarch, and gives him what is in many respects a disagreeable personality—such a personality, indeed, as is not uncommon in perfectly upright men who cannot see beyond their own strict code of conduct. On the other hand, he makes him act from an entirely sincere belief that he is serving his country by killing Caesar. He shows him struggling with a problem beyond his capacity to resolve, and in his perplexity coming to the wrong decision. A man who committed Brutus's crime could not be portrayed as a wholly sympathetic character; but Shakespeare shows him as blind, not evil. And finally he buries Brutus's crime in his virtues, and ends the play with Antony's tribute:

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!" [V. v. 68-75]

This is the impression of Brutus that Shakespeare leaves with us. He leaves us with the feeling, too, that the play, though it rightly bears Caesar's name, is rather "The Death and Revenge of Julius Caesar" than "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar", for its tragedy is the tragedy of Marcus Brutus. (pp. xxxix-xliv)

T. S. Dorsch, in an introduction to Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, edited by T. S. Dorsch, revised edition, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1955, pp. xxvi-hd.


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M. W. MacCallum [Focusing on Cassius's intellectual preoccupations, self-sufficiency, championship of liberty and equality, and rejection of the supernatural, MacCallum contends that the character's behavior is guided by his belief in the philosophy of Epicureanism. Epicurus was a Greek philosopher who asserted that pleasure was the highest good in life. For Epicurus, the greatest joy derived from emotional calm and serenity; he therefore considered intellectual activities superior to all others. The philosopher also extolled the virtues of freedom and denied that gods had any control over human affairs. MacCallum also discusses Cassius's strengths and weaknesses of character, faulting his spitefulness, jealousy, and lack of fortitude, but praising his enthusiasm for the cause of republicanism and his keen powers of judgment.]

The main lines of [Cassius's] character are given in Caesar's masterly delineation, which follows Plutarch in regard to his spareness, but in the other particulars freely elaborates the impression that Plutarch's whole narrative produces,

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look: He thinks too much: such men are dangerous ... He reads much; He is a great observer, and he looks Quite through the deeds of men; he loves no plays, As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music; Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort As if he mock'd himself and scorn'd his spirit That could be moved to smile at anything. Such men as he be never at heart's ease Whiles they behold a greater than themselves, And therefore are they very dangerous. [I. ii. 194-95, 201-10]

Lean, gaunt, hungry, disinclined to sports and revelry, spending his time in reading, observation, and reflection—these are the first traits that we notice in him. He too, like Brutus, has learned the lessons of philosophy, and he finds in it the rule of life. He chides his friend for seeming to fail in the practice of it:

Of your philosophy you make no use, If you give place to accidental evils. [IV. III. 145-46]

And even when he admits and admires Brutus' self-mastery, he attributes it to nature, and claims as good a philosophic discipline for himself. There is, however, a difference between them even in this point. Brutus is a Platonist with a Stoic tinge; Cassius is an Epicurean [Platonists held that the highest reality is intellectual rather than based on sensory perception. Stoics believed that wise men should be free from passion, unmoved by joy or grief, and submissive to natural law. Epicureans considered emotional calm the highest good, held intellectual pleasures superior to others, and advocated the renunciation of momentary in favor of more permanent pleasures]. That strikes us at first as strange, that the theory which identified pleasure with virtue should be the creed of this splenetic solitary: but it is quite in character. Epicureanism appealed to some of the noblest minds of Rome, not as a cult of enjoyment, but as a doctrine that freed them from the bonds of superstition and the degrading fear of death ... And these are the reasons that Cassius is an Epicurean. At the end, when his philosophy breaks down, he says:

You know that I held Epicurus strong And his opinion: now I change my mind, And partly credit things that do presage. [V. i. 76-8]

He has hitherto discredited them ...

Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass, Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron, Can be retentive to the strength of spirit: But life, being weary of these worldly bars, Never lacks power to dismiss itself. [I. ill. 93-71]

Free from all superstitious scruples and all thought of superhuman interference in the affairs of men, he stands out bold and self-reliant, confiding in his own powers, his own will, his own management:

Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars But in ourselves, that we are underlings. [I. ii. 139-41]

And the same attitude of mind implies that he is rid of all illusions. He is not deceived by shows. He looks quite through the deeds of men. He is not taken in by Casca's affectation of rudeness. He is not misled by Antony's apparent frivolity. He is not even dazzled by the glamour of Brutus' virtue, but notes its weak side and does not hesitate to play on it. Still less does Caesar's prestige subdue his criticism. On the contrary, with malicious contempt he recalls his want of endurance in swimming and the complaints of his sick-bed, and he keenly notes his superstitious lapses. He seldom smiles and when he does it is in scorn. We only once hear of his laughing. It is at the interposition of the poet, which rouses Brutus to indignation; but the presumptuous absurdity of it tickles Cassius' sardonic humour [IV. iii. 124-38].

For there is no doubt that he takes pleasure in detecting the weaknesses of his fellows. He has obvious relish in the thought that if he were Brutus he would not be thus cajoled, and he finds food for satisfaction in Caesar's merely physical defects. Yet there is as little of self-complacency as of hero-worship in the man. He turns his remorseless scrutiny on his own nature and his own cause, and neither maintains that the one is noble or the other honourable, nor denies the personal alloy in his motives. This is the purport of that strange soliloquy that at first sight seems to place Cassius in the ranks of Shakespeare's villains along with his Iagos and Richards, rather than of the mixed characters, compact of good and evil, to whom nevertheless we feel that he is akin.

Well, Brutus, thou art noble: yet, I see, Thy honourable metal may be wrought From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet That noble minds keep ever with their likes: For who so firm that cannot be seduced? Caesar doth bear me hard: but he loves Brutus: If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius, He should not humour me. [I. ii. 308-15]

It frequently happens that cynics view themselves as well as others in their meaner aspects. Probably Cassius is making the worst of his own case and is indulging that vein of self-mockery and scorn that Caesar observed in him. But at any rate the lurking sense of unworthiness in himself and his purpose will be apt to increase in such a man his natural impatience of alleged superiority in his fellows. He is jealous of excellence, seeks to minimize it and will not tolerate it. It is on this characteristic that Shakespeare lays stress. Plutarch reports the saying "that Brutus could evill away with the tyrannie and that Cassius hated the tyranne, making many complayntes for the injuries he had done him"; and instances Caesar's appropriation of some lions that Cassius had intended for the sports, as well as the affair of the city praetorship. But in the play these specific grievances are almost effaced in the vague statement, "Caesar doth bear me hard"; which implies little more than general ill-will. It is now resentment of pre-eminence that makes Cassius a malcontent. Caesar finds him "very dangerous" just because of his grudge at greatness; and his own avowal that he "would as lief not be as live to be in awe" [I. ii. 95-6] of a thing like himself, merely puts a fairer colour on the same unamiable trait. He may represent republican liberty and equality, at least in the aristocratic acceptation, but it is on their less admirable side. His disposition is to level down, by repudiating the leader, not to level up, by learning from him. In the final results this would mean the triumph of the second best, a dull and uniform mediocrity in art, thought and politics, unbroken by the predominance of the man of genius and king of men. And it may be feared that this ideal, translated into the terms of democracy, is too frequent in our modern communities. But true freedom is not incompatible with the most loyal acknowledgment of the master-mind ... (pp. 275-79)

Yet notwithstanding this taint of enviousness and spite, Cassius is far from being a despicable or even an unattractive character. He may play the Devil's Advocate in regard to individuals, but he is capable of a high enthusiasm for his cause, such as it is. We must share his calenture of excitement, as he strides about the streets in the tempest that fills Casca with superstitious dread and Cicero with discomfort at the nasty weather. His republicanism may be a narrow creed, but at least he is willing to be a martyr to it; when he hears that Caesar is to wear the crown, his resolution is prompt and Roman-like:

I know where I will wear this dagger then: Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius. [I. iii. 89-90]

And surely at the moment of achievement, whatever was mean and sordid in the man is consumed in his prophetic rapture that fires the soul of Brutus and prolongs itself in his response.

Cassius. How many ages hence Shall this our lofty scene be acted over In states unborn and accents yet unknown!Brutus. How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport That now on Pompey's basis lies along No worthier than the dust! [III. i. 111-161]

And even to individuals if they stand the test of his mordant criticism, he can pay homage and admiration. The perception that Brutus may be worked upon is the toll he pays to his self-love, but, that settled, he can feel deep reverence and affection for Brutus' more Ideal virtue. Perhaps the best instance of it is the scene of their dispute. Brutus ... is practically, if not theoretically, in the wrong, and certainly he is much the more violent and bitter; but Cassius submits to receive his forgiveness and to welcome his assurance that he will bear with him in future. This implies no little deference and magnanimity in one who so ill brooks a secondary role. But he does give the lead to Brutus, and in all things, even against his better judgment, yields him the primacy.

And then it is impossible not to respect his thorough efficiency. In whatsoever concerns the management of affairs and of men, he knows the right thing to do, and, when left to himself, he does it. He sees how needful Brutus is to the cause and gains him—gains him, in part by a trickery, which Shakespeare without historical warrant ascribes to him; but the trickery succeeds because he has gauged Brutus' nature aright. He takes the correct measure of the danger from Antony, of his love for Caesar and his talents, which Brutus so contemptuously underrates. So, too, after the assassination, when Brutus says,

I know that we shall have him well to friend; [III. i. 143]

he answers,

I wish we may: but yet I have a mind That fear him much: and my misgiving still Falls shrewdly to the purpose. [III. i. 144-46]

Brutus seeks to win Antony with general considerations of right and justice, Cassius employs a more effective argument:

Your voice shall be as strong as any man's In the disposing of new dignities. [III. i. 177-78]

He altogether disapproves of the permission granted to Antony to pronounce the funeral oration. He grasps the situation when the civil war breaks out much better than Brutus:

In such a time as this it is not meet That every nice offence should bear his comment. [IV. ill. 7-8]

His plans of the campaign are better, and he has a much better notion of conducting the battle.

All such shrewd sagacity is entitled to our respect. Yet even in this department Cassius is outdone by the unpractical Brutus, so soon as higher moral qualities are required, and the wisdom of the fox yields to the wisdom of the man ... [however] passionate and wrong-headed Brutus may be in their contention, he has too much sense of the becoming to wrangle in public, as Cassius begins to do. Another more conspicuous example is furnished by the way in which they bear anxiety. (pp. 279-82)

[When Popilius Lena speaks with Caesar at the Capitol at the beginning of Act III, scene i,] Cassius believes the worst, loses his head, now hurries on Casca, now prepares for suicide. But Brutus, the disinterested man, is less swayed by personal hopes and fears, keeps his composure, urges his friend to be constant, and can calmly judge of the situation. It is the same defect of endurance that brings about Cassius' death. Really things are shaping well for them, but he misconstrues the signs just as he has misconstrued the words of Lena, and kills himself owing to a mistake; as Messala points out:

Mistrust of good success hath done this deed. [V. iii. 65]

This want of inward strength explains the ascendancy which Brutus with his more dutiful and therefore more steadfast nature exercises over him, though Cassius is in many ways the more capable man of the two. They both have schooled themselves in the discipline of fortitude, Brutus in Stoic renunciation, Cassius in Epicurean independence; but in the great crises where nature asserts herself, Brutus is strong and Cassius is weak. And as often happens with men, in the supreme trial their professed creeds no longer satisfy them, and they consciously abandon them. But while Cassius in his evil fortune falls back on the superstitions which he had ridiculed Caesar for adopting on his good fortune, Brutus falls back on his feeling of moral dignity, and gives himself the death which theoretically he disapproves.

Yet, when all is said and done, what a fine figure Cassius is, and how much both of love and respect he can inspire. (pp. 282-83)

M. W. MacCallum, "Julius Caesar: The Remaining Characters," in his Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background?, 1910. Reprint by Russell & Russell, 1967, pp. 275-99.

Mark Antony

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2033

Harley Granville-Barker [Granville-Barker maintains that on the surface Antony appears to be a "good sort," initially supporting the conspirators after they have assassinated Caesar; but underneath he is really an instinctive politician, the critic declares, who demonstrates his opportunism by manipulating the crowd to avenge Caesar's death. Granville-Barker further contends that Antony's rousing the Roman populace is not altogether mischievous; rather, it also reflects his empathy for them because he considers himself a common man whose sensibilities are outraged at the injustice of Caesar's murder.]

There is a tide in the affairs of men Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune ... [IV. iii. 218-19]

Mark Antony cannot always talk so wisely, but he takes the tide that Brutus loses. He is a born opportunist, and we see him best in the light of his great opportunity. He stands contrasted with both Cassius and Brutus, with the man whom his fellows respect the more for his aloofness, and with such a rasping colleague as Cassius must be. Antony is, above all things, a good sort.

Shakespeare keeps him in ambush throughout the first part of the play. Up to the time when he faces the triumphant conspirators he speaks just thirty-three words. But there have already been no less than seven separate references to him, all significant. And this careful preparation culminates as significantly in the pregnant message he sends by his servant from the house to which it seems he has fled, bewildered by the catastrophe of Caesar's death. Yet, as we listen, it is not the message of a very bewildered man. Antony, so far, is certainly—in what we might fancy would be his own lingo—a dark horse. And, though we may father him on Plutarch, to English eyes there can be no more typically English figure than the sportsman turned statesman, but a sportsman still. Such men range up and down our history. Antony is something besides, however, that we used to natter ourselves was not quite so English. He can be, when occasion serves, the perfect demagogue. Nor has Shakespeare any illusions as to what the harsher needs of politics may convert your sportsman once he is out to kill. The conspirators are fair game doubtless. But Lepidus, a little later, will be the carted stag.

A barren-spirited fellow; one that feeds On abject orts and imitations, Which, out of use and staled by other men, Begin his fashion: do not talk of him But as a property ... [IV. i. 36-40]

to serve the jovial Antony's turn! This is your good sort, your sportsman, your popular orator, stripped very bare.

The servant's entrance with Antony's message, checking the conspirators' triumph, significant in its insignificance, is the turning point of the play. But Shakespeare plucks further advantage from it. It allows him to bring Antony out of ambush completely effective and in double guise; the message foreshadows him as politician, a minute later we see him grieving deeply for his friend's death. There is, of course, nothing incompatible in the two aspects of the man, but the double impression is all-important. He must impress us as uncalculatingly abandoned to his feelings, risking his very life to vent them. For a part of his strength lies in impulse; he can abandon himself to his feelings, as Brutus the philosopher cannot. Moreover, this bold simplicity is his safe-conduct now. Were the conspirators not impressed by it, did it not seem to obliterate his politic side, they might well and wisely take him at his word and finish with him then and there. And at the back of his mind Antony has this registered clearly enough. It must be with something of the sportsman's—and the artist's—happy recklessness that he flings the temptation at them:

Live a thousand years, I shall not find myself so apt to die: No place will please me so, no mean of death, As here by Caesar, and by you cut off, The choice and master spirits of this age. [III. i. 159-63]

He means it; but he knows, as he says it, that there is no better way of turning the sword of a so flattered choice and master spirit aside. It is this politic, shadowed aspect of Antony that is to be their undoing; so Shakespeare is concerned to keep it clear at the back of our minds too. Therefore he impresses it on us first by the servant's speech, and Antony himself is free a little later to win us and the conspirators both.

Not that the politician does not begin to peep pretty soon. He tactfully ignores the cynicism of Cassius,

Your voice shall be as strong as any man's In the disposing of new dignities. [III. i. 177]

But by Brutus' reiterated protest that Caesar was killed in wise kindness what realist, what ironist—and Antony is both—would not be tempted?

I doubt not of your wisdom. Let each man render me his bloody hand ... [III. i. 183-84]

And, in bitter irony, he caps their ritual with his own. It is the ritual of friendship, but of such a friendship as the blood of Caesar, murdered by his friends, may best cement. To Brutus the place of honor in the compact; to each red-handed devotee his due; and last, but by no means least, in Antony's love shall be Trebonius who drew him away while the deed was done. And so to the final, most fitting apostrophe:

Gentlemen all! [III. i. 190]

Emotion subsided, the politician plays a good game. They shall never be able to say he approved their deed; but he is waiting, please, for those convincing reasons that Caesar was dangerous. He even lets slip a friendly warning to Cassius that the prospect is not quite clear. Then, with yet more disarming frankness, comes the challenging request to Brutus to let him speak in the market place. As he makes it, a well-calculated request! For how can Brutus refuse, how admit a doubt that the Roman people will not approve this hard service done them? Still, that there may be no doubt at all, Brutus will first explain everything to his fellow-citizens himself, lucidly and calmly. When reason has made sure of her sway, the emotional, the "gamesome," Antony may do homage to his friend.

Be it so; I do desire no more. [III. i. 251-52]

responds Antony, all docility and humility, all gravity—though if ever a smile could sharpen words, it could give a grim edge to these. So they leave him with dead Caesar.

In this contest thus opened between the man of high argument and the instinctive politician, between principle (mistaken or not) and opportunism, we must remember that Antony can be by no means confident of success. He foresees chaos. He knows, if these bemused patriots do not, that it takes more than correct republican doctrines to replace a great man. But as to this Roman mob—this citizenry, save the mark!—whoever knows which way it will turn? The odds are on the whole against him. Still he'll try his luck; Octavius, though, had better keep safely out of the way meanwhile. All his senses are sharpened by emergency. Before ever Octavius' servant can speak he has recognized the fellow and guessed the errand. Shakespeare shows us his mind at its swift work, its purposes shaping.

Passion, I see, is catching, for mine eyes, Seeing those beads of sorrow stand in thine, Began to water. [III. i. 283-85]

—from which it follows that if the sight of Csesar's body can so move the man and the man's tears so move him, why, his own passion may move his hearers in the market place presently to some purpose! His imagination, once it takes fire, flashes its way along, not by reason's slow process though in reason's terms.

To what he is to move his hearers we know: and it will be worth while later to analyze the famous speech, that triumph of histrionics. For though the actor of Antony must move us with it also—and he can scarcely fail to—Shakespeare has set him the further, harder and far more important task of showing us an Antony the mob never see, of making him clear to us, moreover, even while we are stirred by his eloquence, of making clear to us just by what it is we are stirred. It would, after all, be pretty poor playwriting and acting which could achieve no more than a plain piece of mob oratory, however gorgeous; a pretty poor compliment to an audience to ask of it no subtler response than the mob's. But to show us, and never for a moment to let slip from our sight, the complete and complex Antony, impulsive and calculating, warm-hearted and callous, aristocrat, sportsman and demagogue, that will be for the actor an achievement indeed; and the playwright has given him all the material for it.

Shakespeare himself knows, no one better, what mere historionics may amount to. He has been accused of showing in a later play [Coriolanus] (but unjustly, I hold) his too great contempt for the mob; he might then have felt something deeper than contempt for the man who could move the mob by such means; he may even have thought Brutus made the better speech. Antony, to be sure, is more than an actor; for one thing he writes his own part as he goes along. But he gathers the ideas for it as he goes too, with no greater care for their worth than the actor need have so long as they are effective at the moment. He lives abundantly in the present, his response to its call is unerring. He risks the future. How does the great oration end?

Mischief, thou are afoot; Take thou what course thou wilt! [in. ii. 260-61]

A wicked child, one would say, that has whipped up his fellow children to a riot of folly and violence. That is one side of him. But the moment after he is off, brisk, cool and business-like, to play the next move in the game with that very cool customer, Octavius.

He has had no tiresome principles to consult or to expound.

I only speak right on ...

he boasts;

I tell you that which you yourselves do know ... [III. ii. 224]

An admirable maxim for popular orators and popular writers too! There is nothing aloof, nothing superior about Antony. He may show a savage contempt for this man or that; he has a sort of liking for men in the mass. He is, in fact, the common man made perfect in his commonness; yet he is perceptive of himself as of his fellows, and, even so, content.

What follows upon his eloquent mourning for Caesar? When the chaos in Rome has subsided he ropes his "merry fortune" into harness. It is not a very pleasant colloquy with which the fourth act opens.

Antony. These many then shall die; their names are pricked.Octavius. Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus?Lepidus. I do consent.Octavius. Prick him down, Antony.Lepidus. Upon condition Publius shall not live, Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony.Antony. He shall not live; look, with a spot I damn him. [IV. i. 1-6]

The conspirators have, of course, little right to complain. But four lines later we learn that Lepidus himself, when his two friends have had their use of him, is to fare not much better than his brother—than the brother he has himself just given so callously to death! Can he complain either, then? This is the sort of beneficence the benevolent Brutus has let loose on the world.

But Antony finishes the play in fine form; victorious in battle, politically magnanimous to a prisoner or two, and ready with a resounding tribute to Brutus, now that he lies dead. Not in quite such fine form, though; for the shadow of that most unsportsmanlike young man Octavius is already moving visibly to his eclipse, (pp. 21-6).

Harley Granville-Barker, "Antony," in Twentieth Century Interpretations ofJulius Caesar: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Leonard F. Dean, Prentice-Hall Inc., 1968, pp. 21-6.


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