Explanatory Notes for Act 3, Scene 2
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
The scene of the famous speeches to the citizens of Rome, -- two of the most widely known passages in all Shakespeare. Notice that Brutus speaks with studied plainness of manner, disdaining oratorical tricks and presenting his case with fewest possible words. He believes that his cause is plainly right and needs no defence. He tries to seem to have brought no passion to his deed as assassin. Antony, on the contrary, uses all the tricks of a mob leader. He is overwhelmed with grief and apologizes for his emotion, which, however, he displays before the
people with clever effect. He evidently understands his audience better than does Brutus.
It is still the ides of March, a few hours perhaps after Caesar's death. Up to this point the conspirators have carried everything before them, but in this scene the tide turns and the spirit of Caesar begins to work out its revenge.
4. part the numbers: divide the crowd.
7. And public reasons, etc.: And reasons for Caesar's death
shall be publicly set forth.
11. is ascended. We should say "has ascended." The poet
frequently uses forms of "be" with verbs that today take "have," as later (V, 3, 25) "my life is run his compass."
13. lovers: friends, -- as often in Shakespeare. So in 44 below, "I slew my best lover" and "Thy lover Artemidorus" (II, 3, 8).
15. have respect to: consider, look to.
16. censure: judge, -- not "find fault with."
26. There is tears. This construction, common enough in Shakespeare's time, has already occurred in the play. Do you remember "Three parts of him is ours"? "There's two or three of us"? "Is Decius and Trebonius there"?
So every bondman in his own hand bears
The power to cancel his captivity?
36, 37. The question of his death, etc. That is, a statement of the reasons why Cassar was put to death is placed in the official records of the Capitol.
38. extenuated: lessened, diminished. enforced. Here just the opposite of extenuated, -- that is, enlarged, exaggerated.
42. the commonwealth. According to Cassius, while Caesar lived, all Romans were "bondmen"; now that he is dead, Brutus believes that the commonwealth will be restored.
52. clamors: cheers.
57. Do grace to: honor, pay respect to.
58. Tending to: indicating, touching upon.
61. Save I alone. Shakespeare often uses the nominative case of pronouns after prepositions where modern grammatical usage demands the objective. See "save only he" in V, 5, 69.
65. I am beholding: I am beholden, or under obligations to you. Notice the marked contrast between Antony's style and that of Brutus.
74. to bury Caesar. The Romans burned their dead. Shakespeare is speaking to an English audience and thinks of English manners and customs, as when he speaks of the coffin in 106 below.
76. oft interred: often buried.
89. the general coffers: the public treasury. In "The Merchant" Portia speaks of the treasury of Venice as "the privy coffer of the state."
103. withholds you then to mourn: keeps you from mourning.
114. dear abide it: dearly pay for it. Where did Brutus say, "Let no man abide (suffer for) this deed But we the doers"?
120. so poor to do: so poor as to do, etc. Antony says there are now none so poor or humble but that Csesar is too low for their regard.
129. closet: room, private study, -- as in II, i, 35, where Lucius
said to Brutus, "The taper burneth in your closed, sir."
130. the commons: the common people.
133. napkins: handkerchiefs.
137. issue: children, descendants.
141. meet: fitting, proper.
150. I have o'ershot myself. That is, I have gone too far I have spoken more than I should. To overshoot is to shoot beyond, or over, the mark.
165. hearse: bier, coffin.
167. far: further, -- as often in Shakespeare.
168. Bear back: fall back, move further away.
173. That day he overcame the Nervii. Caesar tells of his great victory over the Nervii, "the stoutest warriors of all the Belgae," in the second book of his "Gallic War." Perhaps none of his conquests had contributed more to his fame and popularity with the common people of Rome, who looked upon him as their great
175. envious: malicious, spiteful. (Cf. II, i, 178.)
179. resolved: informed, assured. Where did Antony send to Brutus to "be resolved How Caesar hath deserved to lie in death"?
181. angel. That is, Brutus was one whom Caesar could trust as he would his guardian angel. Possibly angel is equivalent here merely to "best-loved friend," "favorite."
183. most unkindest cut. Cassius used a similar double superlative when he spoke of "the most boldest and best hearts of Rome." (See III, i, 122 and note.)
194. dint: impression, influence.
197. marred ... with: mangled by.
213. private griefs: personal grievances.
221. wit: understanding.
222. utterance: gift of speech. Antonyms repeated assertion that he is not eloquent is summed up by his "I only speak right on."
243. every several: each separate. seventy-five drachmas. This is the sum given by Plutarch. The drachma was a Greek coin, worth approximately twenty cents; but of course the purchasing value of the fifteen dollars left by Caesar to each citizen was far greater then than it would be today.
249. orchards: gardens, -- as in the stage direction of II, i.
250. On this side Tiber. Caesar's gardens were in reality on the right bank of the river, or beyond the Tiber. Shakespeare copied the error from North's incorrect translation of Plutarch, left them you. The "you" is placed out of its natural order, and at the end of the line, for emphasis. Contrast this arrangement
of the words with "he hath left you them."
252. To walk abroad, etc.: For walking out and refreshing yourselves.
260. forms: seats, benches.
267. He comes upon a wish. That is, he comes just at the time I most wished or desired. Fortune is merry. As we say, "Fortune smiles upon us."
270. Are rid: have ridden. (We still use both chid and chidden as past participles of "chide.")
271. Belike they had, etc.: Probably they had some information of how I had moved, or stirred up, the people.
272. Bring: escort, accompany.
How to cite the explanatory notes and scene questions:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 26 Feb. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_3_2.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Why do you think Shakespeare allows us to hear the speech of Brutus rather than that given by Cassius?
2. Do you believe that Cassius was more or less successful than Brutus in addressing the mob?
3. Do you see any reasons for having Brutus speak in prose? (Notice the form of Antony's oration, beginning with line 73.)
4. What are the most striking qualities of Brutus' speech? How would it have affected you had you been in the crowd?
5. Contrast the opening words of the speeches made by Brutus and Antony to the citizens. Which is the more appealing?
6. Point out several ways in which Antony shows greater knowledge of human nature than does Brutus, -- also greater
skill as an orator.
7. What is the effect of Antony's pause at line 107? Is this merely an oratorical trick?
8. What do you feel is the most successful point made by Antony?
9. What is the effect of Antony's repeated reference to the "honorable Brutus"? How would you read these words throughout the speech?
10. Can you explain why Brutus had no lasting effect with the citizens? Would he have been more successful had he followed Antony?
11. Did Antony, in your judgment, foresee his influence upon the mob? Can you follow his plan?
12. Describe the Roman mob as you imagine it.
13. What is it that has made the speeches in this scene so famous? Quote the lines from each that you like best.
14. Read the account of these speeches in Plutarch, and then comment upon the changes and improvements made by Shakespeare in his play.
Thoughts on Julius Caesar... "The central idea of the play considered as a tragedy is that Good cannot come out of Evil. "Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest," but he made shipwreck of his life by one great error. He committed a crime to prevent, as he thought, a greater crime, and by so doing he brought upon himself and his country greater evils than those he had sought to avert." -- Frances Andrew Purcell. Read on...