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Julius Caesar Commentary - Act II.

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Act II. Scene I. - Rome. Brutus' Orchard.

Brutus: "Shall Rome stand under one man's awe?"

Brutus cannot sleep, revealing for the first time his own true fears that Caesar may be growing too powerful. A letter is discovered, which Brutus reads, convincing him to join the conspiracy. The complete group of conspirators meets at Brutus' house, discussing Caesar's assassination. Brutus argues against Caesar's right hand man, Mark Antony being killed as well. Cassius and Trebonius have their doubts but go along with Brutus. Brutus' wife Portia tries to find out what her husband is planning, worried for him...

Brutus is having difficulty sleeping. Awaking, he calls out the name of Lucius, his servant and bids him to bring a taper (torch) to him in his study.

Now alone, Brutus thinks about his greatest fears for Caesar as king... He has no personal grudge against Caesar, but Brutus is still very troubled; he knows that power can corrupt and absolute power can corrupt absolutely. Already Brutus is thinking of Caesar's death as not necessarily being a bad thing:.

I know no personal cause to spurn [hurt / slight / attack] at him [Caesar], / But for the general [general good]. He would be crown'd: / How that might change his nature, there's the question: / It is the bright day that brings forth the adder [snake]; / And that craves wary walking [one then must be careful]. Crown him?-that! / And then, I grant, we put a sting in him, / That at his will he may do danger with. The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins [separates] / Remorse from power.... (Lines 11-33)

Lucius now reenters and announces that not only is the taper burning in Brutus' closet as desired (it is night), but that Lucius has also found a paper sealed up by the window (Lines 35-45).

Opening it, the letter tells Brutus to awaken: "Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake and see thyself. Shall Rome, &c. Speak, strike, redress! Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake!" (Lines 45-48).

Brutus remarks that often such "instigations" have been placed where he would find them and he ponders the letters' contents thinking that yes he will stop Caesar. "Shall Rome stand under one man's awe?" Brutus asks (Line 52) and Brutus remembers his ancestors who drove out the Tarquin "when he was call'd [called] a king" (Line 54).

Brutus will now act: "If the redress will follow, thou receiv'st / Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!" (Line 57).

Lucius now returns, announcing that fourteen days of March have been wasted, it is the 14th of March just one day before "the ides of March" the day the Soothsayer warned Caesar about...

Brutus now hears knocking telling his servant to attend to it. Alone again, Brutus remembers that he has not slept well since Cassius first warned him of Caesar (Lines 61).

Lucius reappears, announcing several men at Brutus' door and Brutus lets in men he knows are part of a conspiracy (Lines 69-84). Interestingly, though Brutus is now almost one of them, he wonders whether they can find a cavern dark enough to hide the monstrous visage (look), (Line 81) of what these men represent despite Brutus already beginning to see an assassination as necessary for the good of Rome.

The conspirators Cassius, Casca, Decius (full name Decius Brutus not to be confused with Brutus, Caesar's friend), Cinna, Metellus Cimber and Trebonius enter and when Cassius suggests they all take an oath to swear their loyalty to the assassination, Brutus refuses.

He explains that as Romans they have no need for this and this speech perhaps best sums up Brutus' noble character (Lines 113-140).

Cassius asks of Cicero's loyalty and finds it is with their conspiracy; his high social standing according to Metellus Cimber will also earn them respect instead of hatred for their actions since Cicero is well regarded in Rome (Lines 144-149). Brutus however disagrees, arguing that Cicero "will never follow anything" (Line 150). Cassius agrees to leave Cicero out of their conspiracy... The Cicero issue settled, some very important decisions are made.

First Mark Antony, the dear friend of Caesar is to be spared not killed. Cassius thinks he should be killed (Lines 156-161) since Mark Antony is "A shrewd contriver [a cunning manipulator / person not to be trusted];" who could cause them all problems later (Line 158).

Brutus disagrees, arguing that if Caesar is the head of a man then Mark Antony would be its limbs. Therefore in Brutus' eyes, hacking the head (killing Caesar) should make Mark Antony powerless.

Additionally if they kill Mark Antony as well as Caesar they may appear cruel when they want Romans to see their actions as the bare necessity to stop Caesar becoming too powerful (killing his right hand man as well might appear vindictive).

Brutus makes this clear when he argues killing Mark Antony will lead to their band being called murderers not purgers telling Caius, "Let us 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:" (Lines 166-167)

To kill Caesar without appearing vindictive, Brutus explains that they must sacrifice Caesar, not butcher him and that they should do this "boldly, but not wrathfully;" (Line 172). They must bleed Caesar and carve him up as a dish "fit for the gods," not "as a carcase fit for hounds:" (Line 173).

Cassius is not convinced, remarking "yet I fear him [Mark Antony];" (Line 184).

Brutus though, has his way arguing that Mark Antony loves wildness, sports and much company; Caesar is not the only thing he loves. He may not be such a threat. Trebonius is not so naive, saying that by not killing him "he will live, and laugh at this [the conspirators not assassinating him too] hereafter [ever after]" (Line 191).

Cassius now outlines the plan to kill Caesar in the Capitol. He is however still worried. Caesar has grown quite superstitious lately and may not turn up. Decius tells them not to worry; he knows Caesar's fatal flaw; he is vain and a pushover for flattery (Lines 200-220).

Brutus now dismisses his group, telling them all to be like actors and hide their dark purpose (the assassination).

Portia, Brutus' wife now appears and is worried for her husband. She has noticed that he is not as hungry as usual and has had great difficulty sleeping. Brutus tells his wife he is fine but Portia wants to know the truth, does the vow of marriage her status as "A woman well-reputed," and as "Cato's daughter" not entitle her to this? (Lines 261-308).

Lucius now announces another visitor, a Caius Ligarius, saving Brutus from further "discussion" with his understandably upset wife. Caius Ligarius has been recently sick but upon speaking with Brutus, Ligarius announces that "I here discard my sickness" (Line 321).

Brutus explains to Ligarius that they will do "A piece of work that will make sick men whole" (Line 327) adding that they must make someone sick (Caesar) to do so. Ligarius ends the scene pledging to do something he does not know, but adding that it is sufficient that the noble Brutus leads him on...

Act II. Scene II. - The Same. Caesar's House.

Calphurnia: "'Help, ho! They murder Caesar!'"

Calphurnia, Caesar's wife, wakes Caesar up after herself awakening from a terrible nightmare. She tells Caesar, that her dream foretells doom and succeeds in convincing Caesar not go to the Senate on the "ides of March [March 15]" which is tomorrow. Decius Brutus arrives and hearing that Caesar will not be at the Senate tomorrow, flatters Caesar into going so as not to show fear (allowing Brutus and company to kill him there).

The scene begins to the sights and sound of thunder and lightning. As Caesar puts it, "Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night:" (Line 1) since Calphurnia, Caesar's wife has thrice (three times) cried, "'Help, ho! They murder Caesar!'" (Line 2).

This concerns Caesar who instructs a servant to tell his priests to make a sacrifice and then report their findings to him (Lines 4-6).

Calphurnia, however is certain that her dream represents only disaster for her husband. She tells Caesar that in her opinion, Caesar "shall [should] not stir [leave] out of your [Caesar's] house to-day" (Line 9).

Calphurnia explains that though she "never stood on ceremonies," (Line 13), she is sure her dream plus other strange happenings in Rome can only mean disaster (Lines 12-25). Caesar however, arrogantly believes that in "The face of Caesar, they [these threatening things] are vanished" (Line 12)

Caesar argues that he cannot avoid his fate (Lines 25-37). Caesar remarks that "Cowards die many times before their deaths;" adding "The valiant never taste of death but once" (Line 33). Only the news from the priests that advise Caesar not to leave the house, forces Caesar's hand into staying at home and avoiding going to the Capitol on the 15th of March (the ides of March), (Lines 37-56).

Calphurnia suggests that Caesar say to Mark Antony that he is ill which Caesar agrees with if only he says, to humor his wife (Lines 48-56).

Decius Brutus (not Marcus Brutus, Caesar's friend) now enters and hearing Caesar's new plans, fears the worst; the conspiracy will not be able to kill Caesar if he is not at the Capitol (specifically the Senate). Moving quickly he flatters Caesar and when Calphurnia again suggests Caesar say he is sick, Caesar hesitates. Can Caesar lie he asks?

Decius suggests that saying he is sick will result only in his mockery by the other senators. This, the vain Caesar finds intolerable. Caesar now tells Decius the bad news of the prophets but Decius turns this around, suggesting that Calphurnia's dream of Caesar's statue spouting blood (Lines 76-89) is not a premonition of his death but that Caesar's presence at the "senate-house [The Senate]," will revitalize Rome. From Caesar's blood Rome will renew itself, Decius says (Lines 83-89).

Decius now moves in for the kill, suggesting that if Caesar does not turn up at the Capitol he cannot receive the crown the Senate have decided to give him (Lines 92-104). Knowing all too well Caesar's weakness of his supreme vanity, Decius remarks that should "Caesar" not appear at the Capitol, "shall they [the Senate] not whisper 'Lo! Caesar is afraid?'" before slyly apologizing for insulting Caesar; he says this for Caesar's own good and out of "love" for him (Line 101)

Scolding his wife for making him think foolish thoughts, Caesar now prepares to head off to the Capitol and to his doom...

Before leaving however, Caesar meets with Mark Antony. Caesar greets his friend by saying "See! Antony, that revels long o'nights," emphasizing Brutus' opinion that Mark Antony likes parties. Caesar now also speaks with Trebonius says in an aside (private speech) that he will be so near "That your best friends shall wish I had been further [away]" suggesting that he is a friend Caesar may be well be happy to be away from in a few moments (Lines 112-128). Brutus ends the scene mourning that the men his friend Caesar has just called friends will soon assassinate him (Line 128).

Act II. Scene III. - The Same. A Street near the Capitol.

Artemidorus waits in a street hoping to avert Caesar's assassination...

The scene begins with Artemidorus reading a newspaper. In a letter he reads, he warns Caesar to beware of the conspirators which he names (Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Cinna, Trebonius, Metellus Cimber, Decius Brutus, Caius Ligarius) though he has yet to warn Caesar in person. Artemidorus plans to give his letter to Caesar as he passes on his way to the Capitol, thus warning him of the fate that awaits him.

Artemidorus: "If thou [Caesar] read this [his warning], O Caesar! thou [you] mayst [might] live; / If not, the Fates with traitors [the conspirators] do contrive [will succeed]" (Line 15).

Will Artemidorus be able to warn Caesar in time?

Act II. Scene IV. - The Same. Another Part of the same Street, before the House of Brutus.

Portia worries for her husband, hoping his "enterprise" today will succeed. The Soothsayer waits in a narrow street hoping to warn Caesar of imminent danger...

Portia, Brutus' wife is speaking with Lucius, a boy she commands to run the errand of going to the "senate-house;" to report to her how her husband is and how Caesar is and what "the suitors press to him [Caesar]." and then to return to her immediately with what news he has. She fears for her husband; when he left this morning "he went sickly forth;" (Line 13). Portia laments that "I have a man's mind, but a women's might. How hard it is for a women to keep counsel!" (Line 8).

The Soothsayer now meets Portia and the two talk. Portia asks the Soothsayer what his "suit" is to Caesar, Portia asking the Soothsayer if he knows of any harm intended towards Caesar. The Soothsayer replies "None that I know will be, much that I fear may chance [may happen]" (Line 32).

We learn from the Soothsayer that he intends to wait in a narrow street for Caesar where hopefully he can warn him of the danger that lies ahead. Portia now hopes her boy (Lucius) will bring her news quickly of her husband wishing him well in his "enterprise" whilst adding that "Brutus hath [has] a suit request] / That Caesar will not grant" (Line 43). Portia also tells Lucius to run quickly so that he may report to Brutus that his wife is well.

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