Summary and Analysis
Act III: Scene 1
Outside the Capitol, Caesar appears with Antony, Lepidus, and all of the conspirators. He sees the soothsayer and reminds the man that "The ides of March are come." The soothsayer answers, "Aye, Caesar, but not gone." Artemidorus calls to Caesar, urging him to read the paper containing his warning, but Caesar refuses to read it. Caesar then enters the Capitol, and Popilius Lena whispers to Cassius, "I wish your enterprise to-day may thrive." The rest enter the Capitol, and Trebonius deliberately and discretely takes Antony offstage so that he (Antony) will not interfere with the assassination. At this point, Metellus Cimber pleads with Caesar that his brother's banishment be repealed; Caesar refuses and Brutus, Casca, and the others join in the plea. Their pleadings rise in intensity and suddenly, from behind, Casca stabs Caesar. As the others also stab Caesar, he falls and dies, saying "Et tu, Bruté?"
While the conspirators attempt to quiet the onlookers, Trebonius enters with the news that Mark Antony has fled home. Then the conspirators all stoop, bathe their hands in Caesar's blood, and brandish their weapons aloft, preparing to walk "waving our red weapons o'er our heads" out into the marketplace, crying "Peace, freedom, and liberty!"
A servant enters bearing Mark Antony's request that he be permitted to come to them and "be resolved / How Caesar hath deserved to lie in death." Brutus grants the plea and Antony enters. Antony gives a farewell address to the dead body of Caesar; then he pretends a reconciliation with the conspirators, shakes the hand of each of them, and requests permission to make a speech at Caesar's funeral. This Brutus grants him, in spite of Cassius' objections.
When the conspirators have departed, Antony begs pardon of Caesar's dead body for his having been "meek and gentle with these butchers." He predicts that "Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge," will bring civil war and chaos to all of Italy. A servant enters then and says that Octavius Caesar is seven leagues from Rome, but that he is coming. Antony tells the young man that he is going into the marketplace to "try, / In my oration, how the people take / The cruel issue of these bloody men." He wants the servant to witness his oration to the people so that he can relate to Octavius how they were affected. The two men exit, carrying the body of Caesar.
When the moment of crisis arrives and Caesar enters the public square, the conspirators are pent up and concerned when Popilius wishes them well. Their anxiety is at such a pitch that they are unable to determine what he actually means when he says "I wish your enterprise to-day may thrive." In fact, they almost act precipitously to kill him but are calmed by Brutus who makes them wait to see if Caesar is put on guard. To heighten the crises, Shakespeare shifts from lengthy speeches, asides, and soliloquies to short bursts of dialogue.
The first crisis in this scene is the accumulating danger of discovery arising from the words of the soothsayer, Artemidorus, and Popilius. As that danger is resolved, a graver crisis is suitably expressed in slower and heavier tones. The conspirators ritualistically turn to their prey (Caesar) and mock him with their courtesies. Metellus Cimber kneels before Caesar to press his case that his banished brother be allowed to return to Rome, but Caesar preempts him, mocks him and humiliates him. Cimber is a "base spaniel fawning." There is no suit, really. Instead, Metellus Cimber's actions are a trick on the part of the conspirators to get close enough to Caesar to kill him, and to keep others who may help away. One by one, slowly and methodically, the conspirators come to Caesar, circle him, and kneel. Their words bear all the malice that "sweet words" can afford, during which Caesar shows himself as a self-involved, self-important tyrant.
They kill him, but the murder is not the last crisis of the scene. There is a slight pause in the action for purposes of regrouping, both for the characters and for the audience. The conspirators turn away from the body of Caesar and shout to the populace of what they have gained — freedom and the death of ambition. Before long, however, the specter of danger reappears. Cassius asks "Where is Antony?" Instead of bringing freedom to Rome, the conspirators have actually caused more instability. This group will not hold the state together, and Mark Antony is the troublemaker.
Antony sends a servant to test the waters — better the servant should be run through than his master — revealing Antony as a consummate survivor. This is not to say that he does not truly grieve Caesar's death. His feelings are clear when he views the corpse and sees the murderers, their arms bathed in Caesar's blood. Yet, he is able to cover his feelings, not only so that he can place himself in a position to avenge Caesar's death, but also so that he can find his own position of power. In contrast to the conspirators — even the sharpest of them, Cassius — Antony is strong and politically savvy. Gone are the images of him as womanizer and drunkard. He's taken charge at the moment of greatest danger and he does so by manipulating Brutus' naïveté.
Speaking of Antony, Brutus says, "I know that we shall have him well to friend," but he is wrong — Antony has a plan to persuade the populace to his side at the funeral oration and turn them against the conspirators. Further, while the conspirators weren't very good at keeping their plans to themselves, Antony has been successful. He knows that his ally, Octavius, is on the outskirts of Rome. A military strategy is already afoot. What it is, Antony doesn't divulge, but because Antony tries to dissuade Octavius from entering Rome, the reader may wonder whether Antony does this in order to avoid sharing power.
The ultimate crisis in this scene is the danger that Rome is now in. Consider the way that Antony expresses his grief over his friend's death, indicating that Caesar's body is no longer his own but has become a symbol for Rome itself: "O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth," describing Caesar as "the ruins of the noblest man." No longer flesh and blood, he stands for the breeching of Rome. It is Rome as well as Caesar whose wounds "Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips / To beg the voice and utterance of [Antony's] tongue."
schedule a paper with writing on it.
give place make way.
makes to walks toward.
we fear prevention that our plans will be thwarted.
presently prefer immediately present.
puissant powerful and strong.
couchings low bows
preordinance and first decree decisions already made.
law of children rules of a child's game that may be changed and have little consequence.
fond to be so foolish as to.
freedom of permission.
resting quality stability.
sparks stars, with reference also to the comets of Act II, Scene 1.
Olympus in Greek mythology, the home of the gods.
bootless without benefit, useless.
et tu, Bruté? and thou, Brutus?
common pulpits public platforms.
ambition's debt Caesar got what he deserved.
abide take responsibility for.
stand upon think important.
honest held in respect, honorable.
be resolv'd be answered, have explained to him.
thorough passing through.
untrod state new and unknown state of affairs.
presently at once, instantly.
my misgiving still / falls shrewdly to the purpose I'm usually right about these things.
rank overripe and ready to be cut down, that is, killed.
bear me hard hold a grudge against me.
live if I live.
apt ready, prepared.
pitiful full of pity or compassion.
pity pity pity for Rome was more important than pity for Caesar.
in strength of malice we will be as kind to you as we were harmful to Caesar.
dearer more keenly.
corse a dead body, corpse.
it would become me better it would be better for me to weep than ally myself with your enemies.
hart a male of the European red deer, especially after its fifth year, when the crown antlers are formed; here, with a play on heart
sign'd in thy spoil marked with signs of your death, that is, with blood.
Lethe the river of forgetfulness, flowing through Hades, whose water produces loss of memory in those who drink of it; here, Caesar's lifeblood.
cold modesty moderation, the least he could say.
prick'd in number of our friends counted as a friend.
full of good regard right, reasonable.
in the order of his funeral at his funeral.
protest proclaim before he does.
true rites rightful ceremonies.
tide of times course of history.
in use common.
quartered divided into quarters.
custom of fell deeds commonness of evil deeds.
ate goddess of discord.
let slip unleash.
try to settle (a matter, quarrel, and so on) by a test or contest.
the which the outcome of the test.