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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 76-77

It does speak well for Caesar that at the moment of death he seems most upset by the betrayal of Brutus. If you, my closest friend, could betray me-Caesar seems to be saying-then let me die.

As death approaches, the mask slips, and the man beneath reveals himself. What upsets Caesar most is not the loss of glory, or even death itself-but the disloyalty of a friend. Perhaps at this final moment Caesar realizes the truth about himself. If that's the case, then we have to pity him for learning the truth too late.

LINES 78-97

The conspirators reveal themselves in the different ways they react to Caesar's death. Cassius and his followers are political men who recognize the need to deal with the crowds. While Brutus, the idealist, stands about philosophizing about fate, the others rush about, trying to cope with the public outcry. Brutus seems to believe that he lives in a moral universe in which good must triumph over evil. He believes that people are as rational as he is, and will understand the justice of his cause. Cassius, the realist, recognizes the need to manipulate the emotions of the people. Rather than wait for virtue to triumph, he takes matters into his own hands.

LINES 98-118

Casca observes that people live in fear of death. Then we are Caesar's friends, says Brutus, for we have shortened the time he had to live in fear:

So are we Caesar's friends, that have abridged His time of fearing death.

Act III, Scene i, lines 104-105

Having murdered Caesar, Brutus now convinces himself that he has done the man a favor! So strong is the power of words, and so dangerous is logic when cut off from genuine feeling, that they can transform butchery into a noble act.

LINES 119-121

As the conspirators prepare to depart, Cassius remarks:

Brutus shall lead, and we will grace his heels

Act III, Scene i, line 120

Now that Cassius has enlisted Brutus' support, he seems ready to let Brutus take charge. Does he lack confidence in his own judgment? Or is he simply not motivated by personal ambition? In either case, it's interesting to note that Cassius, who refused to stoop to Caesar's will, seems happy to give in to Brutus'.

LINES 122-163

Antony would like to meet with Brutus to learn why Caesar was killed. If Brutus can justify his actions, Antony agrees to follow him as once he followed Caesar. Brutus, always willing to explain the justice of his cause, happily consents.

Antony's devotion to Caesar blinds him to Caesar's faults-as Cassius' hatred of Caesar blinds him to Caesar's virtues. Yet, when Antony addresses the conspirators, he shows himself to be an independent thinker with a deep understanding of human nature. If he had simply announced that he was switching sides, the conspirators would probably not have believed him-they would have questioned his motives. His outpouring of grief over Caesar's death offends them, but it makes them trust him, because he seems honest and sincere.

A cynical opportunist-that's how most people describe Antony. Yet he always speaks with deep conviction. His motives are always suspect, and yet-unlike any of the other men-he seems to remain faithful to his feelings. Is it possible to be an opportunist, then, and also a person who speaks from the heart?

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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