Julius Caesar By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act V: Scene 5

Summary

Brutus, Dardanius, Clitus, Strato, and Volumnius enter. They are tired from battle, and Brutus whispers a request first to Clitus and then to Dardanius; he wants one of the men to kill him. They both refuse him. He tells Volumnius that Caesar's ghost appeared to him again; he knows that it is time for him to die. Volumnius disagrees, but Brutus argues that the enemy has them cornered, and he asks Volumnius to hold his sword while he runs onto it. Volumnius refuses, believing it an improper act for a friend to perform. An alarm signals the approach of the enemy, and Clitus warns Brutus to flee. Brutus wishes his comrades farewell, including Strato, who has awakened from a quick nap; he repeats that it is time for him to die. Offstage shouts prompt him to send his soldiers onward, and he and Strato remain alone. Strato agrees to hold Brutus' sword; they shake hands, and Brutus runs onto the sword, killing himself.

Amid alarms signaling the rout of Brutus' army, Octavius, Antony, Messala, Lucilius, and others enter and come upon Strato with Brutus' body. Octavius offers to take into his service all who have followed Brutus, and Antony delivers a brief and now-famous oration over the body of Brutus beginning, "This was the noblest Roman of them all." Antony believes that all the other conspirators attacked Caesar because of personal envy; Brutus alone did it because he believed that it would be for the general good of Rome. Octavius promises an appropriate funeral for Brutus and gives orders to stop the battle. Finally, he calls on his colleagues to join him in celebrating their victory.

Analysis

At the opening of the scene, Brutus is frightened to state his wishes out loud — perhaps ashamed to state his desire to die out loud because he is denying his lifetime philosophy, stoicism, which precludes suicide. This shame would have been prevalent in an Elizabethan audience, to whom the act of suicide would be abhorrent. Still, by running on his sword (note the difference between his death and that of and Cassius, who has Pindarus run the sword through him), Brutus is heroic. To Shakespeare's audience, he would have been a classical, sympathetic, tragic hero, ready to die rather than be conquered. In addition, with a slight shift in perspective, he could also be a Christian hero, sacrificing his life as a result of his decision to fight for the good of the people. (Audiences in Shakespeare's time expected to be able to get more than one meaning from what they saw in the theater and what they read on the page. It was part of the fun.)

In the final analysis, the narrative of both the Christian and the classical hero belong to Brutus and they belong to him because it is "Brutus' tongue" that defines and tells the story. Even though Antony and Octavius have the last word, their praises are, in fact, epilogue.

One addition: Note in Act V, Scene 5, the precariousness of the ending. Shakespeare's finales almost always leave room for doubt, and this play is no exception. Caesar's reputation as a great ruler may have been reclaimed, Cassius' cynical persuasion of the conspirators may have been converted into a great and noble friendship with Brutus, and Brutus' faults may have been glossed over, but despite all the changes effected in this drama, Julius Caesar ends as it began — with an uncertain future.

Glossary

remains what is left; here, what is left of my friends.

show'd the torchlight as a signal.

several different.

beat us to the pit driven us to a pit, as in a pit dug to trap hunted animals, or as in a grave.

good respect a state of being held in honor or esteem.

smatch smack or taste.

Brutus only overcame himself Brutus alone slayed Brutus.

saying Lucilius claimed that Brutus would never allow himself to be captured alive. (See Act V, Scene 4.)

entertain to keep up or maintain.

prefer here, recommend.

latest last.

He, only . . . made one of them Brutus was the only conspirator who did what he did out of nobility and integrity.

gentle noble.

the elements any of the four substances (earth, air, fire, and water) formerly believed to constitute all physical matter

so mix'd so balanced.

use to act or behave toward, treat.

ordered honorably treated with respect.

field a military area away from the post or headquarters.

part share.

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