Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Julius Caesar | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Octavius and Antony arrive at Philippi. Octavius is surprised to see the opposing forces advance. Antony thinks they advance to show their bravery. The two discuss their battle strategy, and Octavius challenges Antony's plan, questioning his authority in the process.

The generals of the two sides meet and trade insults. Antony reminds Brutus and Cassius of the brutal way they killed Caesar. Octavius vows revenge. Cassius mocks Antony's reputation for revelry and Octavius's youth.

After Octavius, Antony, and their troops leave, Cassius tells the soldier Messala that ravens and crows fly in the air, scavenger birds casting shadows on the battlefield. Cassius thinks the birds are omens of a loss for their army. Nevertheless, he says he's ready to fight.

Cassius and Brutus exchange final goodbyes. Brutus is determined to accept whatever fate has in store for him. However, he refuses to return to Rome as a slave if captured. Brutus says, "This same day must end that work the Ides of March began." The two men and their armies march to the battlefield.

Analysis

Foreshadowing is thick in this scene—the first prickles of tension between Antony and Octavius, the depth of Octavius's ambition, Brutus's resignation, and Cassius's uncharacteristic fear.

When Octavius challenges Antony, Antony seems surprised. Here's a young man (Octavius was 21 at the time) asserting his authority over an established leader. When chastised, Octavius responds with a vague threat. He appears to be as stubborn as the first Caesar.

Brutus's line "Words before blows" reinforces the power of words to signify what force cannot. Antony, fearless now, tells the conspirators for the first time what he really thinks of them: "villains" and "flatterers." Cassius even gets in a bitter shot at Brutus, saying of Antony, "This tongue had not offended so today if Cassius might have ruled"—Brutus, if you had let us kill Antony as I advised, we wouldn't be here today.

Both Brutus and Cassius depart from long-held beliefs under stress, signaling character change. Cassius abandons his Epicurean belief that the gods don't send omens. He even compares himself to Pompey, who went to battle against his will with his freedom at stake. This battle is a consequence of his actions, and he can only hope the gods will be friendly.

Although Brutus is a stoic (a branch of philosophy that views the world with often negative realism and practicality, and that sometimes acknowledges suicide as a viable option to moral questions), he doesn't believe in suicide: he calls it "cowardly and vile" and submits himself to fate. Brutus will waver from this belief later.

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