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Julius Caesar: Plot Summary

Act 3, Scene 1
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. A servant brings a message from Antony: if he is allowed to come to see Caesar's body and receives a satisfactory explanation of why they have committed the murder, he promises to give his loyalty to Brutus:

If Brutus will vouchsafe that Antony
May safely come to him, and be resolved
How Caesar hath deserved to lie in death, Mark Antony shall not love Caesar dead
So well as Brutus living; but will follow
The fortunes and affairs of noble Brutus
Thorough the hazards of this untrod state
With all true faith. So says my master Antony. (130-7)
Brutus agrees and the servant leaves to fetch Antony. Brutus seems confident they will find an ally in Antony but Cassius deeply fears him. Antony arrives and volunteers to die with his noble ruler, but Brutus replies:
O Antony, beg not your death of us.
Though now we must appear bloody and cruel,
As, by our hands and this our present act,
You see we do, yet see you but our hands
And this the bleeding business they have done:
Our hearts you see not; they are pitiful;
And pity to the general wrong of Rome. (164-70)

Brutus also tells Antony that he loves Caesar and assures Antony he will reveal the reason why he killed Caesar as soon as they have appeased the people of Rome. Antony asks to take Caesar's body to the market-place and deliver a eulogy. Cassius objects, but Brutus assures him that he will speak before Antony and, "show the reason of our Caesar's death" (237). Brutus agrees to Antony's requests and the assassins depart, leaving Antony alone with the body of Caesar. Antony vows to seek revenge on Brutus and his cohorts by launching a civil war:

Cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial. (273-5)
The servant of Caesar's grandnephew, Octavius, enters the Senate and weeps over the body. Antony orders him to return to Octavius Caesar and tell him what has happened, and warn him that he must not yet return to Rome. But first, Antony needs the servant's help to carry Caesar's body into the market-place.

Act 3, Scene 2
Brutus takes his place at the pulpit and Cassius goes into the crowd to separate those who wish to hear Brutus speak from those who refuse to listen. Brutus addresses the Plebeians with a convincing speech, assuring them that Caesar's murder was necessary to preserve their freedoms:

Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men? (22-6)

The crowd rallies behind Brutus and when Antony arrives he has to yell to make himself heard. Brutus asks the people to listen to Antony and he begins, masterfully crafting a speech to his end: "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." (79-80) He goes on to call Brutus and the other assassins "honourable men" (89), but gradually and subtly Antony turns the crowd against Brutus:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me. (96-113)
Antony has managed to change the minds of the Plebeians, and he produces Caesar's will, which includes a generous gift to the people of Rome. But Antony tells them he cannot read the will because it will inflame them. The crowd insists he read the will and soon they are calling the assassins murders and traitors. The people run through the streets, screaming "Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay! Let not a traitor live!" (209-10). They rush to burn the homes of Brutus and his conspirators and Antony rejoices:
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt! (265-6)
A servant arrives to tell Antony that Brutus and Cassius have fled the city and that Octavius is in Rome and waits at Caesar's house. Antony hurries to meet Octavius.

Act 3, Scene 3
Out for blood, the angry mob swarm the streets of Rome. They come upon Cinna the poet, who happens to have the same name as one of the assassins. The frenzied mass does not care if they have the wrong Cinna: someone must pay for the crime. He begs for his life: "I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet!" (33). But his cries are useless as the mob tears him to pieces.

Act 4, Scene 1
Antony meets with Octavius and their henchman Lepidus to decide who must be murdered to ensure they regain power. They have a steadily growing list, on which is Lepidus' own brother, Antony's nephew, and dozens of Rome's senators. After Lepidus leaves on an errand, Antony and Octavius belittle him, comparing him to a horse that "must be taught and train'd and bid go forth" (35). They next make plans to organize their troops to combat the army being raised by Brutus and Cassius near Sardis in Asia Minor.

Act 4, Scene 2
At Brutus' camp Lucilius returns with to report on the activities of Cassius, who is gathering forces a short distance away. Lucilius feels that Cassius has not been as warm as on previous visits, and Brutus takes this to be a sign that Cassius is "a hot friend cooling" (19). When Cassius arrives he accuses Brutus of wronging him, and Brutus leads him into his tent where they can speak in private.

Act 4, Scene 3
When they are alone in Brutus' tent Cassius chides Brutus for punishing an officer for taking bribes after Cassius had written a letter in his defense. Brutus replies that Cassius himself is said to be withholding funds. Cassius is shocked and outraged and offers his sword to Brutus:

There is my dagger,
And here my naked breast; within, a heart
Dearer than Plutus' mine, richer than gold:
If that thou be'st a Roman, take it forth;
I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart:
Strike, as thou didst at Caesar; for, I know,
When thou didst hate him worst, thou lovedst him better
Than ever thou lovedst Cassius.
Brutus apologizes and they reconcile, but Cassius is deeply troubled by Brutus' accusations. A poet arrives and scolds the two generals for fighting. Cassius finds the poet amusing, but Brutus dismisses him. Brutus then tells Cassius that his strange behavior is the result of learning that Portia has committed suicide.

Titinius and Messala arrive with news that Octavius and Antony have put to death one hundred senators, including Cicero. Messala, unaware that Brutus already knows, also reports that Portia has died. Since Brutus has had time to come to terms with her death, he gives a calm response to the announcement, which greatly impresses Messala. Brutus turns his attention back to the war and suggests that they march to Philippi. Cassius disagrees, feeling it better that the enemy seek them out. But Brutus persists and Cassius gives in.

Cassius retires for the evening and Brutus calls two of his servants, Claudio and Varro, to stay with him through the night. The boys quickly fall asleep and Brutus starts to read. With the flicker of the candle Brutus' eyes are distracted upward, to see the ghost of Caesar standing beside him. The ghost tells Brutus that they will meet again at Philippi and vanishes.

Continue to Act 5 Summary

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Julius Caesar Plot Summary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliuscaesarps2.html >.
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Points to Ponder ... "Brutus is not able to subordinate the various spheres of moral duty when they come in conflict. He recognizes them all, to be sure, but not in their true limitations. Hence when they collide with one another, he becomes a mass of confusion, strife, and contradiction. Herein lies his immeasurable inferiority to Cassius, who clearly comprehends these limitations and acts upon them. It is intellectual weakness, the inability to rise out of merely moral considerations in political affairs. The trouble is with Brutus' head, not his heart. He intends to do the right thing, only he does not do it. He acts not so much in opposition to, as outside of, his real intellectual conviction; for mark! he is not at all inwardly convinced by his own specious reasonings. He gets beyond his intellectual sphere, is befogged, and lost. So after all we see that intellect is necessary to the highest moral action." (J. D. Snider. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by Shakespeare) Read on...

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