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

Summary

When Octavius and Antony enter the plains of Philippi with their armies, Octavius excitedly reports that the enemy forces are advancing towards them. Antony tells Octavius to lead his army to the left side of the battlefield. Octavius insists that he will take the right side of the field. It is obvious that these two leaders are still no in agreement about everything.

At this point Brutus and Cassius arrive with their army and verbally confront Antony and Octavius. Antony rebukes Brutus for assassinating Caesar and accuses him of hypocrisy. He derides the villainous and underhanded way in which the conspirators stabbed Caesar from behind. Cassius is infuriated at the comment and reminds Brutus that they would not have to hear this kind of talk if they had killed Antony along with Caesar. He then accuses Antony of being hypocritical in his meeting with the conspirators after the assassination. Octavius and Antony then withdraw to prepare for the battle, daring Brutus and Cassius to fight as soon as they are able to summon up some courage.

Cassius experiences a general unease and confides to Messala that he fears they will lose the battle. He explains that on their way from Sardis, two mighty eagles had accompanied them to Philippi, which he took to be a good omen; but this morning the eagles flew away, and crows, ravens, and kites began circling their camp. Cassius interprets this omen as one signifying death. Messala tries to allay Cassius' fears but is unsuccessful. Brutus and Cassius resolve to take their own lives if defeated, rather than be taken captive by the enemy.

Notes

From this scene forward the action of the play is set on the plains of Philippi, oscillating between the two opposing camps. At first Antony and Octavius are seen in this scene; they are in high spirits and confident of emerging victorious. In absolute contrast, Brutus and Cassius are riddled with self-doubts and skepticism about the outcome of the battle. Until the final resolution of the play, the fortunes of Antony and Octavius continue to rise, and the fortunes of Brutus and Cassius continue to fall.


Octavius emerges as a calm politician. He impassively announces that "our hopes have been answered," alluding to the arrival of Brutus and Cassius in Philippi. Antony cynically comments that Brutus and Cassius are only affecting a courageous demeanor in order to hide their fear. There is a brief, but significant, squabble between Antony and Octavius about the positions to be taken on the battlefield. Antony is surprised at Octavius' insistence on taking the right side, but Octavius remains firm, exhibiting both independence of decision and conviction of character. Antony, although a more mature soldier, does not object to Octavius' decision, for he knows that, at this point of time, they should not have any differences between them.

When Brutus and Cassius arrive to confront Antony and Octavius, a heated argument ensues. Although Brutus attempts a reconciliation, Cassius attacks Antony, calling him a hypocrite. Antony accuses the two assassins of being underhanded by stabbing Caesar from behind. Implying that they are cowards, Antony challenges them to battle when Brutus and Cassius have enough courage. It is obvious that Antony and Octavius have the upper hand with their calm self-confidence.

Cassius is extremely nervous, fearing defeat. He is disturbed that the eagles that had accompanied their troops from Sardis have flown away, and crows and ravens, traditionally symbols of death, are hovering over their camp. He despondently tells Messala that he is afraid he will soon die. Together, he and Brutus decide that they will commit suicide if their armies fail; they do no want to be taken captives by the enemy.

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