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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 161-194

Messala arrives with letters reporting that Octavius and Antony have put to death from seventy to one hundred senators, including Cicero. The common people, then, are not the only ones who need their emotions held in check!

Brutus tells Messala that he has not heard of Portia's death, although just a moment ago Brutus was announcing her death to Cassius. It's possible that Brutus is putting on an act for Messala, using the opportunity to reinforce his public image as a Stoic. Cassius, realizing this, may have played along. Most critics believe, however, that Shakespeare later revised the scene, and that either he, his editor, or his printer forgot to delete one of the two passages relating the news of Portia's death.

The second passage-the one in which Brutus learns the news from Messala-is much less flattering to Brutus, because of the almost inhuman speed with which he dismisses his wife's death and moves on to the subject of war. "Why, farewell, Portia," he says; and then after a few high-minded words on the inevitability of death, he adds, "Well, to our work alive. What do you think / Of marching to Philippi presently?" (lines 189-196). It is generally believed that Shakespeare wrote this version first, which emphasizes Brutus' stoicism; and that he deleted it and added the earlier passage (lines 141- 158), which emphasizes Brutus' humanity.

LINES 195-228

Brutus and Cassius now discuss strategy: whether to keep their position on the heights and wait for the enemy to attack, or to take the offensive and try to catch the enemy off guard.

Although Brutus asks Cassius what he thinks, his mind is already made up. In his military strategy, as in his philosophy, he is convinced that he is right and has no patience for compromise or debate. What could be more tactless than his response to Cassius:

Good reasons must of force give place to better.

Act IV, Scene iii, line 202

When Cassius politely asks to be heard-"Hear me, good brother," he says-Brutus ignores him and makes one of his high-minded speeches about the need to act when the time is ripe (lines 215- 223). Cassius realizes that it is useless to argue with someone so obstinate, and bows to Brutus' stronger will.

Brutus does not hesitate to make difficult military decisions, so it is unfair to call him a man of ideas, incapable of action. And yet it is perhaps the newness of his job, and his desire to prove himself worthy of it, that make him seek a single, decisive victory.

LINES 229-307

Brutus, having broken his silence about Portia, seems able to relax again, if only for a moment. He asks Lucius-symbol of youth and innocence-to play music, perhaps so that he can hear the harmonies of a simpler, more carefree time. He puts his own concerns aside and considers the comforts of his men. When Lucius falls asleep, he is too considerate to wake him up.

Lucius has no guilty conscience to interrupt his sleep. Brutus, however, is kept awake by Caesar's ghost, who promises to reappear at the decisive battle at Philippi.

The ghost is a reminder that there are powers in the world that control our fate-powers that cannot be grasped by logic and reason. The ghost is also a dramatic way of portraying an image in a nightmare-an image that embodies the guilt and self-doubt beneath Brutus' firm exterior.

The ghost vanishes and Brutus wakens his men. Lucius, not realizing that he has fallen asleep, worries that his instrument is out of tune. "The strings, my lord, are false" (line 290), he says.

And so they are. The harmonies of life have been drowned out by the cries of men in their sleep and by the baying of "the dogs of war." Musicians, like poets, won't be heard again until order is restored, and the Roman state is back on its heaven-appointed course.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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