Summary and Analysis
As soon as the two men are within the tent, Cassius accuses Brutus of having wronged him by condemning Lucius Pella for taking bribes from the Sardians, in spite of Cassius' letters in his defense. Brutus replies that Cassius should not have written defending such a cause, and Brutus charges him with having an "itching palm" — that is, Cassius has been selling offices. Brutus reminds Cassius that it was for the sake of justice that they killed Caesar, and he says strongly that he would "rather be a dog and bay the moon" than be a Roman who would sell his honor for money. The quarrel grows in intensity as Cassius threatens Brutus, but Brutus ignores his threats. Brutus reminds Cassius of his failure to send sums of gold that Brutus had requested for his troops. Cassius denies this and laments that his friend no longer loves him; he invites Brutus to kill him. Finally the two men are reconciled and they grasp one another's hands in renewed friendship.
Brutus and Cassius drink together as Titinius and Messala join them. From the conversation that follows, you discover that Octavius and Antony are marching with their armies toward Philippi and that they "put to death an hundred senators," including Cicero. Messala also reports the death of Portia, but Brutus stoically gives no indication that he already knows of her suicide. He proposes that they march toward Philippi to meet the enemy at once. Cassius disagrees, maintaining that it would be better to wait for the enemy to come to them. This strategy would weary the enemy forces while their own men remain fresh. Brutus persists, however, and Cassius at last gives in to him.
When his guests have departed, Brutus tells his servant Lucius to call some of his men to sleep with him in his tent. Varro and Claudius enter and offer to stand watch while Brutus sleeps, but he urges them to lie down and sleep as well. Brutus then asks Lucius to play some music. Lucius sings briefly, then falls asleep. Brutus resumes reading a book he has begun, but he is suddenly interrupted by the entry of Caesar's ghost. Brutus asks the ghost if it is "some god, some angel, or some devil," and it says that it is "thy evil spirit." It has appeared only to say that they will meet again at Philippi. The ghost then disappears, whereupon Brutus calls to Lucius, Varro, and Claudius, all of whom he accuses of crying out in their sleep. They all swear that they have seen and heard nothing.
Portia is dead by her own hand. She's swallowed coals, a most painful — and some would say, fitting — way of death. By her suicide she takes on the sins of the men and attempts to expiate them; that is, in the manner of her suicide she, in metaphorical terms, internalizes the painful, rash, hot decisions that have brought the state to civil unrest. But in doing so, she does not contain and remove the difficulties facing Rome. She is ineffective, for this is not a play about what a woman could do, but a play about men and men's affairs.
The news of her death to Brutus is delayed. For the first one hundred and forty-six lines of the scene, the reader is unaware that Portia's death is probably the underlying motivation for Brutus' passionate quarrel with Cassius. What is Shakespeare's purpose in delaying such news? Impact. The sudden realization of what has happened gives Cassius and the audience a sudden insight into Brutus: the action of the scene and its real motivations and the change in Brutus' and Cassius' friendship. Moments of impact such as these offer a pause, a catching of breath that reveals multitudes.
Note that the love that Brutus felt for Portia is transferred to the male, non-sexual sphere in his friendship with Cassius. Loss and betrayal are essential elements of grief, but Brutus, unable to speak these disloyal thoughts against his wife, transfers his feelings to Cassius. It is Cassius who has betrayed him. It is Cassius who leaves him.
Having transferred his grief over Portia into a test of his friendship, Brutus feels that he can go on with the military aspects of his life with stoicism, yet while the feminine is left behind (shown by Brutus expelling the poet because his soft and rounded verses), Brutus still seeks and requires comfort. By banishing thoughts of his wife, Brutus is left with his companions of war. He asks his loyal men to stay with him and looks to Lucius for the calming and expressive quality of music.
They all fall asleep, however, and leave Brutus to face the ghost of Caesar alone. It is not without some irony that, at this point in the play, Shakespeare allows a male character to experience what has so far been a woman's realm — a prophetic dream. Women, the civilizing influences of art and intuition, have been banned from this world of masculine violence and disruption. In their place, is a man who has put himself in an untenable position by trying to live by reason alone, pushing emotion to one side.
The dream foreshadows — and Brutus realizes — that Brutus will die in the battles to come, and that his death will not be the last. The events Brutus initiated with the murder of Caesar will continue to result in more death.
noted historically, branded and disgraced.
letters here, written pleas.
slighted off treated with disrespect or indifference.
in such a case on his behalf or in that type of case.
meet suitable and proper.
nice offense trivial offense.
bear his comment be subjected to scrutiny.
itching palm desire for gold.
mart buying and selling.
honors this corruption makes the corruption seem honorable.
mighty space of our large honors our great reputations.
urge press; here, push.
rash choler quick anger or ill humor.
stares historically, glares.
bouge move, flinch.
observe adhere to.
digest swallow instead of vent.
spleen malice, spite, or bad temper.
rascal counters worthless coins.
alone on Cassius on Cassius alone.
Pluto the god ruling over the lower world, but here, confused with Plutus the god of wealth.
scope room or opportunity for freedom of action or thought.
dishonor shall be humor I'll interpret your insults as the results of your anger.
lamb a loved person; here, meaning Brutus himself, whose anger is now spent.
vildly vilely; badly.
cynic a member of a school of ancient Greek philosophers who held virtue to be the only good and stressed independence from worldly needs and pleasures. The cynics became critical of the rest of society and its material interests.
I'll know his humor, when he knows his time I'll listen to him with an open mind when he approaches me at the appropriate time.
Companion, hence! Get out!
philosophy a particular system of principles for the conduct of life; here Cassius refers to Brutus' stoic beliefs.
accidental evils pain or troubles happening by chance.
swallow'd fire Plutarch says that Portia died by swallowing live coals.
call in question discuss.
bending their expedition marching their troops.
tenure here, import.
die once die at some point.
art here, philosophic theory.
alive here, of present concern.
forc'd affection the people are not really with us.
under your pardon let me finish.
tried here, got as much support from our friends as possible.
our ventures what we have risked so far.
with your will as you wish.
niggard here, put off or cheat.
knave a serving boy or male servant.
o'erwatch'd overworked and worn out from lack of sleep.
watch your pleasure stay awake and do as you bid.
otherwise bethink me change my mind.
leaden mace a heavy medieval war club, often with a spiked, metal head; here, the music puts Lucius to sleep.
how ill this taper burns reflecting the common belief that a candle's light will diminish when a ghost is present
hair to stare to stand on end.
bid him set on his pow'rs betimes before Tell him to advance his troops early in the morning, before mine.