Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 3
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
2. noted: set a mark or stigma upon him; disgraced him. Shakespeare took the expression "condemned and noted" directly from Plutarch.
4. praying on his side: pleading in his behalf.
5. slighted off. We should say. simply "slighted."
8. every nice offence, etc. That is, every petty, trivial offence
should bear its comment, or be criticized.
10. condemned to have: accused of having. an itching palm. The expression is explained by the next line. An interesting comparison is our slang word "palm-grease," -- money given as
a bribe or tip.
11. mart: sell, barter, a contraction of market, used more frequently as a noun.
16. chastisement: punishment. "Your name and position, Cassius, protects you in this practice of selling your offices for gold."
20. What villain, etc. That is, who of those that killed Caesar was such a villain as to stab him with any other motive except justice?
27. bay the moon. Compare this with line 121 of Goldsmith's
"The watchdog's voice that bayed the whispering wind."
28. bait: provoke, anger. Several editors have substituted "bay," thus making Cassius repeat the word and thought of Brutus. Is this change necessary? Is it an improvement?
30. hedge me in: hamper, restrict me, -- by interfering with my affairs.
32. To make conditions. That is, to arrange the terms on
which offices should be distributed and the campaign conducted.
Go to. An expression of exhortation, and sometimes of scorn,
common in Shakespeare, and about equivalent to our well, come
Well then, it now appears you need my help;
Go to, then; you come to me, and you say,
'Shylock, we would have moneys.'
("Merchant of Venice," I, 3, 104-106.)
36. Have mind upon your health: Consider your safety.
37. slight: insignificant, petty. Of whom did Antony say
earlier in this act, "This is a slight unmeritable man"?
38. Is't possible? Cassius' questions in lines 41 and 50 below also refer, of course, to Brutus' language and attitude toward him.
39. rash choler: quick and irritable temper.
45. observe you: treat you with reverence.
46. testy: fretful, irritable.
47. the venom of your spleen: the poison of your ill temper.
The spleen, an organ near the stomach, was formerly considered the seat of various emotions; hence its figurative use today for ill temper, spitefulness, melancholy, etc.
48. Though it do split you. That is, though the digesting of the poison cause you agony. So we speak of a splitting headache or pain.
50. waspish: snappy, irritable, quick to sting like a wasp.
Compare this word with wolfish, bearish, currish, mulish, foxy,
52. vaunting: boasting, bragging.
54. noble. Some of the editors have substituted "abler" for noble, referring to what Cassius said above, "Older in practice, abler than yourself." Why does this change seem unnecessary
69. respect: regard, heed, -- the usual meaning in Shakespeare.
73. drachmas. The drachma was a Greek coin equal to about
twenty cents. Where have we had the word before?
75. indirection. Literally, an action not direct or straight and so dishonest means, or "crookedness." Cf. "the straight and narrow path."
79. covetous: stingy, miserly, avaricious.
80. To lock such rascal counters, etc.: As to lock up such contemptible coins from his friends. Counters were round pieces of metal used in casting accounts and making calculations. Here
the word is used in contempt for money.
81. thunderbolts. What is the effect of omitting the "and" at the end of the line? The thunderbolt was regarded by the Romans as the peculiar weapon of Jupiter, who hurled it upon those mortals with whom he was angry or displeased.
84. rived: broken, -- literally, split or cleaved. Do you remember Casca spoke of having seen tempests, when the scolding winds Have rived the knotty oaks?
91. Olympus. A great mountain of northern Greece, 9750 feet high, and the fabled residence of the gods.
94. Cassius is aweary of the world. So in "The Merchant of Venice" Portia says to Nerissa: "By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world." (I, 2, 1-2.)
96. Checked: rebuked, censured.
97. conned by rote: studied until learned by heart, -- like a
101. Plutus. The Greek god of riches, son of Iasion and Demeter, who had under his charge all the gold in the earth. The Folio reading here is "Pluto's," plainly a misprint.
107. it shall have scope. That is, your anger shall have indulgence, -- shall be allowed to have its run, -- shall have free play.
108. dishonor shall be humor. I shall consider any dishonorable action the result of mere caprice, -- the result of your testy humor.
109. yoked with a lamb: you are united with one who has the nature or disposition of a lamb. Pope changed this to "with a man," and several critics say that "lamb" can hardly be right.
110. as the flint bears fire. Where did Cassius say,
I am glad that my weak words
Have struck but this much show of fire from Brutus?
111. much enforced: greatly irritated.
114. blood ill-tempered: disordered condition.
118. to bear with: to be patient with.
119. that rash humor: that hasty, reckless temper.
Enter Poet. Here again the dramatist follows the story as told by Plutarch: "This Favonius at that time, in despite of the door-keepers, came into the chamber, and with a certain scoffing and mocking gesture, which he counterfeited of purpose, he rehearsed the verses which old Nestor said in Homer: 'My lords, I pray you hearken both to me. For I have seen mo years than suchie three.' Cassius fell a-laughing at him; but Brutus thrust him out of the
chamber, and called him dog, and counterfeit Cynic. Howbeit his coming in brake their strife at that time, and so they left each other."
131. cynic. The Cynics were a sect of Greek philosophers founded by Antisthenes, a pupil of the great Socrates. Later the name became a symbol of ignorant and insolent self-satisfaction. Diogenes was the most noted of the Cynics.
132. sirrah: sir, fellow, -- generally used in anger or contempt, or to an inferior.
135. jigging: rhyming, ballad-making.
136. Companion. Used here contemptuously, like our "fellow."
144. If you give place, etc.: If you give in to misfortunes that are beyond your control.
148. scaped: escaped. -- a common form in old English. We have today "scapegallows," a man who has escaped hanging, though deserving it. In "The Merchant of Venice" Launcelot says, "Then to scape drowning thrice."
150. Upon. What preposition would we use today? Impatient of my absence, etc. Notice the confused construction in these lines, which are perfectly clear in spite of the loose grammatical structure. How does this confusion of language correspond, in a way, to Brutus' emotions?
153. fell distract: became distracted, crazed.
154. swallowed fire. "For Portia . . . determining to kill herself (her friends carefully looking to her to keep her from it) took hot burning coals, and cast them into her mouth, and kept her mouth so close that she choked herself." (Plutarch.)
163. call in question: discuss, talk over.
168. Bending their expedition: directing their march.
Philippi. A city of Macedonia in Northern Greece named for Philip II who conquered it from Thrace. It fell under the Roman power in B.C. 168. It was here that the Apostle Paul founded a Christian church, to which he addressed the Epistle to the Philippians.
169. the selfsame tenor: the same general drift or purport.
171. by proscription and bills of outlawry. That is, by outlawing and proclaiming that they were to be killed and their property confiscated. Plutarch, in the "Life of Brutus," says, "These three . . . did set up Bills of Proscription and Outlawry, condemning two hundred of the noblest men of Rome to suffer death; and amongst that number, Cicero was one."
181. Nor nothing. Notice the intensive force which the double negative has here. Compare this with "Yet 'twas not a crown neither" in I, 2, 236.
182. methinks: it seems to me. This word, now rarely used except in poetry, is not our "think," but is derived from the Anglo-Saxon thincan: to seem.
189. once: sometime or other, sooner or later.
192. in art: in theory, in my stoic philosophy.
192, 193. Cassius means that he would not have the ability to bear calmly so sad a loss, though in theory he believes, with Brutus and other Stoics, that to give way to grief or strong emotion is unmanly and weak.
194. to our work alive: to the work that we the living have to do, -- without further thinking upon the dead, that is, Portia.
195. presently: at once, -- as usually in Shakespeare.
199. offence: injury, harm.
201. of force: of necessity, perforce.
207. new-added: reenforced, "newly-added to."
210. These people at our back. That is, "the people 'twixt Philippi and this ground" behind us, and not facing us in the army of Antony and Octavius.
211. Under your pardon: Pardon me. Why does Brutus ask Cassius to pardon him?
218. Omitted: neglected.
220. a full sea. That is, the tide "taken at the flood."
222. ventures: goods, merchandise, whatever was ventured or risked on shipboard in hope of profit. The word is frequently used in this sense in "The Merchant of Venice," as,
I thank my fortune for it
My ventures are not in one bottom trusted,
Nor to one place. (I, i, 41-43.)
222. with your will: as you wish.
226. niggard: supply stingily, sparingly. Craik says "this is probably the only instance in the language in which niggard is used as a verb."
239. knave: boy, -- here used affectionately, though in Shakespeare's time the word had begun to take on the modern meaning of rogue, rascal, and sometimes it is so used by the poet. overwatch'd: worn out with watching.
240. other: others, -- as often in Shakespeare.
249. I shall otherwise bethink me: I shall possibly think, or
253. Bear with me: Be patient with me.
256. an't: if it.
266. mace. The club, or staff, borne by an officer of justice.
Here Slumber, which the poet calls "murderous" because sleep is regarded as the image of death, is spoken of as an officer arresting Lucius by touching him with his mace. "Leaden"
suggests the heaviness of sleep.
271. What is the effect of the repeated "Let me see"? the leaf turned down. The Romans, of course, had no books with leaves that "turned down," any more than they had clocks that struck the hour. This is only one more illustration of the way in which Shakespeare gives to the Romans of the first century B.C. the customs and conditions of England in his own time.
273. How ill this taper burns! According to an old superstition, the approach of a ghost would cause lights to burn dimly. In "Richard the Third," when the ghosts first appear, Richard exclaims, "The lights burn blue!"
278. to stare: to stand stiff, to bristle, -- much as we say "to stand on end."
285. Now I have taken heart. Similarly in "Macbeth" when the ghost of Banquo vanishes, Macbeth says, "Why so; being gone, I am a man again." ("Macbeth," III, 4, 108.)
289. false: out of tune.
305. set on his powers betimes before: have his forces advance early. Where did Caesar say, "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. 26 Feb. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_4_3.html >.
MacCallum, M. W. Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background. London: Macmillan, 1910.
Scene Questions for Review
1. With whom do you sympathize in the famous quarrel between the two generals? Give your reasons.
2. How does each of the generals show his true character in the quarrel?
3. Explain just why Brutus was vexed with Cassius.
4. What is there dramatic about the quarrel? Can you see why it makes an effective scene on the stage even today?
5. What do you think of Cassius in lines 92-106? Do you think he is sincere or speaking simply for effect?
6. How do you explain the reconciliation in lines 115-121? What leads naturally to it?
7. How does the interruption of the poet bring the generals closer together again? Does this interruption serve any other purpose?
8. Does it seem natural for Brutus not to have spoken of Portia sooner?
9. Do you admire or dislike Brutus for his apparent lack of
emotion? Do you think he is really indifferent to Portia?
10. Point out two other places where Brutus and Cassius disagreed as to the conduct of affairs. Who so far has offered the wiser counsel?
11. Do you agree with Brutus or Cassius in their plans for the approaching battle?
12. Why do you think Shakespeare has Brutus again informed of Portia's death?
13. What does the news concerning Cicero show us of conditions in Rome?
14. Compare the first scene in which we saw Lucius with this one in Brutus' tent before Sardis. How are they somewhat alike ?
"Shakespeare's Brutus is not at the outset so
unconcerned as Plutarch's. Instead of "being no otherwise affrayd," his blood runs cold and his hair "stares." On the other hand, he is free from the
perturbation that seizes Plutarch's Brutus when he reflects, and that drives him to tell his experience to Cassius, who "did somewhat comfort and quiet
him." The Brutus of the play breathes no word of the visitation, though it is repeated at Philippi, till a few minutes before his death, and then in
all composure as a proof that the end is near, not as a horror from which he seeks deliverance. He needs not the support of another, and even in the
moment of physical panic he has moral courage enough: he summons up his resolution, and when he has "taken heart" the spectre vanishes. This
means, too, that it has a closer connection with his nerves, with his subjective fears and misgivings, than the "monstruous shape" in Plutarch, and
similarly, though he alleges that Lucius and his attendants have cried out in their sleep, they are unaware of any feeling or cause of fright. And the
significance of this is marked by the greatest change of all. Shakespeare gives a personality to Plutarch's nameless phantom: it is individualised as the ghost
of Caesar, and thus Caesar's spirit has become Brutus' evil genius, as Brutus has been Caesar's angel." (M. W. MacCallum. Shakespeare's Roman Plays. p. 267)