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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 90-177

Cassius says that "Honor is the subject of my story," and then appeals to everything but honor. Carried away by jealousy and spite, he forgets that he is talking to Brutus, and uses arguments that would work only on himself. We were born free as Caesar, he says; "We both have fed as well, and we can both / Endure the winter's cold as well as he." Such distinctions can mean nothing to a man as principled as Brutus.

Cassius discusses how he saved Caesar from drowning, and how Caesar once groaned and shook with fever. Brutus would never rate a person by his physical strength, but Cassius is too wrapped up in his private sense of injustice to notice or care.

Cassius' efforts to belittle Caesar say more about his own jealousy than about Caesar's right to rule. Cassius speaks of Caesar's "coward lips," but it is Caesar, not Cassius, who dared his friend to plunge into the Tiber on "a raw and gusty day." All Caesar can be accused of is a lack of physical stamina-which really has nothing to do with his strength as a ruler.

Like a child, Cassius cannot bear the injustice of a world in which he loses to his rival:

And this man Is now become a god, and Cassius is A wretched creature, and must bend his body If Caesar carelessly but nod at him.

Act I, Scene ii, lines 115-118

Cassius accuses Caesar of behaving like "a sick girl," as if womanly behavior were an unpardonable sin. Yet in Shakespeare's world, men who deny their own feminine qualities-gentleness, mercy, and so onare out of harmony with themselves and with the world.

Cassius blames himself for bowing to Caesar's will:

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

Act I, Scene ii, lines 140-141

This is the sin of pride. Even Caesar knows at times that he is not the measure of all things, and bows to fate.

Just when we think we understand Cassius, he turns from spite to principle:

Age, thou are shamed! Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods! When went there by an age, since the great flood, But it was famed with more than one man?

Act I, Scene ii, lines 150-153

It is a noble argument, but Cassius may just be trying to manipulate Brutus-playing on his friend's sense of family pride as the descendant of Lucius Julius Brutus, one of the founders of the Republic more than 400 years before.

There is no way of knowing what effect this appeal to family pride has on Brutus. True to his nature, he refuses to act impulsively, and keeps his feelings to himself. What we do know is family pride should not influence him-not if he is true to his principles.

As his talk with Brutus ends, Cassius says how glad he is to "have struck but thus much show / Of fire from Brutus" (lines 176-177).

NOTE: ON FIRE IMAGERY "Fire" is an image you should follow closely throughout the play, for it represents the destructive powers of the universe, unleashed by the actions of Caesar, the common people, or the conspirators. Jump ahead for a moment to Casca's description of the storm in the opening lines of Act I, Scene iii:

But 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.

Act I, Scene iii, 9-13

Keep in mind this image of fire when you learn of Portia's unhappy fate, later in the play.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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