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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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ACT III, SCENE 1

Summary

Caesar arrives at the Capitol with Antony, Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators. On seeing the soothsayer who had warned him about the Ides of March, he casually states that the Ides have come. The soothsayer replies that they have not yet left, giving a clear foreshadowing of the tragedy that is soon to pass. Caesar ignores the warning, just as he ignores Artemidorus, who urges him to read the scroll with the names of the conspirators. Caesar, however, brushes him aside imperiously.

Popilius Lena meaningfully whispers to Cassius, "I wish your enterprise today may thrive." The fact that this man knows about the conspiracy worries Cassius; he fears that their plot has been discovered. As part of the conspiracy plan, Trebonius makes an excuse to call Antony away from Caesar's side. Then Metellus Cimber asks Caesar to repeal his brother's exile, which is quickly rejected. This gives an opportunity to the other conspirators to crowd around Caesar, pleading on behalf of Metellus Cimber. Casca is the first to strike Caesar, stabbing him from behind. All the other conspirators then stab Caesar, one after the other, with Brutus delivering the final thrust. When Caesar falls and realizes his friend Brutus is one of the murderers, he cries in agony, "Et tu Brute?" He then dies.

As the onlookers panic and flee, the assassins attempt to calm them. Brutus assures the crowd that no other Romans are at risk. He explains that Caesar has paid the price of his own ambition. As the frightened crowd disperses, the conspirators bend down and wash their hands in Caesar's blood, clearly recalling Calphurnia's dream. They also smear their swords in the blood and walk to the market place, waving their weapons and proclaiming, "Peace, freedom, and liberty!"

A servant enters with a message from Antony, who has fled to protect himself. He now wishes to meet with the conspirators in order to hear their explanation. Brutus grants Antony's plea and guarantees his safety. When Antony enters, he first bids Caesar's body farewell. He then nobly asks the conspirators to kill him with the same sword that killed Caesar. Brutus, however, assures Antony that the conspirators bear no malice towards him. Cassius tells Antony that his opinion will be sought as a new government is established in Rome. Antony pretends to cooperate with the murderers, even shaking their bloodstained hands. He also obtains permission from Brutus to speak at Caesar's funeral, in spite of the objections of Cassius. Brutus tells Antony that first he will explain the reasons for Caesar's assassination; then Antony can have the pulpit. He will be allowed to praise Caesar in his speech, but he must not blame the conspirators. After giving these instructions, Brutus then entrusts Caesar's body to Antony.


The conspirators leave, and Antony is left alone with the mutilated corpse of his dear friend. He begs forgiveness of Caesar for being "meek and gentle with these butchers;" but he promises revenge on the assassins. A servant enters to report that Octavius Caesar, Julius Caesar's adopted son, is within seven leagues of Rome and is coming at once. Antony instructs the servant to immediately return and tell Octavius not to approach Rome until it is safe. Antony tells the attendant he is going to the market place with Caesar's body and during his funeral oration, he will try to gauge the feelings of the citizens towards Caesar's death and the conspirators. After the funeral, the servant can report the state of affairs in Rome to Octavius, so he can decide whether he ought to return. Antony then asks the servant to lend him a hand, and the two men exit bearing Caesar's body.

Notes

Before the climax of the plot occurs, Shakespeare intensifies the dramatic tension of the assassination scene. Several times it seems the conspirators' plot is in danger of being exposed or thwarted. The self-confident arrogance of Caesar, however, is once again displayed and causes his undoing. He mocks the soothsayer, almost laughing that the Ides of March have come without event; but the Soothsayer replies ominously that they have not yet gone. Caesar ignores the warning. In a similar manner, Caesar majestically brushes aside Artemidorus, refusing to read his scroll or heed his warning. Additionally, it seems that everyone present is aware of the conspiracy, except Caesar. Cassius is so nervous about the failure of his plan that he declares that he will commit suicide if Caesar thwarts the assassination attempt.

The conspiracy goes as planned. The assassins crowd around Caesar when he, as expected, refuses to repeal the exile of Cimber's brother. Casca moves in to deliver the first blow from behind; the other conspirators quickly follow his action with their own stabs. Brutus delivers the last strike, which fells Caesar. Before dying, he expresses his horror over the fact that his dear friend is one of the murderers. The death of Caesar is the climax of the plot and the most important moment in the entire play. All the previous action has led up to Caesar's murder, and all the following action will result from it.

Caesar's assassination is theatrically effective and intensely dramatic. Before he stabs him, Brutus kisses Caesar's hand, and Cassius falls before him in mock exaggeration. In response, Caesar assumes a superior stance and compares himself to the northern star, which serves as the point of order and constancy in the heavens above. The moment is visually and dramatically stunning; immediately after these declarations of greatness, he is stabbed and realizes that even his good friend Brutus has betrayed him; the contrast is powerful. Shakespeare's mastery of dramatic presentation is quite obvious in the way he lays out the dramatic climax of the plot.

The immediate consequence of Caesar's assassination is utter panic and chaos, as the Roman citizens rush about the streets in utter confusion. The conspirators respond with their own hysteria. Cinna loudly proclaims, "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" Cassius tries to convince the others that they have done Caesar a good turn since they have ended his fear of death. Only Brutus is able to briefly control his emotions and assure the shocked citizens that no further harm is intended for anyone. From this point onward, Brutus assumes control of the situation and clearly emerges as the leader of the conspirators. It is Brutus who grotesquely bids the conspirators to smear their swords and bathe their hands in Caesar's blood, a clear reflection of Calphurnia's dream.

At this point a servant enters bearing a message of peace from Antony, who has gone home to contemplate his plan of attack; the submissive tone of the message is intended to be a parody on the conspirators' earlier fawning upon Caesar before stabbing him from behind. Antony's words praise Brutus' nobility, wisdom, and honor, winning Brutus' confidence. Antony then requests safety to come before the conspirators to hear their explanation so he can accept what has happened with good conscience (though nothing can really make him accept the murder). Since Brutus has convinced himself that the murder of Caesar was moral, he also believes Antony will think the same thing.

When Antony enters, he passionately says his good-byes to the body of Caesar and promises his good friend that his murder will be avenged. He vows to let loose the "dogs of war" and to create utter "havoc" on the conspirators. He calls for the return of Caesar's spirit to help in the fight, foreshadowing later events. Antony then begins his subterfuge, pretending to go along with the conspirators, even shaking their bloody hands. Brutus assures Antony that he is in no danger; he then tries to convince him that the assassination was neither cruel nor wrong, only necessary "business." Antony is horrified at the misplaced logic.

The scene ends with Antony shrewdly calculating his manipulation of the feelings of the Roman people. To gain the emotional response he seeks, he will use Caesar's mutilated corpse as the focal point of his speech against the conspirators and rouse them to action.

Even amidst his grief over Caesar's death, Antony proves he is a level-headed and "shrewd contriver" who will gain the upper hand. When Octavius' servant enters to say that his master is nearby, Antony sends a message that he should wait until after the funeral to enter Rome; at that point, Antony feels certain that the Roman citizens will be stirred against the conspirators. With the closure of this powerfully dramatic and climatic scene, the action moves forward towards the chaos of civil war.

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