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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 69-121

Brutus is also angry with Cassius for failing to send money to pay for his troops. "I did send to you / For certain sums of gold, which you denied me," he complains; "For I can raise no money by vile means." (lines 69-71).

Brutus can be admired for his principles. He can also be condemned as a hypocrite, who is perfectly happy to take money from the peasants, so long as Cassius does the dirty work and lets him (Brutus) keep his own hands clean.

Cassius insists that he did not deny Brutus funds; that his messenger "was but a fool / That brought my answer back." Is he telling the truth? Whether he is or not, Brutus might have checked with Cassius before accusing him of withholding funds.

Brutus seems to care more about his lofty principles than about friendship. Cassius cares passionately about friendship, and says, convincingly:

A friend should bear his friend's infirmities; But Brutus makes mine greater than they are.

Act IV, Scene iii, lines 85-86

What has gotten into Brutus-what has made him lose his perspective and his self-control? Behind the mask apparently is a man no different from the rest of us: a collection of drives and passions, painted over with a thin layer of thought.

Note (lines 118-122) that Cassius blames his mother for giving him a quick temper ("rash humor"). Was his mother unloving? That might explain Cassius' craving for affection.

LINES 122-141

A Poet now enters and speaks perhaps for Shakespeare when he says, "Love, and be friends" (line 130). It is the absence of love and friendship that has plunged Rome into civil war, and inflamed the heavens. The Poet appears like a Biblical prophet, bearing the truth-"Love, and be friends"- and no one hears or cares to listen. The Poet, unlike Cinna, escapes with his life, but neither can be heard above the sounds of war. As Brutus himself says,

What should the wars do with these jigging [rhyming] fools?

Act IV, Scene iii, line 136

The poet may indeed be a fool, with no sense of time and place; but he may also speak for Shakespeare, reminding us that artists have a responsibility to share their vision with us, just as we have a responsibility to listen.

The foolishness perhaps is not in the Poet's simple rhymes, but in Brutus' rude and hasty response:

Get you hence, sirrah! saucy fellow, hence!

Act IV, Scene iii, line 133

Even Cassius is more charitable, and says: Bear with him, Brutus, 'tis his fashion.

Act IV, Scene iii, 134

LINES 142-160

The Poet leaves, and Brutus announces that his wife, Portia, has killed herself. Throughout his quarrel with Cassius, he kept the news to himself. He reveals the truth in such a cold, abrupt manner that we are left wondering if this is a man incapable of love. And yet the fact that Brutus can control his emotions may indicate a strong self-will rather than an absence of feeling. To accept calmly whatever fate brings is a basic principle of his Stoic philosophy. To refuse to burden others with his grief is in keeping with his noble nature. Perhaps he realizes that a sorrow as great as his cannot be shared, and that any effort to reduce it to words can only cheapen it. If there is genuine grief behind Brutus' silence, then his childlike behavior with Cassius suddenly becomes clear. What we have witnessed is the anger and frustration of a man nursing a hidden sorrow.

Note that Portia (lines 151-155) kills herself by swallowing fire [hot coals]. It is an appropriate way for her to die, since fire is a symbol of the destructive powers of the gods, unleashed (some say) by the actions of her husband Brutus.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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