Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Act 2, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Brutus is in his orchard, where he's spent the night awake and worried. His servant Lucius tells him it's March 15. He reads Cassius's letters and decides they mean he's called upon to save Rome from danger. Lucius admits the six conspirators to Brutus's orchard. Cassius, Casca, and Cinna are joined by Metellus Cimber, Decius, and Trebonius. Brutus welcomes them. He knows why they're there. He refuses to swear an oath, but he agrees to help.

The conspirators discuss involving Cicero. When Brutus says to leave him out, they change their minds. Decius asks if any man other than Caesar poses a danger and should be killed. Cassius says yes—Antony. Cassius fears Antony's shrewd and scheming mind will cause them all harm. Brutus, again, disagrees. He thinks they should strive for as little bloodshed as possible; besides, he believes Antony will be powerless without Caesar. Cassius is still concerned about Antony, but Brutus and Trebonius offer assurances and convince him not to worry. After planning the specifics of getting Caesar to the Capitol at the right time, the conspirators leave Brutus.

Portia, Brutus's wife, enters the orchard worried and upset. She knows Brutus hasn't been sleeping, but he won't tell her what's wrong. She protests that she's noble and devoted, and deserves to know her husband's secrets. She has even cut her thigh to prove it. A knock at the door interrupts them. Brutus, gently, says he'll tell Portia everything in due time.

The visitor is Ligarius, whom Brutus has enlisted as a conspirator. Ligarius doesn't speak directly of Caesar, but strongly implies that he knows about the assassination plot. He says he trusts Brutus enough to follow him anywhere. They leave Brutus's house together for the Capitol.

Analysis

Brutus's first monologue reveals his motivations clearly. He admits Caesar might change, becoming an unrecognizable version of the friend he once knew. Power corrupts—Brutus knows this cliché; he's seen it happen before. In this frame of mind, Brutus believes the fake letters from Cassius that reinforce what he's already thinking. He's still concerned, comparing his moral dilemma to "a phantasma, or a hideous dream." The audience may discern that despite Brutus's convictions, he never really figures out the right thing to do in this situation.

The audience has heard that Brutus is a good man, and this scene shows repeatedly how well regarded he is by all he meets. Twice Brutus sways the conspirators easily to his side. He's right about Cicero, whose indifference to omens shows he's not easily persuaded. But Brutus is catastrophically wrong about Antony. After Caesar's death Antony will make a grab for power that endangers all the conspirators and puts Rome's future at risk. No one onstage knows that yet. But since Shakespeare is dramatizing real events, the audience knows the outcome, and this conflict creates dramatic irony on the stage.

Cassius, ever the skeptic, wants to err on the side of the worst in human nature—Antony loves Caesar, therefore Antony will punish Caesar's killers. Brutus plans on the best in human nature, believing the Romans will call Caesar's killers purgers (healers). Brutus is being tactical, not naïve. He understands the importance of keeping the public's goodwill. Protecting reputation in the face of the public, and winning the public's hearts, intertwine with themes of political manipulation throughout the play.

Brutus's respect for Caesar shows through when he implores the conspirators to treat Caesar as a sacrifice, a "dish fit for the gods." Brutus is also working to justify the assassination to himself. He's become the manipulator now, telling himself what he wants to hear. His inner turmoil continues to be a driving force.

Portia's anguish shows that the assassination of Caesar will come at a greater human cost than is anticipated. The audience doesn't hear her opinion on Caesar's regime, but they know she is distressed by her current situation—a husband entangled in a murder plot and a country in peril. Brutus is, naturally, conflicted. His loyal wife is upset at his evasion, and he wants to confide in her. But he can't make her an accomplice by revealing the plot. Nor does he want to burden Portia with more worries.

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