Julius Caesar Questions and Answers

William Shakespeare

Read real teacher answers to our most interesting Julius Caesar questions.

What are Cassius's negative qualities?

My heart is thirsty for that noble pledge. Fill, Lucius, till the wine o'erswell the cup; I cannot drink too much of Brutus' love (Act IV, Scene 3, lines 179-181).

Shakespeare depicts Cassius as a miser in various subtle ways throughout the play. Caesar tells Antony that Cassius has a lean and hungry look. When Cassius invites Casca to supper and then to dinner in Act I, Scene 2, Casca is obviously reluctant to accept but finally says:

Ay, if I be alive, and your mind hold, and your dinner worth the eating.

Casca has known Cassius all his life. Perhaps he has eaten at Cassius's home several times in the past and knows what kind of meal to expect. When Casca turns him down for supper, Cassius ups the ante by inviting him to dinner, which is a big meal served in mid-afternoon. Evidently Cassius thinks that Casca can be lured by a more elaborate meal—but Casca just doesn't like Cassius and is deliberately rude to him when he grudgingly accepts his second invitation. Note how Casca says "and your dinner be worth the eating." He doesn't expect much from Cassius's table.

The big argument with Brutus in Act IV is over money. Brutus sent to Cassius for gold he needed to pay his soldiers, and Cassius sent back a note refusing him. After the two men have reconciled and shared a bowl of Brutus's wine, Brutus still doesn't get the gold. This might contribute to the loss of the battle at Philippi, as the soldiers expected to be paid for risking their lives.

Brutus is not a good judge of human nature. He should never have formed such a close friendship with the selfish, stingy, greedy Cassius. Brutus lost everything, including his wife Portia and his own life, because he let himself be manipulated by Cassius. Brutus had nothing to gain by killing Caesar and everything to lose. Cassius, by contrast, had a lot to lose because he knew that Caesar hated him—and more power for Caesar would spell trouble for Cassius.

How do Brutus, Cassius, Antony, and Octavius show their characters when they parley before the Battle of Philippi?

BRUTUS Words before blows: is it so, countrymen?
OCTAVIUS Not that we love words better, as you do.
BRUTUS Good words are better than bad strokes, Octavius.
ANTONY In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words. Witness the hole you made in Caesar's heart, Crying "Long live, hail Caesar."
CASSIUS Antony,The posture of your blows are yet unknown; But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees, And leave them honeyless.
ANTONY Not stingless too.
BRUTUS O yes, and soundless too, For you have stolen their buzzing, Antony, And very wisely threat before you sting.

Shakespeare obviously could not stage the actual battle of Philippi, which is one of the reasons he brings the four principals together in this brief parley before their assembled armies. Notice how they all keep calling each other by their names. This is to keep the audience informed of the identities of all the four men in armor they see on the stage.

Brutus intentionally calls Antony and Octavius "countrymen" to remind them that they are all Romans and to suggest that it would be better to settle their quarrel peacefully than to kill many Roman soldiers. Brutus is essentially a kind, just, and reasonable man. He opens the parley with the hope that the men can arrive at a nonviolent settlement, although he has no intention of surrendering.

Octavius is a young hothead spoiling for a fight. When he says "Not that we love words better, as you do," he is suggesting at least two things. One is that Brutus is a bookworm who spends all his time reading and philosophizing. The other suggestion is that Brutus is afraid to fight and is trying to talk his way out of doing battle.

Both Brutus and Cassius show in their dialogue that they know they are in the weaker position. Antony was correct in telling Octavius earlier:

Tut, I am in their bosoms, and I know Wherefore they do it. They could be content To visit other places; and come down With fearful bravery, thinking by this face To fasten in our thoughts that they have courage; But 'tis not so.

Cassius is always thinking about his own personal advantage. He flatters Antony outrageously when he says: "Antony, the posture of your blows are yet unknown; but for your words, they rob the Hybla bees, And leave them honeyless," he has a dual purpose. He is intentionally referring to what Brutus just said about "words before blows" and reminding Brutus of how he had warned him against trusting Antony and against permitting Antony to address the Roman mob. Cassius also has doubts about the coming battle. He is trying to win Antony's favor so that his life might be spared in the event Antony and Octavius were victorious. Cassius might even be hinting that he could be persuaded to join the other side and fight against Brutus. His line about "the posture of your blows" might be read as follows: "The posture of your blows are yet unknown; but for your words, they rob the Hybla bees, and leave them honeyless." This emphasis on "your" would show clearly that Cassius is not only flattering Antony but reminding Brutus of how Antony's funeral oration put Brutus's speech to shame. Antony's "not stingless too" might have a question mark after it (it does have a question mark in many editions of the play). Antony is not threatening to "sting" his opponents with a swarm of bees but rather is suggesting that his words (meaning his funeral speech) stung both Brutus and Octavius and continues to sting them.

Brutus loses his temper. He does not like to be criticized. He retorts,

O yes, and soundless too. For you have stolen their buzzing, Antony, And very wisely threat before you sting.

These hot words provoke hot words from Antony, who calls them both "villains." Brutus and Cassius now have no chance of settling this matter peacefully.

Who is the tragic hero in Julius Caesar?

Although Shakespeare named his play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Caesar is neither the protagonist nor the hero of the drama. Those distinctions belong to Brutus, the central character whose conflicts elevate the brutal assassination of a ruler into an examination of ambition, power, personal responsibility, and political corruption. It is the destruction of Brutus—not Caesar—that is tragic, and it is Brutus whom Shakespeare casts as a tragic hero brought down by a fatal flaw in his own character: his idealism.

Like Shakespeare’s other tragic heroes (Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, and King Lear), Brutus occupies a high position in society and thus has far to fall, emphasizing the tragedy of his ultimate destruction. As a Roman senator whose ancestor once defeated tyranny in Rome, Brutus is highly regarded by the citizenry, and his reputation for integrity is well deserved. He harbors no personal ambition, embraces the ideals of freedom and democracy, and feels a personal responsibility to preserve them for the Roman people. His idealism extends beyond political philosophy, however. It also informs his judgment, rendering him helpless in recognizing deceit and manipulation and in anticipating other dark manifestations of human nature. Brutus assumes, naively, that other men are as honorable as he is.

Living in an abstract world where honor dictates behavior, Brutus is unable to survive in the real world of Rome at the time of Julius Caesar’s ascendancy to power. Caesar’s arrogant, dictatorial behavior alarms Brutus, instilling fears that Caesar has been corrupted by power and intends to rule as a tyrant. Deceived and manipulated by Cassius, who cleverly preys on the idealism and naïveté in Brutus’s character, Brutus joins the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar. Brutus believes that his responsibility to the freedom of the Roman people justifies deceiving and then murdering Caesar, his friend; he also believes that those who would assassinate Caesar are driven by principles as honorable as his own, evidence of his impaired judgment in recognizing the realities of human nature. 

Before joining the conspiracy, Brutus is fraught with internal conflict. He is “with himself at war” as he struggles to align his idealism with conflicting principles of honorable behavior, for as he tells Cassius, “I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” Once committed to assassinating Caesar, Brutus strives to idealize what he and the other conspirators are about to do. When Cassius proposes swearing their resolution to murder Caesar, Brutus refuses. He associates taking such an oath with those who “welcome wrongs” and swear “unto bad causes.” The “even virtue of our enterprise” and the “insuppressive mettle of our spirits,” he contends, make an oath unnecessary; moreover, he reminds the others that noble Romans do not betray “the smallest particle / Of any promise….” Thus Brutus casts their plot to commit a brutal murder as a virtuous undertaking and the conspirators as courageous and honorable men.     

After Caesar has been stabbed to death on the floor of the Senate, Brutus continues to idealize the murder as a blow for freedom. He believes the Roman people will understand and accept the conspirators’ actions once they are explained; he also trusts that Antony’s motives in requesting to speak at Caesar’s funeral are innocent. In both respects, Brutus is idealistic and naive, unable to recognize Antony’s deceit and unaware of the power of raw emotion over intellect. After Antony’s funeral oration, the conspirators are driven from Rome by an enraged mob, civil war erupts, and Brutus’s fate is sealed.

Brutus clings to his idealism even as he and Cassius wage a losing war against Antony and Octavius on the plains of Greece. He publicly condemns the corrupt Lucius Pella for taking bribes, and he is further enraged when he learns that Cassius, too, has chosen “[t]o sell and mart [his] offices for gold.” Attacking Cassius for having “an itching palm,” Brutus cries out, in anguish, “Remember March, the ides of March remember. / Did not great Julius bleed for justice’ sake?” He is repelled by the very idea of profiting from Caesar’s assassination through “base bribes” and “so much trash as may be graspèd” through the abuse of power. Haunted by the ghost of Caesar, Brutus bravely battles Antony and Octavius until he believes he is defeated and then chooses to commit suicide rather than endure the dishonor of being captured.

In the final scene of the play, Shakespeare reminds the audience that Brutus is indeed a tragic hero. Of all the conspirators, Antony intones over Brutus’s body, and only he acts from honest, honorable motives for the “common good to all.” Underscoring the excellence of Brutus’s character, which emphasizes the tragedy of his destruction, Shakespeare has more for Antony to say about him. “His life was gentle,” Antony continues, “and the elements / So mixed in him that Nature might stand up / And say to all the world, ‘This was a man.’” In another time and place, the idealism that informed Brutus’s view of himself and the world at large and that dictated his decisions might not have worked against him; in the political atmosphere of Rome during the reign of Julius Caesar, however, it is a fatal flaw that destroys him.      

What role does the supernatural play in Julius Caesar?

Shakespeare knew his Elizabethan audiences and how to entertain them while also writing drama for the ages. He understood the power of the supernatural to engage the imagination, to thrill and intrigue through mysterious aberrations in the natural world that defy rational explanation. The characters and the conflicts in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar are those of the “real” world, but elements of the supernatural are found throughout the play, heightening the drama and contributing to the suspense.

The presence of the supernatural is introduced almost immediately in the play through the Soothsayer, who warns Caesar, “Beware the ides of March.” His certain knowledge of the future indicates powers that supersede those found in the realm of nature. The supernatural ability to foretell the future becomes a motif as the play develops. In Act II, the Soothsayer reappears, and augurers, interpreting a strange and ominous animal sacrifice, accurately predict Caesar’s death.

The play is also filled with terrifying, highly dramatic supernatural events. A vision of Caesar’s imminent murder comes to Calpurnia in a dream; the vision is fulfilled the following day as the conspirators bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood. The night before Caesar’s murder, Rome is assaulted with horrifying supernatural occurrences that defy nature. Calpurnia describes them to Caesar: 

A lioness hath whelped in the streets.
And graves have yawned and yielded up their dead.
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds,
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol.
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses did neigh and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.

Although Calpurnia has paid little attention to omens in the past, she is terrified by these displays of the supernatural. The ghosts that walk the streets of Rome prefigure a far more ominous spirit that appears in Act IV when the Ghost of Caesar, a “monstrous apparition,” materializes in Brutus’s tent and speaks to him of the future. “Thou shalt see me at Philippi,” the Ghost intones, predicting with certainty Brutus’s destruction. Like Calpurnia, Brutus is horrified to experience that which exists beyond the natural world.

Shakespeare’s plot and character development are more than sufficient to make the play compelling, and its universal themes and the poetry found within its lines elevate it from a period drama to an enduring work of literature. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar would certainly withstand the test of time without the inclusion of supernatural elements. With them, however, the play entertains and will continue to entertain on another level. Glimpsing a realm beyond the natural world will always fascinate, and it will never lose the power to amaze.         

How does Shakespeare create suspense in Julius Caesar?

The facts of Julius Caesar’s assassination are a matter of historical record; consequently, even before the play begins, Shakespeare’s audience knows Caesar’s fate and how it consumed him on the ides of March, 44 B.C. How then does the playwright manage to create and sustain suspense? The answer lies in the difference between suspense and surprise. An unexpected event surprises, but suspense is created when an audience wonders how an event will come to pass and what will happen in the interim. Thus the suspense in the play is achieved by Shakespeare’s turning history into drama. Caesar’s assassination is historical fact, but the play is fiction, and through plot and character development, Shakespeare generates suspense that keeps an audience engaged.

The first moment of suspense occurs in an episode of plot development in Act I, Scene ii when the Soothsayer calls out to Caesar from the crowd. Caesar is about to leave, but hearing a voice call his name, a voice so insistent it is “shriller than all the music,” he pauses. “Beware the ides of March,” the Soothsayer warns Caesar ominously, making the audience wonder how Caesar will respond. The suspense is heightened when Caesar orders that the Soothsayer be brought before him. “Let me see his face,” he commands. Standing before Caesar, the Soothsayer repeats his warning, and the suspense is sustained until Caesar decides not to question him and then dismisses him as a “dreamer.”

Act II, Scene ii illustrates clearly the difference between surprise and suspense and how Shakespeare creates and sustains suspense through character development. The audience knows Caesar will be murdered in the Senate the following day (that’s no surprise)—but how will the conspirators convince him to go to the Senate despite the advice of the augurers and Calpurnia’s fear for his safety? The scene is developed at length, examining Calpurnia’s terror and establishing her relationship with Caesar. Suspense ensues when Caesar declares that out of concern for Calpurnia, he will not go to the Senate; it is sustained as the conspirators strive to change his mind; it is resolved when Caesar admonishes Calpurnia for her “foolish” fears and declares, “Give me my robe, for I will go.” Through the clever arguments the conspirators employ in manipulating Caesar to reverse his decision to remain at home, Caesar’s ego, arrogance, and ambition are made evident.

In Act II, Scene iii and Scene iv, Caesar’s assassination is imminent, and suspense builds as Shakespeare introduces the character of Artemidorus and brings the Soothsayer back into the plot. Scene iii consists entirely of Artemidorus, standing on a street near the Capitol, reading aloud a message he has written in which he warns Caesar of the conspiracy and lists each of the conspirators by name. “Here I will stand till Caesar pass along, / And as a suitor will I give him this,” Artemidorus says, adding “If thou read this, O Caesar, thou mayst live; / If not, the Fates with traitors do contrive.” The audience knows Artemidorus will not save Caesar, but will he manage to deliver the message? What else will occur as the Fates “contrive” with the conspirators? 

Shifting immediately to “another part of the same street” in Scene iv, Shakespeare sustains and then heightens the suspense in a conversation between Portia and the Soothsayer. He is on his way to the Capitol, he tells Portia, “to take my stand / To see [Caesar] pass ….” He intends to speak to Caesar, to “beseech him to befriend himself.” As Act II concludes, the audience wonders if Artemidorus and the Soothsayer will succeed in delivering their warnings—and if they do succeed, what will transpire between each of them and Caesar? Furthermore, how has Artemidorus learned of the conspiracy? Does anyone else know about it? Will someone else attempt to prevent the assassination?

Caesar dies in the first scene of Act III, but Shakespeare sustains the suspense until the moment the conspirators strike. The Soothsayer intercepts Caesar at the Senate, but his warning is interrupted when Artemidorus desperately attempts to deliver his written message. Decius intervenes, presenting Caesar with a document, and the audience waits to see which paper Caesar will read. If he reads Artemidorus’s letter, how will the conspirators’ plans be affected? Caesar rejects the letter, proceeds into the Senate House, and his murder is at hand.

Shakespeare, however, keeps the audience in suspense a bit longer and intensifies it as Popilius speaks to Cassius, expressing hope that “your enterprise today may thrive,” and then moves directly toward Caesar. Fearing their plot is about to be revealed, Cassius, Brutus, and Casca watch in alarm as Popilius gains Caesar’s attention, and they wait in suspense, as does the audience, to see what will transpire in the next few seconds. The moment of suspense is resolved when Popilius smiles, and “Caesar does not change.”

As Caesar takes his place in the high Senate chair, the audience wonders if anything else will complicate the conspirators’ plans or delay the arrival of Caesar’s fate, but Shakespeare has kept everyone waiting long enough. Only a few speeches remain before the conspirators, led by Casca, stab Caesar to death. The assassination and the manner in which Caesar is murdered come as no surprise, but many moments of suspense are generated before he utters, “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!” 

How is Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar ironic?

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare gives his audience a masterful lesson in the variations of irony in literature. The plot is rich in situational irony, and scene after scene illustrates the effectiveness of dramatic irony. In Antony’s funeral oration, the power of verbal irony is manifested as he contemptuously praises Brutus and the conspirators again and again as “honorable men,” turning the Roman citizenry into a mindless mob set on vengeance.

Just as life is filled with ironic situations and outcomes, so is the play. Brutus must commit dishonorable acts in order to preserve his honor. Caesar can defeat his enemies on the battlefield, but he fails to recognize his greatest enemy—his own ego. He trusts most those he should trust least, and he rebuffs those whose advice would have saved his life. Cassius cleverly manipulates Brutus into joining the conspiracy and then discovers he is powerless to manipulate or even influence Brutus after Brutus commits to murdering Caesar. Cassius believes the conspiracy cannot succeed without Brutus, only to be destroyed by Brutus’s disastrous decisions. Instead of preserving freedom in Rome, Caesar’s assassination creates civil war and a political power vacuum that is filled by an ambitious, self-serving Antony.

Since the audience already knows how Caesar died and who killed him in 44 B.C., the entire play is infused with dramatic irony. In two particular scenes, the dramatic irony is developed at length, emphasizing the deception of those caught up in the political intrigue of Caesar’s assassination and its aftermath. In Act II, Scene ii, when the conspirators come to Caesar’s house to escort him to the Senate, the audience, knowing their intent, watches as they play on his ego and ambition and as he finally succumbs to their manipulation. Preparing to leave for the Capitol, Caesar, in good humor, tells the conspirator Trebonius to stay near him in the Senate. “Caesar, I will,” Trebonius replies,” adding in a chilling, ironic aside, “And so near will I be / That your best friends shall wish I had been further.” After Caesar’s murder, the audience knows Antony’s hidden rage and his secret intent to “let slip the dogs of war” to avenge Caesar’s death. Thus the drama in Act III, Scene i, when Antony shakes the bloody hands of the conspirators and receives permission to speak at Caesar’s funeral, is intensified.

Driven out of Rome into Greece and battling the armies of Antony and his ally Octavius, Brutus and Cassius endure a final—and fatal—irony, each committing suicide in the mistaken belief that they have lost the war. The final irony in the play, however, is reserved for the victorious Antony and Octavius. Standing over Brutus’s body, Antony praises the character of the conspirator he once hated, and Octavius declares that the virtuous Brutus will be afforded the “respect and rites of burial” that an honorable soldier deserves. 

How is Julius Caesar significant when he dies so early on in the drama?

Many readers have questioned why Shakespeare's play should have been called Julius Caesar when Brutus seems like a far more important character as well as a more important role for an actor. It is true that the actor playing Julius Caesar is offstage for much of the time. Perhaps Shakespeare reasoned that the real Julius Caesar was such a dynamic figure, such a colossus, that his presence could be felt regardless of whether he was onstage or off, and even regardless of whether he was dead or alive. The first two acts, leading up to the assassination, are all about Julius Caesar. He may not be present, but everybody is talking about him and thinking about him. Even the gods seem greatly concerned about him. Then when he is lying dead, Mark Antony addresses a famous soliloquy to his fallen friend in which he prophesies that the outcome of this assassination will be years of civil wars. 

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 (Act III, Scene 1, lines 279-295).

So the play continues to be all about Caesar. His assassination motivates Antony to start a mutiny which drives Brutus and Cassius out of Rome. It brings Octavius to Rome and eventually leads to the battle at Philippi in which both Brutus and Cassius lose their lives. The ghost of Caesar appears to Brutus twice to inform him that he will be present at the battle and will be responsible for Antony and Octavius's victory. 

Caesar is present throughout the play. The play is about how people are afraid of him, how they conspire to kill him, how they actually do kill him, how Antony uses Caesar's body to turn the mob against the conspirators, how Antony and Octavius take power as Caesar's obvious successors, how Antony and Octavius pursue Brutus and Cassius to take revenge against them and the other conspirators for the assassination of Caesar, and how the new Roman government is shaped by the government Caesar himself planned to form. Julius Caesar dominates the play from start to finish because of his awesome willpower, a power he exhibited all his life, as can be seen in his many conquests and relentless hounding of Pompey to his death in Egypt. Brutus is a noble and courageous man, but he does not have the superhuman charisma of Julius Caesar. In this regard, none of the other men, friends or foes, could measure up to Caesar.

Was Julius Caesar ambitious?

Shakespeare downplays Caesar's ambition right up until the moment he is attacked by the conspirators. In the first two acts of the play Caesar is offstage much more than he is on. When onstage, he is portrayed as a sort of portly politician who is acting democratic, friendly, cordial, and humble in order to make as many friends as possible among the patricians and to make a favorable impression on the plebeians. Shakespeare evidently intended to have Caesar show his true self just before he is assassinated, which would contribute to the dramatic impact of that bloody scene and would prove to the audience that the conspirators might have been justified in plotting his death. The fact that Caesar knows he is going to be made king has gone to his head. He disregards his wife Calpurnia's pleas to stay at home, the warnings of the Soothsayer to "Beware the Ides of March," and all the supernatural omens that seem to have been sent as warnings. He also insults all the petitioners surrounding him, getting them to grovel and then expressing his contempt for their groveling. Perhaps he feels that his coronation is all but certain and now he can stop being so cordial and democratic. Just before he is stabbed to death, he makes his most revealing speech:

I could be well moved, 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 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,
Let me a little show it, even in this;
That I was constant Cimber should be banish'd,
And constant do remain to keep him so.  

And when Cinna starts to remonstrate, Caesar says,

Hence! Wilt thou life up Olympus?

Then they all close on him with swords and daggers. Though we know it was planned beforehand, it still almost seems as if Caesar provoked them into doing it.

When Caesar says "If I could pray to move," he seems to be implying that he does not believe in prayer, possibly that he is above prayer because of his distinction. He cannot pray to the gods because he secretly feels like he is a god. This conviction is further implied when he says, "Hence! Wilt thou lift up Olympus?" The summit of Mount Olympus was the home of the gods, and Caesar evidently imagined himself up there among them, drinking nectar and eating ambrosia. Caesar is so ambitious that he won't be satisfied with being a mere king. The next step up what Brutus called "young ambition's ladder" is to become a god. That would not have been hard to achieve in ancient Roman times. The Senate could declare a person to be a god and order everyone in the empire to worship him or her as such. Caesar's successor Octavius Augustus became a god by Senate decree, as did Caligula. Augustus Caesar's fiendish wife Livia was declared a goddess posthumously on the orders of Emperor Claudius. Julius Caesar himself was also made a god posthumously by public acclamation.

So perhaps even Cassius and Brutus did not fully comprehend how ambitious Julius Caesar actually was. When Antony makes his famous funeral address, he does not seem to deny Caesar's ambition because it was all too obvious. Antony may not have realized that his good friend's ambition went beyond being a mere mortal. 

How do we know Antony is not really a "plain blunt man"?

I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friend, and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him.
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men's blood. I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar's wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me. But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

It is noteworthy that Shakespeare has his Antony tell the plebeians that he is no orator but only a plain blunt man speaking extemporaneously--and then end the passage with a dazzling subjunctive sentence containing four striking images. Antony figuratively becomes Brutus and Brutus becomes Antony. Note the use of the subjunctive in “But were I Brutus” and in “…that should move the stones of Rome.” The mob experiences this oratorical magic and imagines that Antony, Brutus, Caesar, and the stones of Rome are all unanimously inciting them to riot. 

Later, when Antony, Octavius, Brutus and Cassius parley on the battlefield at Philippi, Cassius will tell Antony:

The posture of your blows are yet unknown;
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees,
And leave them honeyless.

No one in Shakespeare's audience would have expected such inspiration from Mark Antony, although they might have expected such fervor. Antony shows his brilliance in the final lines of his speech. Everything he says here is subjunctive—that is, impossible and unrealistic. It is pure poetry. Shakespeare knew that Antony could not suddenly become so inspired and eloquent without any prior indication that he had it in him. (It would sound like Shakespeare, not Antony.) Perhaps that is why Shakespeare gives Antony a soliloquy at the end of Act 3, Scene 1, to show that this "plain blunt man" does indeed possess the intellectual and imaginative potential to make such a moving and historically important funeral address.

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!
Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.
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.

How does Antony stir the crowd?

Marc Antony is not viewed as a threat by most of the conspirators. The only conspirator who wishes him harm is Cassius, but he is dissuaded by Brutus, who argues "Antony is only a limb of Caesar" and "If we cut the head off and then hack at the limbs / Like we were killing in anger with hatred afterwards." As a result, Antony is allowed to speak at Caesar's funeral, under the conditions that the conspirators will speak first and that he may not speak disparagingly about the conspirators while he eulogizes Caesar. 

Marc Antony is able to stir the crowd into a murderous frenzy through the use of rhetorical devices such as metonymy, repetition, verbal irony, and rhetorical questions.

Antony begins his speech by asking the Roman people to "lend me your ears...." This is an example of metonymy: a term is used to represent another closely related noun. When Antony asks the people to lend their "ears," he is really asking for them to pay attention. 

Antony seemingly complies with the conspirators' request that he not criticize them; he uses verbal irony and repetition. He repeats the line "And Brutus is an honorable man" each time Antony identifies a charitable or otherwise positive characteristic of Caesar's. After the fourth repetition of the line, it is evident that Brutus is not an honorable man and should not be trusted.

Finally, Antony continues with a series of rhetorical questions, such as "Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?" These questions are not meant to be answered literally but serve to excite the crowd and praise Caesar. By the culmination of the eulogy, the crowd is so incensed that they are best characterized as an angry and vengeful mob. This is evident when they encounter Cinna the poet and attack him because they confuse him with Cinna the conspirator just because they share the same name. 

What do Caesar and Antony think of Cassius?

When Caesar and Antony are talking in Act 1, Scene 2, they reveal themselves in the ways they judge Cassius. Caesar tells Antony:

Let me have men about me that are fat,
Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep o' nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous.

Both men are looking at Cassius, who is standing nearby. Both have known Cassius for years, and yet both have entirely different impressions of him. Antony says,

Fear him not, Caesar; he's not dangerous;
He is a noble Roman and well given.

Caesar, however, speaks further about his opinion of Cassius:

Would he were fatter! But I fear him not,
Yet if my name were liable to fear,
I do not know the man I should avoid
So soon as that spare Cassius. 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 any thing.
Such men as he be never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
And therefore are they very dangerous.

Caesar is right, of course. Cassius is very dangerous. It is ironic that while Caesar is judging Cassius, Cassius is also judging Caesar. Cassius is greedy and ambitious. He is a very serious man who spends much of his time thinking and planning, and he sees Caesar the same way. Antony must have remembered Caesar's words when his friend and mentor was killed and Cassius was obviously the mastermind behind the assassination plot.

What we can learn from Shakespeare—and perhaps even more from personal observation—is that people are all different and that we are foolish if we judge everyone by ourselves.

What does Brutus mean by "rascal counters"?

When Marcus Brutus grows so covetous
To lock such rascal counters from his friends,
Be ready, gods, with all your thunderbolts,
Dash him to pieces!

During their acrimonious quarrel in Brutus's tent in Act 4, Scene 3, Brutus uses the wonderful term "rascal counters" as a metaphor for gold coins. By "counters" he signifies that these coins have no intrinsic value; they only have value because they can be exchanged for goods or services. They are like poker chips, which represent values attributed to them. The gold coins Brutus is referring to have images of men embossed on them, which tends to humanize the coins, making them seem like real men and, like most men, cunning rascals. Brutus regards the coins as "rascals" because that in fact is what money really is. Money doesn't care who owns it or how he acquired it, even if he did so by murder or theft. Money will serve whoever happens to possess it and will do anything for the possessor that money is able to do--which is a lot! Money can be used to bribe, or corrupt, or murder people. It is completely unscrupulous.

Iago speaks disparagingly of money in Shakespeare's Othello, although Iago, characteristically, is not being sincere.

Who steals my purse steals trash; 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him
And makes me poor indeed.

Iago also is saying that money is like "counters" in being both something and nothing.

What's the significance of Caesar's robe?

Towards the end of Act II, Scene 2, the eagerly ambitious Julius Caesar is willingly persuaded to believe that Calpurnia's dream about his death is not worth taking seriously. He says:

How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!
I am ashamed I did yield to them.
Give me my robe, for I will go.

It takes a little time, however, for his robe to be brought to him by a servant. Caesar has some chitchat with the men who have come to escort him to the Senate House. During this time the audience would get a good look at Caesar's robe while he is putting it on. No doubt the robe used by Shakespeare in the play's production was conspicuously different from the robes all the other men were wearing. Then in Act III, Scene 2, when Antony shows the dead Caesar's shredded and blood-stained robe to the assembled plebeians during his funeral oration, a second robe which is otherwise identical to the one Caesar put on in Act II, Scene 2 will create the impression that this is the same robe Caesar was wearing when he was attacked by all the conspirators. Shakespeare must have felt that it was more effective to show the torn and bloody robe than to try to show Caesar's mutilated body. The audience would never actually see the body. Antony says it is inside a coffin.

My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Antony first shows the plebeians the robe supposedly covering the dead body and pretends to know which rents in the garment were caused by which of the conspirators. He has the men in tears. Then he says:

Kind souls—what—weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar's vesture wounded? Look you here.
Here is himself, marred, as you see, with traitors.

Antony holds up the robe to its full length and shows the audience how thoroughly it has been ruined by the conspirators.

What is the significance of smiling in Julius Caesar?

It seems to have been one of Shakespeare's favorite observations that just because someone smiles does not mean they are innocent or friendly. In Act IV, Scene 1, Antony, a "shrewd contriver," recognizes the danger in the many seemingly friendly people he sees around him. And Octavius agrees as follows:

And some that smile have in their hearts, I fear,
Millions of mischiefs.

In the conference on the battlefield at Philippi of Antony and Octavius with Brutus and Cassius in Act V, Scene 1, Antony describes how all the conspirators were smiling just before they turned on Caesar:

You show'd your teeth like apes, and fawn'd like hounds...

In Macbeth, Act II, Scene 3, Donalbain tells his brother:

To Ireland, I; our separated fortune
Shall keep us both the safer. Where we are
There's daggers in men's smiles: the near in blood,
The nearer bloody.

Hamlet seems to make an important discovery about human nature when he reflects on the interview he just had with his father's ghost in Act I, Scene 5.

O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain!
My tables—meet it is I set it down
That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.

Shakespeare has given all of us fair warning that we shouldn't always take people's smiles at face value.

How does Cassius deal with Antony after the assassination?

Cassius is practical in dealing with Antony. Cassius is already thinking about how the government will be reorganized now that Caesar lies dead. He asks Antony a cunningly phrased question:

I blame you not for praising Caesar so;
But what compact mean you to have with us?
Will you be pricked in number of our friends,
Or shall we on, and not depend on you?

Antony knows that his life is still in grave danger. The conspirators could turn on him and kill him at any moment. Only Brutus seems to be holding them back. Cassius does not want to make Antony an offer he can't refuse. He doesn't ask: "Will you be pricked in number of our friends, or do you intend to be one of our enemies?" Cassius is suggesting that Antony is free to leave and will not be killed regardless of which choice he expresses. He says: "Or shall we on, and not depend on you?" But Antony know they may do more than simply forego depending on him; they may kill him. Cassius wants to give Antony the impression that he has some freedom of choice here—but Antony knows it could be a choice between joining or getting killed. Antony is cunning enough to put on a big act of joining the conspirators and shaking every one by the bloody hand. He hates them all and trusts none of them except for Brutus—a little. He doesn't know how much control Brutus may have over all the other conspirators, especially now that they have tasted blood. The audience doesn't know either. It is a tense situation. They may see Antony killed before their eyes. Antony must have nerves of steel. If they all killed Julius Caesar, why should they quibble at killing Antony? Cassius would love to kill him right then and there. He knows Antony to be very dangerous. There are a whole lot of Romans who are very dangerous, and yet Brutus has insisted that only Caesar should be killed. When Antony gets into power, he has no such scruples. He immediately gets together with Octavius and Lepidus and draws up a whole list of Romans who are to be summarily executed.