Before the start of the play, Julius Caesar had conquered much of northwest Europe for the Roman Republic. He was a brilliant general, but the other senators and generals of the Roman Republic feared that he was becoming too powerful and that he would rule Rome on his own. Therefore, Pompey the Great, the best general Rome had seen before Caesar, gathered all the armies loyal to Rome's traditional form of government and fought Caesar. Pompey's army was overmatched, and Caesar's army easily defeated them. It is at this point that the play begins - with Caesar marching towards Rome in triumph over Pompey and all others who opposed him.
Caesar has the "common touch," an admirable trait in a politician, and the plebeians (the common people) declare a work holiday to celebrate Caesar's triumphal march into Rome. When Caesar arrives, he leads the ceremonies for the feast of the Lupercalia, an ancient fertility ritual. Caesar tells his best friend Mark Antony to tap his wife Calpurnia with a goatskin thong in the hopes that it will increase their chances at having children. During the ceremony, Mark Antony offers Caesar a crown to be king of Rome three times, but Caesar refuses it each time. If he becomes the king of Rome, Caesar wants the people to believe that it was because they wanted him to be king.
On the day of the Lupercalia, Caesar receives a warning from the soothsayer to beware the ides of March (the fifteenth). Caesar ignores that warning in addition to numerous bad omens on the eve of the ides of March - people on fire, beasts roaming the streets, his wife's nightmares that he will be murdered - and decides to go to the senate house on the ides of March because he believes that the senate mean to install him as king that day. Instead, the conspiracy that has been brewing all this while led by Brutus and Cassius, strike Caesar in the senate house when he least expects it because he believes that he is surrounded by friends. In his will, Caesar gives each citizen of Rome a large inheritance, which makes the people of Rome even more loyal to him, and Caesar declares that his heir is his young grand nephew, Octavius.
An important statesman of Rome, he values above all else honor and stoicism, the belief that one should remain unaffected by circumstances beyond his control. He descends from the line of Lucius Junius Brutus, who drove out the Tarquin king in order to found the Roman Republic. His wife is Portia, daughter of Marcus Porcius Cato, an extremely important and influential orator who killed himself in Utica rather than yield to Caesar in his rise to power. His sister married Cassius, and so Brutus and Cassius are brothers-in-law.
Brutus gets recruited by Cassius to join the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar through devious schemes. Since Brutus has been worrying about Caesar becoming king of Rome for some time, Cassius uses that to his advantage. The feast of Lupercalia is a nervous time for Brutus because it seems that Caesar will be named king that day. Cassius says that they should do something to prevent Caesar's rise, and Brutus says that he will need time to think over a course of action. Cassius then plays with Brutus' mind by forging letters pleading Brutus to strike Caesar down, just as his ancestor did centuries ago. By the time Cassius shows up at Brutus' door with the other conspirators, Brutus has already been convinced by Cassius' schemes to join up with the conspiracy, no matter how dark and sinister the plot appears to be. Brutus shares a loving marriage with Portia, but the conspiracy against Caesar becomes more important to Brutus. Their marriage consequently falls apart and Portia kills herself in despair.
Brutus brings honor to their cause against Caesar - everyone in the play understands this - and that is why Cassius believes that Brutus is absolutely essential in order for their plot to succeed. But it might be Brutus' sense of honor that prevents him from thinking logically about certain details of the plot. For instance, the night before they plan to murder Caesar, Cassius suggests that they should kill Antony also. Brutus falsely believes that Antony will pose no threat, but more importantly that killing Antony will bring dishonor to their noble action of killing a tyrant. Later on, after they succeed in murdering Caesar on the senate house floor, Brutus allows Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral unsupervised. Antony turns out to be a formidable foe, and his speech at Caesar's funeral successfully turns the people against Brutus and the conspirators.
Driven out of Rome, Brutus and the others gather their armies together to fight against Antony and Octavius. The relationship between Brutus and Cassius begins to fall apart in the course of raising their armies, but they manage to reconcile their differences in time to mount an assault against their foes. Before the battle on the field of Philippi, the ghost of Caesar visits Brutus twice, which Brutus reads as a sign that he will lose at Philippi. Although Brutus leads his half of the army to victory over the army of Octavius, Antony's army defeats Cassius. Brutus then leads his forces against Antony, but Antony's army prevails. Brutus, seeing no way out and refusing to be taken prisoner, decides to kill himself.
An important statesman of Rome, he is the brother-in-law to Brutus by his marriage to Brutus' sister. While Brutus receives the credit for making the assassination plot against Caesar honorable, Cassius receives the blame for the plot appearing so deceitful. And with good reason: Cassius is a master of using people to further his own ends. When Cassius recruits two people to join the conspiracy, Brutus and Casca, he convinces them by playing on their weaknesses. Cassius knows that Brutus feels an overwhelming responsibility to save Rome from Caesar's tyranny, and Cassius pushes Brutus to action by making Brutus feel guilty and by forging letters from various citizens of Rome pleading Brutus to strike against Caesar. Cassius also knows that Casca is proud and stupid, and so a simple challenge to Casca's courage is all that he needs to convince Casca to join them.
As soon as Cassius brings Brutus on board to the conspiracy, Brutus takes full control and makes all the decisions, much to Cassius' distress. Cassius and Brutus disagree on nearly every issue, but Cassius always yields to Brutus even when he believes that Brutus is wrong. Cassius says that when they assassinate Caesar, they should kill Antony, too. Brutus believes that killing Antony would not be honorable, and they let Antony live. After they murder Caesar, Cassius also says to Brutus that they shouldn't let Antony speak at Caesar's funeral, but Brutus says that he is harmless. Antony is almost solely responsible for their banishment from Rome and their subsequent defeat at Philippi. Before marching to Philippi, Cassius says that they should wait for Antony and Octavius to come to them. Brutus reasons that it would be favorable if they went on the offensive, and they end up marching to their deaths.
For someone who has the ability to use people to achieve his own ends, it is somehow appropriate that his own slave outplays him. At the battle of Philippi, Cassius loses to Antony and he fears the worst because even his own soldiers run away. Cassius' slave, Pindarus, tells him that some approaching soldiers are from Antony's army, when in fact they are friendly soldiers come to report that Brutus has defeated Octavius. Refusing to be taken by Antony's men, Cassius orders Pindarus to stab him, which he does. Cassius dies and Pindarus becomes a free man.
A loyal friend to Julius Caesar and an important statesman in Rome, Mark Antony was notorious for drinking bouts and extravagant entertainments. At the same time, he was a skilled soldier and general and a brilliant orator and actor. In the first half of the play, Antony seems to favor the first characterization. In the celebration of the Lupercalia, two men ran around naked through Rome tapping those they meet with a goatskin thong. Antony was one of those two men. On the eve of Caesar's coronation ceremony in the senate, Antony drinks heavily and wakes up just in time to escort Caesar to the senate house.
After Caesar is murdered on the senate house floor, Antony immediately drops his reckless lifestyle and begins a serious life of revenge against the conspiracy and claiming his share of the power left by Caesar's passing. Upon seeing Caesar's dead body, Antony falls to weeping and begs the conspirators to murder him on the spot. Appealing to Brutus' sense of honor, Antony wins the right to speak at Caesar's funeral. At the funeral, Antony uses his speech to turn the public against Brutus and the other conspirators by making them remember everything Caesar had done for them. Most important of all, Antony reads Caesar's will which bequeathed upon every citizen of Rome almost two month's wages for an average worker. His emotion filled speech turns the public into an angry and violent mob, which drives Brutus and Cassius away from Rome.
Antony allies himself with Caesar's chosen heir, Octavius, and a skilled general, Marcus Lepidus. Together, they exercise their power to defeat the armies gathered by Brutus and Cassius and they execute everyone in Rome who might object to their rule. At the battle of Philippi, he leads his troops to victory - first over Cassius and then over Brutus.
The grand nephew and chosen heir to Julius Caesar, Octavius is a skinny teenager with few but confident words in this play. He is destined for greatness: he will come to be the single greatest ruler Rome has ever known (perhaps the entire Western world), and his speeches seem to hint at some foreknowledge of his fate. Octavius lets Antony do everything Antony wants just as long as it doesn't run counter to his wishes. He doesn't care that Antony wants to get rid of Lepidus as soon as it is convenient. When Antony tells Octavius to take the left side of the field at the battle of Philippi, however, Octavius simply says that he will take the right side. Antony is stunned and he can't argue. Octavius turns out not to be a general competent enough yet to conquer the foe he chose for himself, Brutus, but it doesn't matter at the end of the day because Antony saves them.
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Points to Ponder
Did You Know
Scenes 2.2, 2.3, and 2.4
Scenes 3.2 and 3.3
Scenes 5.1 and 5.2
Scenes 5.4 and 5.5