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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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In this fallen world, people are still assuming other names and titles, and trying to be something they are not. Cato tries to live up to his father's reputation-"I am the son of Marcus Cato," he says-and is killed. (So his sister, Portia, insisted that she was Cato's daughter, too, and was rewarded with death.) Lucilius pretends to be Brutus, and Antony's soldiers take his word for it. Antony, however, is not fooled, and says:

Keep this man safe; Give him all kindness. I had rather have Such men my friends than enemies.

Act V, Scene iv, lines 27-29

Not long ago Antony was busy checking off the names of people who must die, so it's difficult to believe that he has suddenly developed a taste for mercy or a concern for the sanctity of human life. What he probably recognizes is his need to end the bloodshed if he is going to reestablish order and unite the people behind him. He may still be an opportunist, but he does seek reconciliation rather than revenge, which bodes well for the future of Rome.


LINES 1-59

The tide has turned against Brutus. His scout, Statilius, reached the enemy lines but was killed or captured on his return. Brutus, sensing defeat, asks Dardanius, and then Volumnius, to slay him. The man of reason-who all his life has refused to succumb to his emotions-now breaks down and cries:

Now is that noble vessel full of grief, That it runs over even at his eves.

Act V, scene v, lines 13-14

Brutus' final moments seem almost joyful, without anger or regrets. He is still convinced of the justice of his cause, but welcomes death as a release from the trials of life. Like Cassius and Caesar, his final thoughts are not of Rome or of his own nobility, but of friendship:

My heart doth joy that yet in all my life I found no man but he was true to me.

Act V, Scene v, lines 34-35

Cassius, of course, was not true to Brutus when he sent him forged letters. And Antony was not true to Brutus when he promised not to blame the conspirators in his funeral oration. To the last, Brutus continues to see the best in people, and to make them seem better than they are; he also remains blind to human nature, and unable to see the world for what it is.

Brutus predicts (lines 36-38) that he will have more glory "by this losing day" than Octavius and Antony, but he is wrong again: Antony will soon become the first, and one of the greatest, emperors of Rome.

In his final words-"Caesar, now be still; / killed not thee with half so good a will" (lines 50-51)- Brutus reveals that he has always been troubled by the assassination; that in his heart he is happier taking his own life than Caesar's. This is not necessarily an admission of wrongdoing, but it is an acknowledgment that he could not reconcile his love for Caesar with his public duty to assassinate him. Brutus, the man of reason, killed Caesar for the best interests of Rome; but Brutus, the man, has never forgiven himself for murdering a friend. Whether Brutus is to be praised or blamed for putting principles ahead of feelings is something every reader will have to decide for himself.

LINES 60-81

Octavius agrees to accept all of Brutus' men into his service-another indication of his willingness to heal wounds in order to reestablish order.

Antony's speech praising Brutus may be nothing more than a formal tribute to the dead. His words ring true only if he is saying that Brutus is the most noble of all the conspirators-not the most noble of all Romans.

Antony calls Brutus a person in whom the elements were so mixed "that nature might stand up / And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'" (lines 74-75). Antony must be speaking of the public Brutus, and the mask he presented to the world; for the private man was haunted by ghosts, and "with himself at war" (Act I, Scene ii, line 46).

Octavius makes the final tribute, since with him the circle closes, and order is restored.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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