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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 1-24

In the first scene we saw Caesar through the eyes of others. Now we see the man himself, and can judge him by his own words and actions.

Caesar orders his wife about, as a king orders his subjects:

Caesar. Calpurnia!

Calpurnia. Here, my lord.

Caesar. Stand you directly in Antonius' way.

Act I, Scene ii, lines 1-3

Is Caesar wearing a public mask, or does he always greet his wife in such a cold and formal way?

Caesar tells Antony to touch his wife during the race, so that she can "shake off" the "curse" of sterility. The public Caesar may consider himself a god, but the private man is superstitious. And how tactless, announcing before the world that your wife is sterile! Calpurnia doesn't respond-but one wonders what she's thinking.

What is Antony's response to Caesar's request?

When Caesar says "Do this," it is performed.

Act I, Scene ii, line 10

Anthony is either a flatterer, telling Caesar what he wants to hear, or he is genuinely devoted to Caesar, as a dog is to his master. In either case, Caesar clearly likes to give orders, and to be obeyed.

The Soothsayer now appears and warns Caesar to "Beware the ides of March." Caesar the private individual is obviously concerned, for he asks to see the man's face and have him repeat his message. But Caesar the public figure-in full view of his audience-refuses to acknowledge his fear, and dismisses the Soothsayer as a dreamer. There are thus two sides to Caesar-the private self and the legendary self he would like to become.

LINES 25-47

Brutus tells his friends that he will not go to the races. A man of conscience, he cannot play games while the Roman state is in turmoil. A man of principle, he values people for their inner worth, not for their physical strength. Life to him is not a competition with prizes to the swiftest.

Cassius complains like a child that Brutus doesn't love him anymore. Brutus reassures him. I neglect you, he says, only because I'm at war with myself.

LINES 48-89

Cassius now asks:

Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?

And Brutus replies:

No, Cassius; for the eye sees not itself But by reflection, by some other things.

Act I, Scene ii, lines 51-53

Because Brutus does not know himself, he must see himself reflected in others. His blindness to his own feelings is a tragic flaw that will eventually prove fatal. Like Caesar, he lets himself be mirrored in the eyes of others, and thus brings about his own destruction.

Cassius now goes to work on Brutus the way the serpent played on Eve. He calls Brutus good, noble, and gentle. He does not appeal to Brutus' ambition (Brutus has none), but points out that the most respected Romans are "groaning underneath this age's yoke."

Brutus now asks:

Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius, That you would have me seek into myself For that which is not in me?

Act I, Scene ii, lines 63-65

Is Brutus deceiving himself to keep his hands clean? Does he really not know what Cassius has in mind? Is it true that conspiracy is not in his nature, or is he only trying to convince himself?

The crowds shout and Brutus admits his fear that "the people / Choose Caesar for their king." He is impatient with Cassius for keeping him so long, and for avoiding the issue. If what you have in mind is for the good of the people, he says, I will face death, if necessary, for

I love The name of honor more than I fear death.

Act I, Scene ii, lines 88-89

Brutus obviously means what he says, but isn't there something a bit suspect about someone who tells the world how virtuous he is?

Brutus is about to join a conspiracy and may simply want to reassure himself about the purity of his motives. Someone who knew himself, of course, would act from conviction, and not depend on the strength of his own words.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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