Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 1
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
We must imagine that an hour or more has passed since the end of Act I, for it now is nearly daylight of the 15th of March. A little later Cassius hears a clock strike three.
Brutus' orchard. We should say "Brutus' garden." Shakespeare uses these two words as synonyms.
1. What, Lucius! "What" and "when" (line 5 below) were common words of exclamation or calling, like our colloquial "Hi, there," or "Oh." When Shylock is leaving his house he calls to his daughter inside to come out and speak to him: "What, Jessica! . . . Why, Jessica, I say!"
3. how near to day. We must supply "it is."
7. taper. A sort of wick or small candle, probably made of
11. to spurn at him: to reject him, or almost "to strike at him." Later Caesar says, "I spurn thee like a cur out of my way," which is the more common use of the word.
12. the general: the public, the community.
14. It is the bright day, etc. Just as snakes come out to bask in the warm sun, so the "sunshine of royalty, -- the dazzle of being king, -- will kindle the serpent in Caesar."
15. that craves wary walking: that demands careful, watchful
walking. Notice that here, and again at the end of his soliloquy
(32-34), Brutus has not forgotten his comparison of Caesar and
a serpent. -- that: be that so; suppose him crowned.
17. do danger with: do what is dangerous, -- like our expressions "do mischief," "do harm," "do wrong," etc.
18. when it disjoins remorse: when it separates mercy, or pity, from power.
20. his affections swayed: his emotions, or feelings, governed him more than his reason.
21. a common proof: a common experience, a thing commonly
26. the base degrees: the lower steps, the lower rounds of the ladder. A degree is literally a "step down."
28. prevent: anticipate, get ahead of him.
28, 29. since the quarrel will bear no color, etc. That is, "Since our case against him cannot be justified by what he is now, let us state our argument thus," etc. Professor Hudson thus sums up Brutus' reasoning: "Since we have no apparent ground of complaint against Caesar in what he is, or in anything he has yet done, let us assume that the further addition of a crown will quite transform his nature, and make him a serpent."
33. as his kind: like the rest of its kind, or species.
34. kill him. That is, -- let us, therefore, kill him in the shell.
35. closet. This word was formerly used for any small room devoted to retirement, privacy, or study, and was not confined to a room for storing clothes or dishes. Here Lucius refers to Brutus' private study. (See line 7 above.)
36. a flint. A piece of stone used with tinder for striking a
44. exhalations: meteors. The ancients believed that the sun drew vapor up from the earth and then exhaled it, or breathed it forth, in the form of meteors.
50. I have took. Compare this with "mistook your passion" in I, 2, 48, and see note.
53. My ancestors. This is a reference to Lucius Junius Brutus. See note to I, 3, 146.
61. whet: excite, arouse, -- literally, "sharpen," as in the expression "to whet one's appetite." (Cf. whetstone.)
64. motion: impulse, motive.
64, 65. the interim is like a phantasma: the time between is like a nightmare.
66. The genius, etc.: the soul and the bodily powers; the spiritual and physical powers; the guardian angel of man and his passions, -- but just exactly what Shakespeare meant by "genius" and "mortal instruments" in this famous line will always remain a mystery. The editors have written pages upon these words.
67. the state of man; the government of man. Man is compared to a kingdom, or state, in which civil war arises between the various elements, -- the "genius and the mortal instruments."
69. The nature of: something like.
70. your brother. Really brother-in-law, for Cassius had married Brutus' sister, Junia.
72. moe: more, -- frequent in Shakespeare.
Friends, I owe moe tears
To this dead man than you shall see me pay.
(V, 3, 101.)
73. their hats, etc. Here is another good illustration of Shakespeare's disregard of the costumes actually worn in Rome. "The Roman pileus was a close fitting cap of felt without any
brim, and the petasus was worn only to keep off the sun.
Shakespeare dressed his Romans in the slouched hats of his
own time." (Wright.) But does this make the least particle of
difference in our enjoyment of the play, or injure its dramatic
76. By any mark of favor: by a special distinction of features. Do you remember when Cassius said to Brutus, "I do know your outward favor"?
77. faction. A body of persons combined for a certain purpose, -- here the conspirators.
79. When evils are most free. That is, when crimes are most free from the law, -- most unrestrained.
82. affability: courteous words, gentle manners.
83. path. Here the word is a verb and means to walk, walk
forth; but it may be a printer's error. Put has been suggested by many of the critics. Path as a verb, however, occurs in writers of Shakespeare's time. thy native semblance on: in
thy true form.
84. Erebus. This was a place of darkness, according to Greek mythology, part way between the earth and Hades; but here, as often in literature, the term is applied vaguely to the lower world.
85. prevention: discovery, -- which would lead to prevention
86. we are too bold, etc.: we are too bold thus to break in upon your rest.
100. Shall I entreat a word: May I have a word with you?
104. fret: adorn, ornament with lines or pencillings. Hamlet speaks of "this majestical roof (the heavens) fretted with golden fire."
107, 108. a great way growing, etc. The sun rises far to the south, considering the early time of year. Casca is rather inaccurate, for on March 15th the sun would rise almost exactly in the east.
110. the high east: exact, or perfect, east, -- as we say "high noon."
112. your hands all over: all your hands once more. Brutus
shook hands with the conspirators when they arrived; now
after talking with Cassius he shakes hands with them all again.
114. the face of men. Probably, the look of disapproval of Caesar in the faces of men.
115. sufferance: suffering.
116. break off betimes: let's throw up the whole business at
117. hence to his idle bed: go to bed and remain there idle. So we often say "a sick bed," and Shakespeare in "Troilus and Cressida" has, "upon a lazy bed."
114-118. The broken grammatical structure of these lines makes them a little difficult. Summed up, the meaning is: If the unspoken words in men's looks, together with our own suffering and the abuses of the time, are not sufficient motives for our conspiracy, let us give up our scheme, go home, and allow proud
tyranny to flourish.
119. drop by lottery. That is, "die at the mere whim of the tyrant, just as by the mere chance of a lottery." (Thorndike.) if these. That is, these three motives just enumerated.
123. What: Why. The figure, of course, is from horseback riding, the source of many comparisons and figures in Shakespeare. How do you account for this?
125. Than secret Romans: that of secret Romans. have
spoke. Compare this with "have took" in line 50 above, and see note on I, 2, 48.
126. palter: quibble, act trickily.
129. cautelous: crafty, sly, -- a rare word even in Shakespeare.
130. carrions. Literally "carcasses." Here "men as good as dead."
133. The even virtue: The calm, firm virtue.
134. the insuppressive mettle: the nature of our spirits which
cannot be suppressed.
135. or our cause or. This construction, instead of either . . .
or, occurs in English poetry as late as Tennyson.
136. Did need: ever could need.
138. a several bastardy: a special treason against his noble
144. his silver hairs. At this time Cicero was sixty years old. Of course Metellus remembers that he has just used "silver" when in the next line he speaks of purchasing good
opinion," -- that is, a good reputation, -- and buying men's voices.
148. Our youths, etc. That is, our light, uncontrolled youth shall not be in evidence at all.
150. break with him: tell him, -- as we say "break the news."
157. of him: in him. In the previous line "of" = by. Notice other variations in the use of prepositions as you read the
158. A shrewd contriver: an evil plotter or schemer. According to Plutarch, all of the conspirators, except Brutus, wished to slay Antony as well as Caesar.
164. envy: hatred, malice, -- as usually in Shakespeare. So "envious" in line 178 below means "malicious," "evil."
169. come by: get hold of.
175-178. Let our hearts rouse our hands to act, and then after the deed is done they may reprove them, just as clever masters arouse their servants to an outrageous act, and then find fault with them for doing it. What do you think of this advice?
178. Our purpose necessary. That is, seem necessary and not malicious.
180. purgers: cleansers, healers. They will heal Rome of its disease of tyranny.
184. ingrafted love: love so deeply implanted that it has become a part of him.
187. take thought and die. This was an old expression for "grieve one's self to death." In Elizabethan English "thought" often meant "worry," as in the New Testament, -- "Take no thought for the morrow," which means, of course, "be not anxious or solicitous about the morrow."
188. And that were much, etc. That would be a great deal for him to do, -- as Brutus explains in the next line.
190. no fear in him: nothing to be feared in him. Clock
strikes. Clocks such as Shakespeare had in mind were unknown
to the Romans; thus we have here another anachronism. Can you explain it?
192. stricken. Shakespeare also uses the forms "struck" and
"strucken." We still use the word in such expressions as "he was stricken with the disease," and "the words were stricken from the record."
196. Quite from the main opinion: wholly contrary to the strong opinion.
198. apparent prodigies: manifest, clearly seen signs and omens.
200. augurers, or augurs, were interpreters of omens, especially of those seen in the entrails of animals which were sacrificed to the gods. No Roman would set about an important undertaking without consulting the augurs for favorable omens.
203. o'ersway: win him over, change his mind.
204. According to early stories, the unicorn in its fury would drive its horn into a tree behind which the hunter had dodged for safety, and before it broke free again was captured or killed. Bears were supposed to be easily shot while they remained motionless, gazing into a mirror that had been set up to attract
them. Elephants were captured by means of pitfalls, covered with straw or leaves, and lions were snared with nets or toils.
208. flattered. Pronounced flat-ter-ed. Do you see why?
210. humor: state of mind, temper. The word "humor" is used by Shakespeare in many different senses, some of which are not familiar to us today.
213. the uttermost: the very latest. We probably would say
"latest" or "utmost."
215. doth bear Caesar hard: bears ill-will toward Caesar, hates Caesar. Do you remember where Cassius said, "Caesar doth bear me hard"?
216. rated: reproved, berated.
218. go along by him: go home by way of his house.
219. given him reasons. That is, for caring for Brutus.
220. fashion him: mould him, win him to our cause.
225. our looks put on, etc. Let not our looks put on an expression that will betray or reveal our plans.
230. honey-heavy dew, etc. "Slumber as refreshing as dew, and whose heaviness is sweet." (Wright.) Notice the compactness and suggested pictures in Shakespeare's one phrase.
231. no figures nor no fantasies. That is, "Thou hast no pictures or fancies created by the imagination." Double negative constructions (nor . . . no) were common in the English of Shakespeare's time.
238. Stole. Compare this form with "broke" for "broken," "wrote" for "written," which occur frequently in the plays.
246. wafture: wave. A rare word, used only here by Shakespeare.
248. impatience. Four syllables, im-pa-ti-ence like de-struc-ti-on in I, 3, 13, q.v.
250. humor. Here, "caprice" or some "whim." In line 262 below we find still another meaning of this word.
251. his: its, -- as often in Elizabethan English.
253. shape: physical appearance in contrast to "condition"
in the next line.
254. prevailed on your condition: influenced or changed your
state of mind.
255. Dear my lord. Shakespeare has this peculiar order in other terms of address, such as "Sweet my mother," and "Good my lord."
261. physical: good for the health, wholesome.
262. unbraced: with clothes unfastened. Dp you remember
where Cassius walked "unbraced," and "bared his bosom to the thunder-storm"? humors: mists, moisture.
263. dank: damp. Which of these words is the more poetic?
266. rheumy: damp, causing catarrh or rheumatism.
un-purg'd air: foul air; air that has not yet been purified by the sun's rays.
268. some sick offence. That is, some grief that makes you sick.
271. charm: conjure, entreat. Do you think Pope's alteration of this word to "charge" a necessary or wise change?
273. incorporate. The next four words almost translate this expression.
275. heavy: sad,-- as we say "a heavy heart," "a light heart."
281. Is it excepted, etc. "Is there an exception made that I should not know your secrets?"
283. in sort or limitation: only after a fashion, and in a limited way. Notice here, and often in this play, the compactness of Shakespeare's language, -- the extensive meaning pressed into a word or two.
285. the suburbs. That is, in the outskirts, not in the center of your heart.
287. harlot: mistress.
289, 290. the ruddy drops that visit, etc. Harvey's discovery of the laws governing the circulation of the blood were not published until twelve years after Shakespeare's death, though much earlier, as these words clearly show, men had begun to have notions that such a circulation prevailed.
295. well -reputed: of good name; honorable. Cato's daughter. Portia was the daughter of Marcus Cato, sometimes called "the last of the Romans," because of his struggle to bring back to Rome a republican form of government. His hatred of Caesar led him to commit suicide after that great imperial leader had
defeated the followers of Pompey.
299. constancy: firmness.
300. a voluntary wound. Portia wounded herself with a knife
to test, by her power to endure physical pain, her ability to keep
her husband's secrets. This incident -- indeed, the whole interview between Brutus and Portia -- follows Plutarch very closely.
307. construe: explain, interpret.
308. All the charactery of my sad brows, etc.: all the marks of sadness on my countenance.
312. how? Brutus utters this as an exclamation rather than
as a question. He is surprised to see Ligarius wearing a "kerchief."
313. Vouchsafe good morrow: deign^ or condescend, to accept
315. kerchief. Used here in its literal meaning, -- a covering for the head. It was evidently the custom in Shakespeare's time for sick men to wear such head-coverings.
323. an exorcist: one who raises spirits, a conjurer.
324. My mortified spirit. That is, my spirit that was dead.
331. To whom: To him to whom. Set on your foot: go ahead. In I, 2, 11, Caesar used a similar expression: "Set on; and leave no ceremony out."
How to cite the explanatory notes and scene questions:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_2_1.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. What does Lucius add to this scene? Would you omit his part as unnecessary to the main action?
2. In what ways has Brutus changed since we saw him in Act I?
3. What opinion do you form of Brutus from his soliloquies in this scene? Do they increase your respect for him or not? Why?
4. Why do you think the poet has Brutus ask Lucius about "the ides of March"?
5. What is the purpose and effect of having Brutus and Cassius whisper aside? (101- 111.) What do you think they talk about?
6. Point out and comment upon Shakespeare's skill in managing the other actors on the stage during the whispered conference between Brutus and Cassius.
7. Have you any definite knowledge, before Brutus speaks in line 112, of his decision as to the conspiracy?
8. What are the objections to including Cicero in the conspiracy?
9. What do you think of Brutus' arguments to spare Mark Antony? Do you agree with him or with Cassius?
10. How do you explain the words, "The clock hath stricken
three," when clocks, as we know them, did not exist in Caesar's
11. What is there effective in lines 229-233? Do these words increase your admiration for Brutus or not?
12. What impression does the scene between Portia and Brutus leave with you? Would you omit it in a modern presentation of the play on the stage?
13. What is there heroic in Portia's character? Bassanio in "The Merchant of Venice" says of the heroine,
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia.
14. In what ways does Portia fulfil your idea of the noble Roman matron?
15. Describe the setting of the conspiracy in Brutus' orchard, and point out the elements that make this one of the finest scenes in English drama.
Did You Know? ... "Pope was evidently so disgusted with Shakespeare's tendency to dress his Romans like Elizabethans, that in his two editions he omits 'hats' altogether, indicating the omission by a dash!" (Henry Norman Hudson)