Caesar and his train approach the Senate. He sees the soothsayer in the crowd and confidently declares, "The ides of March are come" (1). "Ay, Caesar; but not gone" (2), replies the soothsayer. Artemidorus is also on the street and he pleads with Caesar to read his scroll. But Caesar ignores him and enters the Senate. Cassius approaches him with a request to overturn a previous ruling and let a banished countrymen return home. Caesar answers with a flavoured speech, informing Cassius that "I was constant Cimber should be banish'd/And constant do remain to keep him so" (72-3).
The conspirators gather around Caesar and he sees his trusted friend Brutus among them. They pull out their swords and stab Caesar. With his dying breath Caesar addresses Brutus, "Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!" (77). Caesar falls lifeless upon the pedestal of Pompey's statue. Cinna rejoices, crying, "Liberty, Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" (78). Those who have witnessed the assassination flee the Senate and Trebonius reports to Brutus and Cassius that Antony has fled to his house in shock and people run through the streets, "As it were doomsday" (98). Brutus tells the other assassins to bathe their hands and swords in Caesar's blood and walk outside, proclaiming peace, freedom, and liberty.
The History of the Quotation
Professor George L. Craik, in his comprehensive philological commentary on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, explains:
The only ancient authority, I believe, for this famous exclamation is in Suetonius, I. 82, where Caesar is made to address Brutus (And thou too, my son?). It may have occurred as it stands here in the Latin play on the same subject which is recorded to have been acted at Oxford in 1582; and it is found in The True Tragedy of Richard Duke of York, printed in 1600, on which the Third Part of King Henry VI is founded, as also in a poem by S. Nicholson, entitled Acolastus his Afterwit, printed the same year, in both of which contemporary productions we have the same line: "Et tu, Brute? Wilt thou stab Caesar too?"
It may just be noted, as a historical fact, that the meeting of the Senate at which Caesar was assassinated was held, not, as is here assumed, in the Capitol, but in the Curia in which the statue of Pompey stood, being, as Plutarch tells us, one of the edifices which Pompey had built, and had given, along with his famous theatre, to the public....The mistake which we have here is found also in Hamlet, where (iii.2) Hamlet questions Polonius about his histrionic performances when at the University: "I did enact Julius Caesar," says Polonius; "I was killed in the Capitol; Brutus killed me;" to which the Prince replies, "It was a brute part of him to kill so capital a calf there" (191).
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. The History and Context of "Et tu, Brute?".. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2006. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/ettubrute.html.html >.
Craik, George L. The English of Shakespeare. London: Chapman and Hall, 1857.
"Casca is the desperado of the conspirators, a man possessed of the great physical courage, but without an iota of moral courage. He will rush upon an enemy and stab him, but turns deathly pale at a clap of thunder. Whatever is human he is ready to meet, but that which he conceives to be divine or supernatural is a source of the direst terror. This man Cassius must have; no respectable man could have been found who possessed equal audacity. In fact every conspiracy or vigilance committee has just such an instrument, whose function it is to do work which no decent man is willing to perform, but which must be done. When we observe that Casca was the first one that stabbed Csesar, we know exactly where to place him. Cassius needs this man, and it is curious to note with what consummate tact he proceeds. Knowing the weak side of Casca's character to be his superstition, he brings all his force to bear upon this single point. There is only one result which can follow." J. D. Snider. Read on...
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