Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar | Act 3, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Caesar and the senators/conspirators, along with others, enter the Capitol. Caesar asserts, "The Ides of March are come," implying that despite the soothsayer's earlier warning, he's still alive. The soothsayer points out that the day's not over. Artemidorus attempts to give Caesar his letter. However, Caesar will not read it. Meanwhile Popilius wishes Cassius success in his endeavor. Cassius fears that the conspiracy's been revealed. Brutus assures him Caesar knows nothing.

Caesar prepares to hear petitions. Metellus Cimber, as the conspirators planned, presents the first request—for Metellus's banished brother to return to Rome. Brutus and Cassius join in the request, to Caesar's surprise. Caesar refuses to grant the petition. He made the banishment decree and he stands by it. His consistency and steadfastness are a matter of pride, which is odd given the way he changed his mind with Calphurnia in the earlier scene.

Just as Caesar tells the senators their pleas are in vain, Casca (as planned) strikes first with his sword. The rest of the conspirators follow. Caesar protests only once, when Brutus strikes: "Et tu, Brutè?" ("You too, Brutus?")

After Caesar is dead, the conspirators rejoice and plan to tell all of Rome the news. Brutus urges them to wait. He tells them to kneel and wash their hands in Caesar's blood and to "besmear [their] swords." They have done Caesar a favor, Brutus states, as he will no longer fear death.

A servant enters and says Antony pledges his loyalty to Brutus and wants to speak with the conspirators. Brutus allows Antony to enter, though Cassius still doesn't trust him. Antony grieves Caesar openly. He asks the conspirators to kill him too, but they refuse. Cassius and Brutus say Antony will have a role in the new government. Antony shakes each of their hands as an ally. When Antony asks to speak at the funeral, Brutus agrees. Cassius pulls Brutus aside and says letting Antony speak is a bad idea, since his speech may prejudice the people against the conspirators. Brutus says he himself will speak first and explain the conspirators' reasoning.

Antony stays with Caesar's body after the conspirators leave. He asks Caesar's pardon for allying with the "butchers," indicating that Antony is putting on a front for Brutus and Cassius. He laments the war and havoc that he's sure will follow as Caesar's death is avenged. A servant enters to announce that Octavius Caesar—the great-nephew and adopted son of Julius Caesar—is on his way to Rome. Antony tells the servant to send word to Octavius to wait, since Rome will be dangerous in the assassination's aftermath.

Analysis

This scene, along with the scene that follows, provides the climax and cements the traumas and loyalties that drive the falling action.

Caesar shows the audience his inflexible, unsympathetic leadership style. He brushes off two warnings (possibly three, since we don't know what Popilius told him). When he insults Metellus Cimber, Caesar starts to lose any audience sympathy he may still have. It seems that Caesar truly is callous. The audience members will have to decide for themselves to what extent his death is deserved.

The critical characters to follow during this scene are Brutus and Antony. Both have difficult decisions to make quickly, and both struggle with where their allegiances lie.

Antony knows he's a marked man. To save his own life, he agrees to cooperate with the conspirators. Even though he's vulnerable in (seemingly genuine) grief, the audience senses that Antony is a master manipulator. When Antony tells the conspirators to kill him too, he knows they won't do it—he has already pledged his loyalty. Like Cassius, he appeals to Brutus as an honorable, respected leader. Antony knows, as the conspirators do, that if there's one senator to have on your side, it's Brutus. He's proven correct. After Brutus gives Antony his trust, even skeptical Cassius follows along. Antony has also figured out that the conspirators have no real plan in place for a new government. Leadership is up for grabs. Senators may have floated Brutus's name as the new Caesar, but he has not formally accepted the position.

Still, Antony lets his real bewilderment at their actions escape. He claims he's affected by the sight of Caesar's dead body. That claim makes sense—anyone whose friend is murdered might say things they don't mean out of emotion. Cassius is right to be concerned because none of them know what he will say at the funeral.

Brutus decides to handle Caesar's death with nobility and ceremony. He prevents Cinna and Cassius from running into the street with the news, encouraging everyone to wait and walk together. Brutus falls easily into the role of leader, giving confident orders in a time of distress. He chooses to trust Antony, again against Cassius's advice. Brutus thinks reason will win and clear heads will carry the day. If he explains the conspirators' actions to the people, of course they will understand! Given both the number of portents of Caesar's death and the number of people who believed them, his attitude is naïve.

Antony has darker thoughts. He foreshadows the dogs of war that will soon upend the lives of all the major characters. Antony has joined the many characters who give warnings and predictions. Although Caesar did not listen, the warnings were still accurate, hinting that the audience should give some credence to Antony's suspicions.

With such animosity rankling on the stage, the audience suspects more deaths to come. They also wonder how Octavius's presence will change the dynamic. What kind of leader will he be?

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