Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 3
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
2. to my own. That is, to one of my own army, -- the standard-bearer referred to in the next lines.
4. it: the standard. The word "ensign" was used then, as it is today, both for the flag and the man who carried it. Here Cassius uses the word with both meanings in the same sentence.
7. Took it too eagerly: followed up too eagerly the advantage which he gained over Octavius. fell to spoil: went to work plundering. According to Plutarch, whom Shakespeare follows closely here, Cassius was "marvellous angry to see how Brutus' men ran to give charge upon their Enemies, and tarried not for the word of the Battell, nor commandment to give charge: and it grieved him beside, that after he had overcome them, his men fell straight to spoil, and were not careful to compass in the rest of the Enemies behind." It was against Cassius'
best judgment that Brutus was given command of the right wing, a concession which this time leads to fatal consequences.
18. yond: yonder. Where did Caesar say,
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look?
19. with a thought: as quick as thought; "in the twinkling of an eye."
21. My sight was ever thick. Plutarch's words are, "Howbeit, Cassius himself saw nothing, for his sight was very bad, saving that he saw (and yet with much ado) how the Enemies spoiled his Camp before his eyes."
Pindarus ascends the hill. Here probably Pindarus went up
to the balcony over the inner stage.
25. My life is run his compass. In the words of Macbeth,
I have lived long enough; my way of life
Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf.
31. light: alight, dismount.
38. I swore thee, saving of thy life: I made thee swear when I saved thy life, -- or spared thee.
42. search: pierce, probe.
43. hilts. A common use in Shakespeare, where we should
say "hilt" for the handle of a sword.
61. It is but change. The battle is an interchange of victory
66. Mistrust of good success: doubt as to the issue. In Shakespeare's time the word "success" often meant simply "outcome," "issue," and thus needed a qualifying adjective such as "good" here. So Caesar said,
Go bid the priests do present sacrifice.
And bring me their opinions of success.
(II, 2, 6.)
68. the apt thoughts: the impressionable, receptive thoughts.
70. happy: fortunate.
86. bid. Shakespeare often uses this form, as well as bade, for the past tense of "bid." Cf. "that tongue that bade the Romans mark him." (1, 2, 125-126.)
88. regarded: esteemed, reverenced.
94. Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet, etc. Hudson remarks on this passage, "Brutus here strikes the proper keynote of the play." He then quotes Froude: "The murderers of Caesar, . . . such of them as were in Italy were immediately killed. Those in the provinces, as if with the curse of Cain upon their heads, came one by one to miserable ends. In three years the tyrannicides of the Ides of March, with their aides and abettors, were all dead; some killed in battle, some in prison, some dying by their own hand." Remember, too, Antony's prophecy over Caesar's body in Act III:
A curse will light upon the limbs of men;
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "Havoc," and let slip the dogs of war.
96. In our own proper entrails: into our own entrails.
"Proper" simply emphasizes "own."
97. whether. Here a word of one syllable, probably pronounced "whe'r," as in I, I, 62:
See, whether their basest metal be not moved.
101. fellow: equal counterpart. moe: more, -- an old comparative of "many." Do you remember where Lucius says, "No, sir, there are moe with him"?
104. Thasos. An island in the Aegean sea off the coast of Thrace where, according to Plutarch, Cassius was buried.
105. funerals. Although we use this word today in the singular form, we still speak of nuptials.
108. set our battles on: move forward our army; advance our line.
109. ere night. This second battle in reality did not take place for twenty days. Why does Shakespeare transfer it to the day of the first conflict? Does this change seem justifiable to you?
How to cite the explanatory notes and scene questions:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 15 May. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_5_3.html >.
MacCallum, M. W. Shakespeare's Roman Plays and Their Background. London: Macmillan, 1910.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Explain, after reading page 173, how probably in Shakespeare's time this scene of Pindarus on the hill was acted.
2. Why did Cassius kill himself? What has he said about suicide earlier in the play?
3. Explain the actions of Titinius, as you understand them. What caused Cassius to "misconstrue everything"?
4. What does Titinius mean by exclaiming, just before he stabs himself, "This is a Roman's part"?
5. Explain and comment upon Brutus' words upon finding the body of Cassius, "O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet!"
6. Compare Brutus' words and constrained feelings here with his manner upon hearing of Portia's death.
7. Do you admire Cassius in this scene? Has he risen or fallen in your estimation since the beginning of the play? Discuss in detail.
"Yet notwithstanding this taint of enviousness and spite, Cassius is far from being a despicable or even an unattractive character. He may play the Devil's Advocate in regard to individuals, but he is capable of a high enthusiasm for his cause, such as it is.
We must share his calenture of excitement, as he strides about the streets in the tempest that fills
Casca with superstitious dread and Cicero with discomfort at the nasty weather. His republicanism may be a narrow creed, but at least he is willing to be a martyr to it; when he hears that Caesar is to wear the crown, his resolution is prompt and Roman-like: I know where I will wear this dagger then: Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius. (i. iii. 89.)" -- (M. W. MacCallum. Shakespeare's Roman Plays. p. 279)