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Julius Caesar: Analysis by Act and Scene

From Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.

I. THE EXPOSITION, OR INTRODUCTION (TYING OF THE KNOT)

Act I, Scene i. The popularity of Cćsar with the Roman mob and the jealousy of the official classes--the two motive forces of the play--are revealed. The fickleness of the mob is shown in a spirit of comedy; the antagonism of Marullus and Flavius strikes the note of tragedy.

Act I, Scene ii, 1-304. The supreme characters are introduced, and in their opening speeches each reveals his temperament and foreshadows the part which he will play. The exposition of the situation is now complete.

II. THE COMPLICATION, RISING ACTION, OR GROWTH (TYING OF THE KNOT)

Act I, Scene ii, 305-319. In soliloquy Cassius unfolds his scheme for entangling Brutus in the conspiracy, and the dramatic complication begins.

Act I, Scene iii. Casca, excited by the fiery portents that bode disaster to the state, is persuaded by Cassius to join "an enterprise of honourable-dangerous consequence" (lines 123-124). The conspirators are assigned to their various posts, and Cassius engages to secure Brutus before morning.

Act II, Scene i. The humane character of Brutus, as master, husband, and citizen, is elaborated, and his attitude to Cćsar and the conspiracy of assassination clearly shown. He joins the conspirators--apparently their leader, in reality their tool. In lines 162-183 he pleads that the life of Antony be spared, and thus unconsciously prepares for his own ruin.

Act II, Scene ii. Cćsar is uneasy at the omens and portents, and gives heed to Calpurnia's entreaties to remain at home, but he yields to the importunity of Decius and starts for the Capitol, thus advancing the plans of the conspirators. The dramatic contrast between Cćsar and Brutus is strengthened by that between Calpurnia in this scene and Portia in the preceding.

Act II, Scene iii. The dramatic interest is intensified by the warning of Artemidorus and the suggestion of a way of escape for the protagonist.

Act II, Scene iv. The interest is further intensified by the way in which readers and spectators are made to share the anxiety of Portia.

III. THE CLIMAX, CRISIS, OR TURNING POINT (THE KNOT TIED)

Act III, Scene i, 1-122. The dramatic movement is now rapid, and the tension, indicated by the short whispered sentences of all the speakers except Cćsar, is only increased by his imperial utterances, which show utter unconsciousness of the impending doom. In the assassination all the complicating forces--the self-confidence of Cćsar, the unworldly patriotism of Brutus, the political chicanery of Cassius, the unscrupulousness of Casca, and the fickleness of the mob--bring about an event which changes the lives of all the characters concerned and threatens the stability of the Roman nation. The death of Cćsar is the climax of the physical action of the play; it is at the same time the emotional crisis from which Brutus comes with altered destiny.

IV. THE RESOLUTION, FALLING ACTION, OR CONSEQUENCE (THE UNTYING OF THE KNOT)

Act III, Scene i, 123-298. With Brutus's "Soft! who comes here? A friend of Antony's" begins the resolution, or falling action, of the play. "The fortune of the conspirators, hitherto in the ascendant, now declines, while 'Cćsar's spirit' surely and steadily prevails against them."--Verity. Against the advice of Cassius, Brutus gives Antony permission to deliver a public funeral oration. Antony in a soliloquy shows his determination to avenge Cćsar, and the first scene of the falling action closes with the announcement that Octavius is within seven leagues of Rome.

Act III, Scene ii--Scene iii. The orations of Antony, in vivid contrast to the conciliatory but unimpassioned speeches of Brutus, fire the people and liberate fresh forces in the falling action. Brutus and Cassius have to fly the city, riding "like madmen through the gates of Rome." In unreasoning fury the mob tears to pieces an innocent poet who has the same name as a conspirator.

Act IV, Scene i. Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, having formed a triumvirate of which Antony is the master spirit, agree on a proscription list and join forces against Brutus and Cassius, who "are levying powers."

Act IV, Scene ii. Brutus and Cassius, long parted by pride and obstinacy, meet to discuss a plan of action.

Act IV, Scene iii. This is one of the most famous individual scenes in Shakespeare.... Its intensely human interest is always conceded, but its dramatic propriety, because of what seems a 'dragging' tendency, has been often questioned. The scene opens with Brutus and Cassius bandying recriminations, and the quarrel of the two generals bodes disaster to their cause. As the discussion proceeds, they yield points and become reconciled. Brutus then quietly but with peculiar pathos tells of Portia's death by her own hand. In all the great tragedies, with the notable exception of Othello, when the forces of the resolution, or falling action, are gathering towards the dénouement, Shakespeare introduces a scene which appeals to an emotion different from any of those excited elsewhere in the play. "As a rule this new emotion is pathetic; and the pathos is not terrible or lacerating, but, even if painful, is accompanied by the sense of beauty and by an outflow of admiration or affection, which come with an inexpressible sweetness after the tension of the crisis and the first counter-stroke. So it is with the reconciliation of Brutus and Cassius, and the arrival of the news of Portia's death."--Bradley. While the shadow of her tragic passing overhangs the spirits of both, Brutus overhears the shrewd, cautious counsel of Cassius and persuades him to assent to the fatal policy of offering battle at Philippi. That night the ghost of Cćsar appears to Brutus.

Act V, Scene i. The action now falls rapidly to the quick, decisive movement of the dénouement. The antagonists are now face to face. Brutus and Cassius have done what Antony and Octavius hoped that they would do. The opposing generals hold a brief parley in which Brutus intimates that he is willing to effect a reconciliation, but Antony rejects his proposals and bluntly charges him and Cassius with the wilful murder of Cćsar. Cassius reminds Brutus of his warning that Antony should have fallen when Cćsar did. Antony, Octavius, and their army retire, and the scene closes with the noble farewell without hope between Brutus and Cassius.

Act V, Scene ii. The opposing armies meet on the field, and a final flare-up of hope in the breast of Brutus is indicated by his spirited order to Messala to charge. The scene implies that Cassius was defeated by being left without support by Brutus.

V. DÉNOUEMENT, CATASTROPHE, OR CONCLUSION (THE KNOT UNTIED)

Act V, Scene iii. The charge ordered by Brutus has been successful, and Octavius has been driven back, but Cassius is thus left unguarded, and Antony's forces surround him. He takes refuge on a hill and sends Titinius to see "whether yond troops are friend or enemy." Believing Titinius to be slain, he begs Pindarus to stab him, and Cassius dies "even with the sword that kill'd" Cćsar. With the same sword Titinius then slays himself, and Brutus, when Messala bears the news to him, exclaims in words that strike the keynote of the whole falling action and dénouement:

O Julius Cćsar, thou art mighty yet!
Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails.
Act V, Scene iv. Like Hamlet, Brutus at the last is a man of supreme action. He rallies his forces for a last attack. With hopeless failure before him, he is at once a heroic figure and one of infinite pathos. Young Cato falls. Lucilius is attacked; assuming the name of Brutus, he is not killed but taken prisoner. Antony recognizes him and gives orders that he be treated kindly.

Act V, Scene v. Brutus dies by his own sword, and his last words tell the story of failure and defeat. Like a true Roman, he meets his doom without a murmur of complaint. He had been true to his ideals. The tragic dénouement comes as the inevitable consequence, not of wilful sin, but of a noble mistake. In death he commands the veneration of both Antony and Octavius, who pronounce over his body the great interpretation of his character, and in their speeches the tragedy closes as with a chant of victory for the hero of defeat.

VI. MANAGEMENT OF TIME AND PLACE

1. Historic time. Cćsar's triumph over the sons of Pompey was celebrated in October, B.C. 45. Shakespeare makes this coincident with "the feast of Lupercal" on February 15, B.C. 44. In the play Antony delivers his funeral oration immediately after Cćsar's death; historically, there was an interval of days. Octavius did not reach Rome until upwards of two months after the assassination; in III, ii, 261, Antony is told by his servant immediately after the funeral oration that "Octavius is already come to Rome." In November, B.C. 43, the triumvirs met to make up their bloody proscription, and in the autumn of the following year were fought the two battles of Philippi, separated historically by twenty days, but represented by Shakespeare as taking place on the same day.

2. Dramatic Time. Historical happenings that extended over nearly three years are represented in the stage action as the occurrences of six days, distributed over the acts and scenes as follows:

Day 1.--I, i, ii.
Interval.
Day 2.--I, iii.
Day 3.--II, III.
Interval.
Day 4.--IV, i.
Interval.
Day 5.--IV, ii, iii.
Interval.
Day 6.--V.
This compression for the purposes of dramatic unity results in action that is swift and throbbing with human and ethical interest.

3. Place. Up to the second scene of the fourth act Rome is the natural place of action. The second and third scenes of the fourth act are at Sardis in Asia Minor; the last act shifts to Philippi in Macedonia. The only noteworthy deviation from historical accuracy is in making the conference of the triumvirs take place at Rome and not at Bononia.... But there is peculiar dramatic effectiveness in placing this fateful colloquy in the city that was the center of the political unrest of the time.

How to cite this article:

Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliushudson.html >.

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