Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 1

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Text Key

Plain text: Original text of the play.

Purple text: Modern translation of the play.

Bold text: Notes and commentary. (All unattributed definitions of words and terms are taken from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913).)


ACT II

SCENE I. Rome. BRUTUS's orchard.

    Enter BRUTUS

BRUTUS

    What, Lucius, ho!
    [Hey, Lucius!]
    I cannot, by the progress of the stars,
    [I cannot tell by looking at the movement of the stars]
    Give guess how near to day. Lucius, I say!
    [when daybreak will come. Hey, Lucius!]
    I would it were my fault to sleep so soundly.
    [I wish sleeping soundly was my problem and not Lucius’s.]
    When, Lucius, when? awake, I say! what, Lucius!
    [Come on, Lucius, come on! Wake up! What's this, Lucius!]


Brutus has been awake all night thinking of what he should do about the prospect of Caesar becoming king.


    Enter LUCIUS

LUCIUS

    Call'd you, my lord?
    [Did you call me, my lord?]

BRUTUS

    Get me a taper in my study, Lucius:
    [Grab a candle from my study, Lucius.]
    When it is lighted, come and call me here.
    [After you light the candle, come back here.]


taper: A small wax candle; a small lighted wax candle; hence, a small light.


LUCIUS

    I will, my lord.
    [I’ll do that, my lord.]

    Exit

BRUTUS

    It must be by his death: and for my part,
    [The only way to end Caesar’s reign [and restore the Republic] is
    by killing him, and, as for me,]
    I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
    [I have no grudge against him.]
    But for the general. He would be crown'd:
    [I just want to serve the greater good. He wants to be crowned
    and will be crowned.]
    How that might change his nature, there's the question.
    [How becoming king will change him, I’d like to know.]
    It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
    [When someone is in a favorable position, they often become
    evil,]
    And that craves wary walking. Crown him?–that;–
    [and that means one should be careful [about giving them
    power]. What if we crown him? If that happens,]
    And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,
    [then I grant that he will be given power that will make him
    dangerous,]
    That at his will he may do danger with.
    [and he will use it whenever he wants.]
    The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
    [Power is abused when the ones who have it]
    Remorse from power: and, to speak truth of Caesar,
    [have no compassion for others; and to speak the truth about
    Caesar,]
    I have not known when his affections sway'd
    [I don’t remember a time when his feelings]
    More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof, 
    [had more influence over his actions than his mind. But you
    often see]
    That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
    [that people who act humble just do so to become powerful,]
    Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
    But when he once attains the upmost round
    [and when they finally become powerful,]
    He then unto the ladder turns his back,
    [they turn their backs on those who got them there]
    Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
    [and look down on them, disgusted by the things they had to do]
    By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
    [to get where they are. Caesar might do this.]
    Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
    [For fear that he might do this, we need to prevent him from
    becoming king. And since his assassination]
    Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
    [won’t seem to make sense if we say we killed him because of
    the way he currently ruled,]
    Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented,
    [let’s make this our reason for killing him: if he became king,]
    Would run to these and these extremities:
    [he would commit these extreme, terrible actions,]
    And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
    [so he should be thought of as someone with the potential to do
    evil,]
    Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
    [and when finally allowed to do evil, will do it,]
    And kill him in the shell.
    [and so we should kill him now before he is given that power.]


spurn: To treat with contempt.

general: The interest of the whole.

adder: A serpent.

crave: to require or demand

disjoin: To separate.

affections: Passions; violent emotions.

lowliness: Humility; humbleness of mind.

base: Of humble birth; or low degree; lowly; mean.

degree: A step, stair, or staircase.

fashion: To form; to give shape or figure to; to mold.

extremity: Extreme or utmost distress, straits or difficulties.

kind: Nature; natural instinct or disposition.


Brutus has come to the conclusion that Caesar must be assassinated. He feels conflicted about this, as he doesn't believe that at the moment Caesar, as Cassius suggests, is an overbearing tyrant. Brutus fears what Caesar might become, not what he is now. And he does not believe that the abuses Caesar would commit after becoming king would be a product of Caesar’s character, but rather would be what anyone would do when put into a position of such immense power. So Brutus’s problem is with a hypothetical – Caesar's actions were he to become tyrant — as opposed to Cassius, whose issue with Caesar seems to be derived from a personal vendetta.

Brutus also mistakenly thinks that the commoners will fully understand his reasoning for assassinating Caesar, a reasoning which is based purely on an assumption of things that Caesar will do in the future. He seems to think that the commoners will take historical precedents into account and realize that Caesar would have become something very different from what he is now, even though the commoners seem to base their political views on emotion rather than reason and logic, as one sees in the first scene of the play and later in the funeral scene.

Dowden: "Shakespeare wishes to show upon what grounds the political idealist acts. Brutus resolves that Caesar shall die by his hand as the conclusion of a series of sorites of abstract principles about ambition, and power, and reason, and affection; finally, a profound suspicion of Caesar is engendered, and his death is decreed."

Knight: "Brutus has a terror of conspiracy. He has been 'with himself at war,' speculating, we doubt not, upon the strides of Caesar towards absolute power, but unprepared to resist them. Of Cassar he has said, 'I love him well'; he now says: 'I know no personal cause to spurn at him.' As a triumvir, a dictator, Brutus had no personal cause against Caesar; but the name of king, which Cassius poured into his ear, rouses all his speculative republicanism. . . . We must bear in mind that Brutus is not yet committed to the conspiracy. The character that Shakespeare meant his Brutus to be is not yet fully developed. He is yet irresolute; and his reasonings are, therefore, to a certain extent, inconsequential. He is instigated from without; the principles associated with the name of Brutus stir him from within."

Stapfer: "One is inclined to speculate whether in this strange meditation on the dangerous effect the crown might have on Caesar's nature, Shakespeare intended to show the subjective tendency of Brutus's mind, and his habit of scrutinising things below the surface; or whether it may not be an illustration of the hold that his affectionate and gentle disposition had over him. It would almost seem that, in his love for Caesar, he could suffer his acceptance of the crown, if only he were sure that Caesar would not abuse his power. He weighs calmly and impartially the considerations on either side. But the stern republican fibre of his nature checks this confidence and makes him dread the possible consequences to the liberty of the people, and in the end triumphs over all hesitation. According to this view, we see him indulging, indeed, to a certain extent the psychological bent of his mind, but it is directed towards practical ends. The acquisition of kingly power may change Caesar's nature, and if so what would be the effect on the nation? The chances are that it would be of the most disastrous kind, therefore kill him in the shell."

Verity: "The point of this speech seems to me to lie in the fact that it expresses the extreme, almost pedantic, horror which Brutus feels for kingship and the mere name'of 'king' and all its associations, and increased in his case by family tradition. Practically Caesar was king already; could it really make much difference to Rome if he assumed the name when he possessed the reality? He had wielded immense power for years, and was then a man of fifty-six; would the assumption of royalty be likely to make any change in his character? Brutus says'yes'; if Caesar were made 'king,' all the evil in him would be developed, so that Rome would find herself in the hands of a tyrant without 'remorse.' Brutus speaks as if the bare fact of 'crowning' Caesar would 'change his nature,' a change fraught with 'danger' to Rome. Here, as ever, 'Rome' is his first consideration."

J.L. Etty: "A man who could argue thus was a politician of the most dangerous type, one who would wreck his own side as well as that of his adversaries. And so it proved; the obstinate refusal of Brutus to let Antony share Caesar's fate, and his folly in allowing him to speak publicly to the people, completely spoiled whatever chance of success the conspirators ever had."

H. Hodge: "The whole soliloquy is the sophistic device of a man squaring his moral character with his intention. The situation is clinched by the eagerness with which Brutus snatches at the papers thrown in through the window. Then comes the melodramatic apostrophe, with himself as audience. What true man, unusually philosophic too in temper, could be influenced in a tremendous enterprise, to which public necessity drove him against his will, by an anonymous scrawl thrown in at the window? Cassius knew his man."

F. Harris: "When speaking of himself, on the plains of Philippi, Shakespeare's Brutus explicitly contradicts the false reasoning [in the present passage]: '—I do find it cowardly and vile For fear of what might fall, so to prevent the term of life.' It would seem, therefore, that Brutus did not kill Caesar, as one crushes a serpent's egg, to prevent evil consequences. It is equally manifest that he did not do it for 'the general,' for if ever the general were shown to be despicable and worthless it is in this very play, where the citizens murder Cinna, the poet, because he has the same name as Cinna, the conspirator, and the lower classes are despised as the 'rabblement."

Goll: "The argument which Brutus finally accepts or, rather, the image which finally carries conviction to Brutus's mind is Caesar as the serpent's egg. . . . Apparently, there is much theoretical scholasticism in the whole of this argument; and it is evident it never would have succeeded in convincing Brutus had not Cassius's incitements been still actively working in his mind. But, as little as this argument could have arisen without these incitements, as little could they or any other instigations have succeeded in influencing Brutus to commit the murder had he not been able to justify it to his reason. This is precisely the nature of the pronounced theorist. His train of ideas amounts almost to a rubric. He cannot concur in anything unless it is founded on a theory, a principle, a syllogism. He fancies his resolution is based on his theory because he believes he is pushing all personal feelings into the background. In reality, of course, the feelings produce the theory and the theory the resolution. Cassius's play on the inherited instincts of Brutus, namely, a Brutus's duties towards an autocrat, finds him so responsive that he is able to delude himself into the idea that he has no personal duties towards Caesar; that these, on the contrary, are unfair to all other persons; and, from the moment this theory, artificial and perverted as it is, has come into existence, Brutus dares to follow the impulses of his heart. … If the theory lead him to outrage all human feelings, so much the more is it his duty to follow it and to conquer sentiment."

MacMillan: "Iago's soliloquy in I, iii, has been called by Coleridge 'the motive-hunting of a motive-less malignity.' The soliloquy of Brutus might almost be described as the motive-hunting of a motive-less benignity. Vet one would think that Brutus had a distinct enough motive for killing Caesar. He was a republican, and Cacsar had overthrown the republic. . . . Brutus might well have concluded his soliloquy in the words of Iago: 'I know not if't be true. But I for mere suspicion in that kind Will do as if for surety.'"


    Re-enter LUCIUS

LUCIUS

    The taper burneth in your closet, sir.
    [There’s a candle lit in your room, sir.]
    Searching the window for a flint, I found
    [When I was looking around the window for a flint, I found]
    This paper, thus seal'd up; and, I am sure,
    [this sealed piece of paper; and I’m sure]
    It did not lie there when I went to bed.
    [that it wasn’t there when I went to bed.]


flint: A piece of flint for striking fire.


    Gives him the letter

BRUTUS

    Get you to bed again; it is not day.
    [Go back to bed; it’s not morning yet.]
    Is not to-morrow, boy, the ides of March?
    [Boy, isn’t tomorrow the ides of March?]

LUCIUS

    I know not, sir.
    [I don’t know, sir.]

BRUTUS

    Look in the calendar, and bring me word.
    [Look at the calendar and tell me what day it is.]

LUCIUS

    I will, sir.
    [I’ll do that, sir.]

    Exit

BRUTUS

    The exhalations whizzing in the air
    [The meteors flying in the sky]
    Give so much light that I may read by them.
    [are giving off so much light that I can use the light to read this
    letter.]

    Opens the letter and reads
    [Brutus opens the letter and reads it]

    'Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake, and see thyself.
    [“Brutus, you’re asleep. Wake up and become aware of yourself.]
    Shall Rome, & c. Speak, strike, redress!
    [Will Rome, et cetera. Speak, strike, and avenge the wrongs that
    are done to you/done to Rome.]
    Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake!'
    [Brutus, you’re asleep: wake up!”]
    Such instigations have been often dropp'd
    [Messages urging me to act have often been dropped]
    Where I have took them up.  
    [in places where I would find them.]
    'Shall Rome, & c.' Thus must I piece it out:
    [“Will Rome, et cetera.” I must figure out what that part of the
    letter means.]
    Shall Rome stand under one man's awe? What, Rome?
    [Will all of Rome stand in awe of one man? Really? Rome?]
    My ancestors did from the streets of Rome
    [My ancestors drove out the Tarquin (Tarquin was an unpopular
    king of Rome who reigned a couple generations after Rome’s
    founding])
    The Tarquin drive, when he was call'd a king.
    [from Rome, when he had been declared king.]
    'Speak, strike, redress!' Am I entreated
    [Speak, attack (attack Caesar), and avenge the wrongs done to
    you/done to Rome!” Am I asked]
    To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise:
    [to speak and attack (attack Caesar)? O Rome, I promise you]
    If the redress will follow, thou receivest
    [if the righting of wrongs [or the restoration of the Republic] will
    be the result, you will get]
    Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!
    [everything you ask from me.]


exhalation: A bright phenomenon; a meteor.

redress: A setting right, as of wrong, injury, or opression

instigation: the act of encouraging to commit a crime or some evil act.

entreat: To make an earnest petition or request.

petition: An imploration; an entreaty; especially, a request of a solemn or formal kind.


MacCallum [regarding the letter Brutus finds]: "This certainly has somewhat of the republican ring. It breathes the same spirit as Cassius's own avowal: 'I had as lief not be, as live to be In awe of such a thing as I myself'; except that Cassius feels Caesar's predominance to be a personal affront, while Brutus characteristically extends his view to the whole community. But here Brutus is speaking under the excitement of Cassius's 'instigation,' and making himself Cassius's mouthpiece to fill in the blanks. Assuredly the declaration is not on that account the less personal to himself; nevertheless in it Brutus, no longer attempting to square his action with his theory, falls back on the blind impulses of blood that he shares with the other aristocrats of Rome. And in this, the most republican and the only republican sentiment that falls from his lips, which for the rest is so little republican that it might be echoed by the loyal subject of a limited monarchy, it is only the negative of the matter and the public amour propre that are considered. Of the positive essence of republicanism, of enthusiasm for a state in which all the lawful authority is derived from the whole body of fully qualified citizens, there is, despite Brutus's talk of freemen, and slaves, and Caesar's ambition, no trace whatever in any of his utterances from first to last."


    Re-enter LUCIUS

LUCIUS

    Sir, March is wasted fourteen days.
    [Sir, today is March 14.]

    Knocking within

BRUTUS

    'Tis good. Go to the gate; somebody knocks.
    [Thanks. Go to the gate; someone’s knocking.]

    Exit LUCIUS

    Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar,
    [Ever since Cassius did strengthen my opposition to Caesar’s
    rule,]
    I have not slept.
    [I haven’t slept.]
    Between the acting of a dreadful thing
    [Between the point where you set out to do something]
    And the first motion, all the interim is
    [and the point where you actually do it, everything]
    Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
    [is like an illusion or a horrible dream:]
    The Genius and the mortal instruments
    [The Genius and one’s own impulses and passions]
    Are then in council; and the state of man,
    [are then having a meeting; and the man,]
    Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
    [like a little kingdom, is rebelled]
    The nature of an insurrection.
    [against [by his body]. [While the Genius and the man’s mind are
    in council, the rest of the man’s faculties are “rebelling,” thus
    causing the insomnia Brutus is experiencing.]


whet: To provoke; to make angry or acrimonious.

interim: The meantime; time intervening; interval between events, etc.

phantasm: An image formed by the mind, and supposed to be real or material; a shadowy or airy appearance; sometimes, an optical illusion; a phantom; a dream.

Genius: A good or evil spirit, or demon, supposed by the ancients to preside over a man's destiny in life; a tutelary deity; a supernatural being; a spirit, good or bad.

council: Act of deliberating; deliberation; consultation.

insurrection: A rising against civil or political authority, or the established government; open and active opposition to the execution of law in a city or state.


Goll: "Cold fanatic as the revolutionary of theory becomes, he shrinks from no action when it is demanded, as a consequence of his principles; and, idealist as he is, he cannot be moved to any action which does not accord with his ideal. In contrast to the practical man, to whom the action is the central object, which requires the most careful preparations, the idea is the reality to the theorist, the action merely an external circumstance, an unpleasant, almost unnecessary delay, retarding the onward flight of the mind, which must, therefore, be got rid of with all possible despatch. That is why the interval between the thought and its execution is to Brutus 'Like a phantasma or a hideous dream,' which disturbs the clear thought, not exactly because it creates a doubt of the Tightness of the thought, but because it retards its progress. To profoundest conviction all hesitation is but torture."


    Re-enter LUCIUS

LUCIUS

    Sir, 'tis your brother Cassius at the door,
    [Sir, your brother-in-law Cassius is at the door.]
    Who doth desire to see you.
    [He wants to see you.]

BRUTUS

    Is he alone?
    [Is he by himself?]

LUCIUS

    No, sir, there are moe with him.
    [No, sir, there are people with him.]


moe: More.


BRUTUS

    Do you know them?
    [Did you recognize them?]


know: Recognize.


LUCIUS

    No, sir; their hats are pluck'd about their ears,
    [No, sir; they have their hats pulled down to their ears]
    And half their faces buried in their cloaks,
    [and their are half-covered in their cloaks,]
    That by no means I may discover them
    [so it’s impossible for me, by looking at them, to make out who
    they are.]
    By any mark of favour.


pluck: To draw.

favour: Appearance; look; countenance; face.


BRUTUS

    Let 'em enter.
    [Let them in.]

    Exit LUCIUS

    They are the faction. O conspiracy,
    [They are the conspirators. O conspiracy,]
    Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,
    [are you ashamed [“ashamed” because they wish to hide their
    identity from others] to show your dangerous selves at night]
    When evils are most free? O, then by day
    [when evil is most present? O, then in the daytime]
    Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough
    [where will you [the conspiracy] find a cavern dark enough]
    To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy;
    [to hide your monstrous face? Do not look for that cavern,
    conspiracy.]
    Hide it in smiles and affability:
    [Hide your plot by smiling and acting friendly.]
    For if thou path, thy native semblance on,
    [Because if you appear in public and make it apparent what
    your real feelings towards Caesar are,]

    Not Erebus itself were dim enough
    [not even Erebus [a Greek god, a personification of darkness]
    will be dark enough]
    To hide thee from prevention.
    [to hide you from attempts to prevent your plot.]


faction: A party, in political society, combined or acting in union, in opposition to the government, or state;

brow: The general air of the face.

visage: The face.

affability: Readiness to converse; courteousness in receiving others and in conversation; complaisant behavior.

path: To walk or go

native: Original; constituting the original substance of anything

semblance: Seeming; appearance; show; figure; form.

Erebus: (Greek Myth.) A place of nether darkness, being the gloomy space through which the souls passed to Hades.


Hudson: "Of the five divisions of Hades, Erebus was, probably, the third. Shakespeare, however, seems to identify it with Tartarus, the lowest deep of the infernal world, the horrible pit where Dante locates Brutus and Cassius, along with Judas Iscariot."


    Enter the conspirators, CASSIUS, CASCA, DECIUS BRUTUS, CINNA, METELLUS CIMBER, and TREBONIUS

CASSIUS

    I think we are too bold upon your rest:
    [I think we woke you up.]
    Good morrow, Brutus; do we trouble you?
    [Good morning, Brutus; did we wake you?]

BRUTUS

    I have been up this hour, awake all night.
    [I was awake. I’ve been awake all night.]
    Know I these men that come along with you?
    [Do I know the men that are with you?]

CASSIUS

    Yes, every man of them, and no man here
    [You know all of them, and every one of them]
    But honours you; and every one doth wish
    [has respect for you, and every one wishes]
    You had but that opinion of yourself
    [you had the same opinion of yourself]
    Which every noble Roman bears of you.
    [that every good Roman has of you.]
    This is Trebonius.
    [This is Trebonius.]


Cassius again uses flattery to win Brutus over to his side. But Brutus at this point doesn’t need to be flattered.


BRUTUS

    He is welcome hither.
    [He’s welcome here.]

CASSIUS

    This, Decius Brutus.
    [This is Decius Brutus.]

BRUTUS

    He is welcome too.
    [He’s welcome too.]

CASSIUS

    This, Casca; this, Cinna; and this, Metellus Cimber.
    [This is Casca; this is Cinna; and this is Metellus Cimber.]

BRUTUS

    They are all welcome.
    [All of you are welcome here.]
    What watchful cares do interpose themselves
    [What things are keeping you guys awake]
    Betwixt your eyes and night?
    [at this hour?]


care: trouble caused by onerous duties; anxiety; concern; solicitude

interpose: To be or come between.

betwixt: between.


CASSIUS

    Shall I entreat a word?
    [May I say something to you (in private)?]

    BRUTUS and CASSIUS whisper

DECIUS BRUTUS

    Here lies the east: doth not the day break here?
    [There lies the east [Decius points his finger towards the east];
    isn’t the sun rising over there?]


They’re anxious to know whether it’s day yet, as this day will be the day of Caesar’s assassination and perhaps one of the most important days of their lives.


CASCA

    No.

CINNA

    O, pardon, sir, it doth; and yon gray lines
    [Excuse me, sir, the sun is indeed rising; and those gray lines]
    That fret the clouds are messengers of day.
    [on the outer edges of the clouds show that it’ll be day soon.]

CASCA

    You shall confess that you are both deceived.
    [You are both mistaken.]
    Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises,
    [The sun rises where I’m pointing my sword [Casca points his
    sword at a point in the distance]]
    Which is a great way growing on the south,
    [which is near the south]
    Weighing the youthful season of the year.
    [because of the earliness of the year]
    Some two months hence up higher toward the north
    [two months before near the north]
    He first presents his fire; and the high east
    [the sun rose, and the high east]
    Stands, as the Capitol, directly here.
    [is over here by the Capitol.]


weigh: To judge; to estimate.

some: About.

hence: From this time; in the future; as, a week hence.

Capitol: The temple of Jupiter, at Rome, on the Mona Capitolinus, where the Senate met.


Casca’s sword and “the fire” presented by the sun is perhaps supposed to be symbolic of what will happen later that day (i.e., the assassination of Caesar and the destruction caused by the commoners after Antony’s funeral speech).


BRUTUS

    Give me your hands all over, one by one.
    [All of you, shake my hand.]

CASSIUS

    And let us swear our resolution.
    [And let’s swear that we’ll carry out our plan.]


resolution: The state of being settled, or determined; firmness; steadiness


BRUTUS

    No, not an oath: if not the face of men,
    [No, let’s not swear an oath: if our faces,]
    The sufferance of our souls, the time's abuse,–
    [what we’ve had to endure so far, what effect Caesar’s rule has
    had on the state of Rome]
    If these be motives weak, break off betimes,
    [aren’t strong enough motives for us carry out our plan, let’s
    end our meeting now,]
    And every man hence to his idle bed;
    [and let everyone go home to their unused (unused because
    they’ve been up all night) bed;]
    So let high-sighted tyranny range on,
    [and let the tyrant Caesar, who wants to become even more
    powerful, continue to rule]
    Till each man drop by lottery. But if these,
    [until each of us dies, as Caesar picks them off one by one
    (without rhyme or reason). But if these things (what we’ve had to
    endure so far]
    As I am sure they do, bear fire enough
    [are motivating enough, as I am sure they are,]
    To kindle cowards and to steel with valour
    [to make cowards act and make weak-willed women]
    The melting spirits of women, then, countrymen,
    [courageous, then, my friends,]
    What need we any spur but our own cause,
    [why do we need something like an oath, when we have such a     strong motive]
    To prick us to redress? what other bond
    [to incite us to right these wrongs? what bond do we need other
    than the fact that we’re]

    Than secret Romans, that have spoke the word,
    [Romans who have met in secret and have said we’d carry out
    our plan]
    And will not palter? and what other oath
    [and won’t fail to fulfill our obligation? what oath
    do we need]
    Than honesty to honesty engaged,
    [other than honest men agreeing to do something,]
    That this shall be, or we will fall for it?
    [believing that if we don’t do this, it will cause our demise?]
    Swear priests and cowards and men cautelous,
    [Oaths are for priests, cowards, crafty men,]
    Old feeble carrions and such suffering souls
    [old feeble men and tormented men]
    That welcome wrongs; unto bad causes swear 
    [who want bad things to happen to them; people who no one has
    faith in]
    Such creatures as men doubt; but do not stain
    [swear to bad causes; but let’s not ruin]
    The even virtue of our enterprise,
    [the decency of our plot]
    Nor the insuppressive mettle of our spirits,
    [or our unstoppable spirits]
    To think that or our cause or our performance
    [by thinking that our cause or the assassination itself]
    Did need an oath; when every drop of blood
    [needs an oath; since the noble blood of the Romans]
    That every Roman bears, and nobly bears,
    [that every Roman has]
    Is guilty of a several bastardy,
    [been mixed with the blood of other peoples,]
    If he do break the smallest particle
    [if any of them in the slightest break a]
    Of any promise that hath pass'd from him.
    [promise that he has made.]


sufferance: Pain endured; misery; suffering; distress.

time: The period at which any definite event occurred, or person lived; age; period; era;

break off: To stop.

betimes: Soon.

hence: From this place; away.

idle: Remaining unused.

high-sighted: Always looking upward.

tyranny: Arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government. Hence tyranny is often synonymous with cruelty and oppression.

range: To rove at large; to wander without restraint or direction; to roam.

kindle: To inflame, as the passions; to rouse; to provoke; to excite to action

steel: To make hard or strong; hence, to make insensible or obdurate.

valour: Strength of mind in regard to danger; that quality which enables a man to encounter danger with firmness

melting: Tending to soften; softening into tenderness

spur: To urge or encourage to action, or to a more vigorous pursuit of an object; to incite;

prick: To spur onward; to ride on horseback.

palter: To fail; to come short; to balk.

cautelous: Crafty; deceitful; false.

carrion: A contemptible or worthless person; — a term of reproach.

creature: A human being, in pity, contempt, or endearment; as, a poor creature; a pretty creature.

even: Without an irregularity, flaw, or blemish; pure.

enterprise: A work projected which involves activity, courage, energy, and the like.

insuppressive. Cannot be overpowered.

mettle: Substance or quality of temperament; spirit, esp. as regards honor, courage, fortitude, ardor, etc.

bastardy: The state of being a child begotten and born out of wedlock.


Brutus believes that the conspirators taking an oath would be undignified and useless, their Roman blood and their strong reasons for killing Caesar being enough to assure themselves that none of them will betray the cause. This speech illustrates Brutus’s devotion to the cause against tyranny and his belief in the Romans as inherently noble people. The latter belief perhaps causes Brutus to be overly willing to trust people, a trait that will prove to be fatal in his dealings with Antony after Caesar’s death.

Heraud: "Here is apparent the weakness of Brutus in having associated with minds so much beneath his own; and this weakness soon shows itself constitutional in his objecting to admit the participation of a superior or equal mind. He will not take Cicero into his counsel. Nor will he go all lengths with his confederates, but insists on sparing Antony, and by so doing ruins his cause. … As it is, the catastrophe of the tragedy grows out of the failings of Brutus, which though 'they leaned to virtue's side,' were still failings, and fatal both to his friends and his country."

CASSIUS

    But what of Cicero? shall we sound him?
    [But what about Cicero? Shall we see if he wants to join us?]
    I think he will stand very strong with us.
    [I think he’ll be a strong supporter of what we’re doing.]


sound: To ascertain, or try to ascertain, the thoughts, motives, and purposes of (a person);


CASCA

    Let us not leave him out.
    [Let’s not leave him out of the conspiracy.]


Mark Hunter: "Casca's pretended self-dependence is the last quality that can be ascribed to him. No one could more quickly adopt the sentiments and enthusiasms of others. [Here, for example,] Cassius diffidently suggests that Cicero should be sounded. 'Let us not leave him out,' Casca chimes in. Cassius abandons his proposal in deference to Brutus's opinion. 'Indeed, he is not fit,' is Casca's emphatic comment."


CINNA

    No, by no means.
    [Certainly, we shouldn’t leave him out.]

METELLUS CIMBER

    O, let us have him, for his silver hairs
    [Let’s have Cicero join us, for his seniority]
    Will purchase us a good opinion
    [will make people think highly of us]
    And buy men's voices to commend our deeds:
    [and get men to praise what we’re doing.]
    It shall be said, his judgment ruled our hands;
    [People will say that it was he who came up with the idea to
    assassinate Caesar;]
    Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
    [our youth and wildness and won’t be a factor,]
    But all be buried in his gravity.
    [but attention will rather be focused on his reputation for being
    serious and honorable.]


whit: A point; a jot; the smallest part or particle imaginable.

gravity: Sobriety of character or demeanor.


While Metellus Cimber's belief that they should have brought Cicero into the plot is correct, the notion that gravity will win over “youth and wildness” seems to be proven wrong when, in the funeral oration scene, Antony, the infamous reveler, manages to incite the crowd against Brutus, the conspirator with the most “gravity.”


BRUTUS

    O, name him not: let us not break with him;
    [Let’s not consider him as a possible member of the
    conspiracy: let’s not tell him what we’re doing;]

    For he will never follow any thing
    [for he will never join anything]
    That other men begin.
    [that someone else has started.]


break: To lay open, as a purpose; to disclose, divulge, or communicate.


CASSIUS

    Then leave him out.
    [Then let’s leave him out of the conspiracy.]

CASCA

    Indeed he is not fit.
    [Yes, he is not suited for the conspiracy.]


fit: To be suitable to.


This is the first of the poor strategic decisions Brutus makes throughout the play, which ultimately cause the downfall of the conspirators. The failure of their seizing power in Rome is primarily because of Brutus’s funeral orations: Brutus is chosen to give the speech, being the most well-respected of the conspirators (if Cicero had been one of them, he would have been the most well-respected), and fails to rouse the crowd in the way Antony does. Cicero was considered one of the greatest orators of his time: if he had been a member of the conspiracy and had been chosen to give the funeral oration, Antony perhaps wouldn't have won over the crowd. Unfortunately, the conspirators, who at first did want Cicero a part of the conspiracy, go along with Brutus’s view on the matter, perhaps because they feared upsetting the man whom they went to so much trouble to get to join the conspiracy.


DECIUS BRUTUS

    Shall no man else be touch'd but only Caesar?
    [Should we kill only Caesar?]


touch: To harm, afflict, or distress.


CASSIUS

    Decius, well urged: I think it is not meet,
    [Decius, that’s a good question. I don’t think it’d be appropriate,]
    Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,
    [for Mark Antony, whom Caesar loves a lot,]
    Should outlive Caesar: we shall find of him
    [not to be killed along with Caesar: after Caesar’s death, he’ll]
    A shrewd contriver; and, you know, his means,
    [plot against us, and, you know, his political power and
    wealth,]

    If he improve them, may well stretch so far
    [if they grow, might grow so large]
    As to annoy us all: which to prevent,
    [that they’ll become a problem for us: to prevent this problem]
    Let Antony and Caesar fall together.
    [we should kill both Caesar and Antony.]


shrewd: Artful; wily; cunning; arch.

contriver: One who devises, plans, or schemes.

means: Resources; property, revenue, or the like

annoy: To molest, incommode, or harm

fall: To die; particularly by violence.


BRUTUS

    Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
    [Our actions will seem too gruesome, Caius Cassius,]
    To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
    [if we cut the head off and then hack off the limbs (if we kill
    Caesar and then kill Antony);]
    Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
    [it’d be like killing someone angrily and still harboring malice
    against the victim afterwards,]
    For Antony is but a limb of Caesar:
    [for Antony is only a limb of Caesar’s [Antony is only a part of
    Caesar – if we get rid of Caesar, Antony is powerless]]
    Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
    [Let us sacrifice Caesar for the cause of ending tyranny, but let’s
    not commit any murder beyond that, Caius Cassius.]
    We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;
    [We oppose what Caesar stands for, not Caesar himself,]
    And in the spirit of men there is no blood:
    [and in such opposition, there is no violence.]
    O, that we then could come by Caesar's spirit,
    [if only we could defeat what Caesar stands for]
    And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,
    [instead of killing Caesar himself! but, unfortunately,]
    Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle friends,
    [we have to kill Caesar to kill what Caesar stands for! And, good
    friends,]
    Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
    [we should kill him without hesitation, but not in anger;]
    Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
    [let’s kill him as if we were preparing a meal for the gods (let’s
    kill him In an honorable fashion);]
    Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds:
    [let’s not kill him as if we were cutting him as food for our dogs
    (let’s not kill him in a gruesome, dishonorable manner)]
    And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,
    [And let’s, as skillful masters do with their servants,]
    Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
    [make our servants [our bodies] commit an act of rage [by killing
    Caesar],]
    And after seem to chide 'em. This shall make
    [but after scold ourselves for doing it. By doing this]
    Our purpose necessary and not envious:
    [our murder of Caesar will seem necessary and not done out of
    envy:]
    Which so appearing to the common eyes,
    [and we’ll kill him in a way that the commoners]
    We shall be call'd purgers, not murderers.
    [will call us men who rid Rome of a tyrant, rather than men who
    have committed murder.]
    And for Mark Antony, think not of him;
    [As for Mark Antony, don’t worry about him;]
    For he can do no more than Caesar's arm
    [for he’s as powerless as Caesar’s arm would be]
    When Caesar's head is off.
    [if Caesar’s head were cut off (he’s merely Caesar’s lackey --
    once Caesar dies, Antony can’t harm the conspirators).]


course: Method of procedure; manner or way of conducting; conduct; behavior.

hew: To cut in pieces; to chop; to hack.

subtle: Sly in design; artful; cunning; insinuating; subtil

chide: To rebuke; to reprove; to scold; to find fault with.

common: Of or pertaining to the Roman plebs, or common people.

purger: One that cleanses or purifies.


Deciding not to murder Antony is another poor choice of Brutus’s. Brutus sees Mark Antony as too unserious and too dependant on Caesar to be worth his concern. He is, of course, incorrect. While Mark Antony is perhaps a “masker” and a “reveller,” when roused by the death of his friend Caesar, he becomes a powerful political force, abandoning his carefree manner of living for a time and using all his political skill — which turns out to be quite impressive — to destroy the conspirators. Cassius is more politically astute, realizing that Mark Antony will indeed become a threat. Unfortunately, Cassius is too deferential to Brutus and allows himself to be overruled by him.

Genee: "[O that ... Caesar's spirit] — This is, however, a bad piece of sophistry with which Brutus dooms the deed itself. The sequel shows that the spirit of Caesar was unassailable by the swords of his opponents. It proved worst of all for Brutus; and what caused his downfall before all the others Was the disunion in his own well-conditioned nature, a disunion which laid him open to inconsistencies and political mistakes."


CASSIUS

    Yet I fear him;
    [But I’m afraid of what Mark Antony might do after we
    assassinate Caesar,]
    For in the ingrafted love he bears to Caesar—
    [because he loves Caesar so much that ---]


ingrafted: set or fixed deep.


BRUTUS

    Alas, good Cassius, do not think of him:
    [Please, good Cassius, don’t think of Mark Antony:]
    If he love Caesar, all that he can do
    [If Antony loves Caesar, all that Antony will be able to do]
    Is to himself, take thought and die for Caesar:
    [is kill himself for Caesar.]
    And that were much he should; for he is given
    [But doing that would probably be too much to expect of him;
    since he loves]

    To sports, to wildness and much company.
    [playing sports, acting wild, and going to parties.]


Brutus lets his prejudices cloud his judgment. He mistakenly assumes that since Antony is “given to sports, to wildness and much company,” that he will in no way be a serious threat to the conspirators.

Furness: "MacCallum quotes a passage from Plutarch's Life of Brutus (ed. Skeat, p. 119), wherein is given Brutus's argument against the slaying of Antony, that there was a hope of reformation in him and that 'when he should knowe that Caesar was dead [he] would willingly helpe his countrie to recover her libertie.' 'In this hope,' adds MacCallum, 'of converting a ruse libertine like Antony, there is no doubt a hint of idealism, but it is not so marked as in the high-pitched magnanimity of Shakespeare's Brutus, who denies a man's powers of mischief because his life is loose.'—[Brutus's argument is, I think, not that Antony is harmless on account of his loose morals, but that, since he is such a man, it would be too much to expect that he would 'take thought and die for Caesar.']"


TREBONIUS

    There is no fear in him; let him not die;
    [We should not be afraid of Antony; let’s not kill him;]
    For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter.
    [if he lives, he’ll simply laugh about the murder afterwards.]

    Clock strikes


hereafter: Afterwards.


John Hunter: "This is one of Shakespeare's anachronistic licences or inadvertencies: the use of clocks and watches was unknown to the Romans; but they had sun dials and clepsydra at the time to which this play refers."


BRUTUS

    Peace! count the clock.
    [Quiet! Count the chimes of the clock.]

CASSIUS

    The clock hath stricken three.
    [It’s three o’clock.]

TREBONIUS

    'Tis time to part.
    [It’s time for us to go.]

CASSIUS

    But it is doubtful yet,
    [But it’s not clear yet]
    Whether Caesar will come forth to-day, or no;
    [whether Caesar will come to the Capitol today or not,]
    For he is superstitious grown of late,
    [since he’s become more superstitious lately]
    Quite from the main opinion he held once
    [and has changed the opinion he once had]
    Of fantasy, of dreams and ceremonies:
    [of dreams and omens]
    It may be, these apparent prodigies,
    [It could be that all these things that have occurred, which seem
    to show that something terrible will happen in the future,]
    The unaccustom'd terror of this night,
    [things such as the strange, supernatural occurrences that were
    seen tonight]
    And the persuasion of his augurers,
    [and Caesar’s augurers (which have told him that something bad
    will happen to him on the ides of March) convincing him to stay
    at home]
    May hold him from the Capitol to-day.
    [might prevent him from coming to the Capitol today.]


forth: Out into public view, or public character.

of late: Lately:

main: Strong.

ceremony: A sign or prodigy; a portent.

unaccustomed: Not usual; uncommon; strange.

augurer: An official diviner who foretold events by the singing, chattering, flight, and feeding of birds, or by signs or omens derived from celestial phenomena, certain appearances of quadrupeds, or unusual occurrences.

hold: Keep.


De Quincey: "No mob could be more abjectly servile than was that of Rome to the superstition of portents, prodigies, and omens. Thus far, in common with his order and in this sense, Julius Caesar was naturally, a despiser of superstition. Mere strength of understanding would, perhaps, have made him such in any age, and apart from the circumstances of his personal history. But this natural tendency would doubtless receive a further bias in the same direction from the office of Pontifex Maximus, which he held at an early stage of his public career. This office, by letting him too much behind the curtain, and exposing too entirely the base machinery of ropes and pulleys, which sustained the miserable jugglery played off upon the popular credulity, impressed him perhaps even unduly with contempt for those who could be its dupes. . . . We find that though sincerely a despiser of superstition, and with a frankness which must sometimes have been hazardous in that age, Caesar was himself also superstitious. No man could have been otherwise who lived and conversed with that generation and people. But if superstitious, he was so after a mode of his own. . . . That he placed some confidence in dreams, for instance, is certain; because had he slighted them unreservedly he would not have dwelt upon them afterwards, or have troubled himself to recall their circumstances. Here we trace his human weakness. Yet again we are reminded that it was the. weakness of Caesar; for the dreams were noble in their imagery, and Caesarean (so to speak) in their tone of moral feeling. Thus, for example,'the night before he was assassinated he dreamt at intervals that he was soaring above the clouds on wings, and that he placed his hand within the right hand of Jove. . . . We are told that Calpurnia dreamed on the same night, and to the same ominous result. The circumstances of her dream are less striking, because less figurative; but on that account its import was less open to doubt. . . . Laying all these omens together, Caesar would have been more or less than human had he continued utterly undepressed by them. And if so much superstition as even this implies must be taken to argue some little weakness, on the other hand, let it not be forgotten that this very weakness does but the more illustrate the unusual force of mind, and the heroic will, which obstinately laid aside these concurring prefigurations of impending destruction."


DECIUS BRUTUS

    Never fear that: if he be so resolved,
    [Don’t worry about that. If he decides not to come to the Capitol
    for superstitious reasons,]
    I can o'ersway him; for he loves to hear
    [I will get him to come anyway; for he loves to hear]
    That unicorns may be betray'd with trees,
    [that unicorns can be tricked into charging at a hunter and
    getting their horn stuck in a tree,]
    And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
    [and that bears can become distracted by a mirror, and that
    elephants can be trapped in pitfalls,]
    Lions with toils and men with flatterers;
    [and that lions can be trapped with nets and that men can be
    tricked by flatterers [in other words, Caesar believes that
    animals or people can be easily manipulated],]
    But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
    [but when I stroke his ego by telling him he hates flatterers,]
    He says he does, being then most flattered.
    [he says he does hate them (even though he’s being flattered by
    me at the same time he says this)]
    Let me work;
    [Let me try to convince him,]
    For I can give his humour the true bent,
    [for I can work upon his weaknesses,]
    And I will bring him to the Capitol.
    [and I will get him to come to the Capitol.]


resolved – Having a fixed purpose; determined

oversway – To control.

toil – A net or snare; any thread, web, or string spread for taking prey.


Decius Brutus points out that though Caesar is superstitious (and thus will not wish to leave his house on the ides of March because of what the soothsayers have augured regarding that day), he can easily be convinced to come to the Capitol. The notion that Caesar is superstitious doesn’t seem to jibe with Caesar’s treatment of the oracles in Act 1, Scene 2, and Act 2, Scene 2, (perhaps, though, he only believes in oracles when they are in his favor), but Decius Brutus is certainly correct that Caesar is susceptible to flattery, and that one can goad him into doing something by exploiting this flaw.

Steevens: "Bears are reported to have been surprised by means of a mirror, which they would gaze on, affording their pursuers an opportunity of taking the surer aim."


CASSIUS

    Nay, we will all of us be there to fetch him.
    [We will all go to his home to bring him to the Capitol.]

BRUTUS

    By the eighth hour: is that the uttermost?
    [We will be at the Capitol by eight o’clock. Is that the latest we
    should arrive?]

CINNA

    Be that the uttermost, and fail not then.
    [That should be the latest, and do not fail to show up by then.]

METELLUS CIMBER

    Caius Ligarius doth bear Caesar hard,
    [Caius Ligarius holds a grudge against Caesar,]
    Who rated him for speaking well of Pompey:
    [because Caesar reprimanded him for saying positive things
    about Pompey;]
    I wonder none of you have thought of him.
    [I’m surprised that none of you have thought about asking him to
    join the conspiracy.]


bear hard: bear a grudge (against someone).

rate: to scold; to censure violently


BRUTUS

    Now, good Metellus, go along by him:
    [Now, good Metellus, go to Caius Ligarius:]
    He loves me well, and I have given him reasons;
    [He likes me a lot, and I have given him reasons for doing so.]
    Send him but hither, and I'll fashion him.
    [All you need to do is send him here, and I’ll convince him to join
    us.]


hither: Here.


CASSIUS

    The morning comes upon 's: we'll leave you, Brutus.
    [The sun is rising: we’ll leave you, Brutus.]
    And, friends, disperse yourselves; but all remember
    [and, my friends, let’s go our separate ways for now; but
    everyone remember]
    What you have said, and show yourselves true Romans.
    [what was said here today, and later prove yourselves to be true
    Romans.]

BRUTUS

    Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily;
    [Gentlemen, look lively and happy;]
    Let not our looks put on our purposes,
    [let’s make sure no one can tell by our appearance what we’re
    up to,]
    But bear it as our Roman actors do,
    [but let’s approach this day (the day on which we assassinate
    Caesar) like Roman actors,]
    With untired spirits and formal constancy:
    [who don’t get physically or mentally tired and never break
    character:]
    And so good morrow to you every one.
    [and so good day to you all.]

    Exeunt all but BRUTUS

    Boy! Lucius! Fast asleep? It is no matter;
    [Boy (my servant boy)! Lucius! Are you asleep? Well, it doesn’t
    matter.]
    Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber:
    [Enjoy your pleasant slumber.]
    Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,
    [You don’t have fanciful notions or imaginings [about the
    future],]
    Which busy care draws in the brains of men;
    [which constant worrying brings about in men,]
    Therefore thou sleep'st so sound.
    [so you sleep soundly.]


formal: Outward appearance.

constancy: Changelessness.

morrow: Morning.


Brutus seems to find much of this emotionally and physically exhausting. Unlike Cassius, who seems to revel in the planning of this plot, Brutus finds it undesirable.


    Enter PORTIA

PORTIA

    Brutus, my lord!

BRUTUS

    Portia, what mean you? wherefore rise you now?
    [Portia, what are you doing? Why are you up so early?]
    It is not for your health thus to commit
    [It is bad for your health (which is poor) to]
    Your weak condition to the raw cold morning.
    [walk around in the cold morning air.]


wherefore: Why.


PORTIA

    Nor for yours neither. You've ungently, Brutus,
    [It’s not good for you either. Brutus, you have]
    Stole from my bed: and yesternight, at supper,
    [abruptly gotten up from bed, and yesterday, at supper,]
    You suddenly arose, and walk'd about,
    [you suddenly got up and walked around,]
    Musing and sighing, with your arms across,
    [thinking to yourself and sighing, with your arms crossed,]
    And when I ask'd you what the matter was,
    [and when I asked you what was the matter,]
    You stared upon me with ungentle looks;
    [you gave me a  cold look;]
    I urged you further; then you scratch'd your head,
    [I asked you again; then  you scratched your head]
    And too impatiently stamp'd with your foot;
    [and impatiently stamped your foot;]
    Yet I insisted, yet you answer'd not,
    [I asked again, and you still did not answer,]
    But, with an angry wafture of your hand,
    [but, angrily waving your hand,]
    Gave sign for me to leave you: so I did;
    [indicated that I should go; so I did:]
    Fearing to strengthen that impatience
    [I was afraid that I’d make your impatience worse,]
    Which seem'd too much enkindled, and withal
    [which seemed excited, and yet]
    Hoping it was but an effect of humour,
    [I hope that it was only a mood swing,]
    Which sometime hath his hour with every man.
    [which every man has at some time or another.]
    It will not let you eat, nor talk, nor sleep,
    [Because of it, you won’t eat, you won’t talk, and you won’t    
    sleep]
    And could it work so much upon your shape
    [and if it changed the way you look]
    As it hath much prevail'd on your condition,
    [just as it has changed the way you act,]
    I should not know you, Brutus. Dear my lord,
    [I would not recognize you, Brutus. My dear lord,]
    Make me acquainted with your cause of grief.
    [tell me the reason for your suffering.]


steal – To withdraw or pass privily; to slip along or away unperceived.

muse – to be so occupied in study or contemplation as not to observe passing scenes or things present

across: Crossed.

wafture – The act of waving; a wavelike motion.

enkindle: To excite; to rouse into action; to incite.

withal – Also.

shape – Physical appearance.

work – to have effect or influence

prevail – to have effect; power or influence


Like Cassius in Act 1, Scene 2, Portia asks Brutus about his recent change in behavior. But unlike Cassius, Portia has no ulterior motives and is genuinely worried about Brutus – her intention isn’t to manipulate Brutus, but to help him. She is the portrait of a loving, selfless wife, and it is her strong attachment to her husband that will eventually lead to her death.

Jameson: "The situation is exactly similar [here to that between Hotspur and Lady Percy in / Hen. IV: II, iii, 76120]; the topics of remonstrance are nearly the same; the sentiments and the style as opposite as are the characters of the two women. Lady Percy is evidently accustomed to win more from her fiery lord by caresses than by reason; he loves her in his rough way, 'as Hany Percy's wife,' but she has no real influence over him; he has no confidence in her. . . . Lady Percy has no character, properly so called; whereas that of Portia is very distinctly and faithfully drawn from the outline furnished by Plutarch. Lady Percy's fond upbraidings, and her halfplayful, half-pouting entreaties, scarcely gain her husband's attention. Portia, with true matronly dignity and tenderness, pleads her right to share her husband's thoughts and proves it too."


BRUTUS

    I am not well in health, and that is all.
    [I feel sick, that’s all.]

PORTIA

    Brutus is wise, and, were he not in health,
    [You are smart, and if you were sick,]
    He would embrace the means to come by it.
    [you would do what you needed to do to become well again.]

BRUTUS

    Why, so I do. Good Portia, go to bed.
    [Why, so I am doing what I need to become well again. Good
    Portia, go to bed.]


Brutus here indicates (to himself; Portia is completely unaware of the assassination plot at this point) that he and Rome are sick (he, literally, and Rome, metaphorically) and that he needs to carry out the assassination plot for he and Rome to become well again.


PORTIA

    Is Brutus sick? and is it physical
    [Is Brutus sick? and does he cure himself of his sickness by]
    To walk unbraced and suck up the humours
    [walking around with his shirt unbraced, absorbing the]
    Of the dank morning? What, is Brutus sick,
    [wet morning air? Brutus is supposedly sick,]
    And will he steal out of his wholesome bed, 
    [yet he gets up from his bed (which, if he slept in it, would help
    him recover)]
    To dare the vile contagion of the night
    [to walk in the disease-inducing night air]
    And tempt the rheumy and unpurged air 
    [with the chance that the unhealthiness of it]
    To add unto his sickness? No, my Brutus;
    [might make you even sicker? No, my Brutus,]
    You have some sick offence within your mind,
    [you have something on your mind that is making you “sick,”]
    Which, by the right and virtue of my place,
    [which, because I’m your wife]
    I ought to know of: and, upon my knees,
    [I should know about: and, on my knees, [she gets on her
    knees]]
    I charm you, by my once-commended beauty,
    [I ask that you, because of my former beauty,]
    By all your vows of love and that great vow
    [and because of all the vows of love you’ve made to me and that
    vow (our wedding vows)]
    Which did incorporate and make us one,
    [that made us husband and wife,]
    That you unfold to me, yourself, your half,
    [that you tell me (who am yourself, because I am your wife, your
    other half)]
    Why you are heavy, and what men to-night
    [why you are so absorbed in thought, and who the men were]
    Have had to resort to you: for here have been
    [that met with you tonight: for there were]
    Some six or seven, who did hide their faces
    [about six or seven men here, who hid their faces,]
    Even from darkness.
    [even though it was dark.]


physical: Of or pertaining to physic, or the art of medicine; medicinal; curative;

humour: Moisture; but the word is chiefly used to express the moisture or fluids of animal bodies, as the humors of the eye. But more generally the word is used to express a fluid in its morbid or vitiated state.

contagion: the action of miasmata arising from dead animal or vegetable matter, bogs, fens, etc.

rheumy: Abounding with sharp moisture

unpurged: Unpurified.

virtue: Active quality or power.

incorporate: Made one body, or united in one body;

unfold: To reveal.

half: Better half.

heavy: Sad.

resort: To go.

some: About.


Portia can see right through Brutus’s lie. Brutus is a noble, honest person, and lying is clearly not something he does well.

The “rheumy, unpurged air” implies the idea that night air was unhealthy. “Rheumy” is derived from “rheumatism,” a disease which wet, damp (or rheumy) air was thought to have caused.


BRUTUS

    Kneel not, gentle Portia. [Do not kneel, gentle Portia.]

PORTIA

    I should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
    [I wouldn’t have to kneel, if you were kind to me, Brutus.]
    Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus,
    [Tell me, Brutus. We’re married:]
    Is it excepted I should know no secrets
    [is it appropriate that I know none of your secrets?]
    That appertain to you? Am I yourself
    [Am I a part of you]
    But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
    [only in a limited way?]
    To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
    [Am I only a part of you by the fact that we eat meals together,
    share a bed,]
    And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs
    [and talk sometimes? Am I kept at a distance from what matters
    to you? [suburbs were often associated with prostitituion]]
    Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
    [If that’s all I am,]
    Portia is Brutus' harlot, not his wife. [then I am your whore, not your
    wife.]


except: To exclude; to omit.

appertain: To pertain.

suburbs: The confines; the outer part.

harlot: A woman who prostitutes her body for hire; a prostitute; a common woman; a strumpet.


Portia’s misery over Brutus’s distant attitude towards her adds to the psychological weight that is already on Brutus’s mind. The fact that his wife is frail and might be (and will be, as we find out in Act 4, Scene 3) emotionally devastated by the possible consequences of the assassination attempt, must make this situation so much the harder for Brutus.


BRUTUS

    You are my true and honourable wife,
    [You are very much my wife,]
    As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
    [and are as important to as much as the red blood]
    That visit my sad heart.
    [that flows through my sad heart.]


ruddy: Of a red color; red, or reddish; as, a ruddy sky; a ruddy flame.


Boas: "This absolute communion of soul is in designed contrast to the shallow relation of Caesar and Calpurnia. The dictator treats his wife as a child to be humoured or not according to his caprice, but Portia assumes that, 'by the right and virtue of her place,' she is entitled to share her husband's inmost thoughts. Brutus discloses to her the secret which lies so heavily upon his breast, and we know that this secret is inviolably safe in her keeping."


PORTIA

    If this were true, then should I know this secret.
    [If you truly loved me, you would tell me your secret.]
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    [Sure, I’m a woman, but I’m not just any woman:]
    A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
    [I’m the woman who Lord Brutus married (which makes me much
    better than the average woman):]
    I grant I am a woman; but withal
    [Sure, I’m a woman, but I’m not just any woman]
    A woman well-reputed, Cato's daughter.
    [I’m a woman who is well-respected, and I’m the daughter of
    Cato [who was a man of great reputation in Rome]].
    Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
    [Do you think I’m no better than what women generally are,]
    Being so father'd and so husbanded?
    [even though I have such a great husband and a great father?]
    Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose 'em:
    [Tell me what’s been on your mind, I won’t tell anyone:]
    I have made strong proof of my constancy,
    [I proved my loyalty to you]
    Giving myself a voluntary wound
    [when I wounded myself on purpose]
    Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
    [here in my thigh: could I do something like that without
    complaint]
    And not my husband's secrets?
    [and at the same time be so disloyal as to tell people your
    secrets?]


counsel: A secret opinion or purpose.

constancy: Lasting affection; stability in love or friendship.


Portia believes that despite being a woman (and therefore, according to common wisdom at the time, likely to share the secrets of others), Brutus should tell her what’s been troubling him. Brutus seems to have other reasons for not telling her his secret, for he seems convinced of her honor and constancy already. The reason could be that she is frail, as he mentions earlier, and is worried about her fretting over the assassination plot while it’s underway. Either way, it's clear that he loves and trusts her, and, after her speech, feels obliged to tell her the truth.


BRUTUS

    O ye gods,
    [O you gods,]
    Render me worthy of this noble wife!
    [make me worthy of my noble wife!]

    Knocking within

    Hark, hark! one knocks: Portia, go in awhile;
    [Listen, listen! Someone knocks: Portia, go in the other room for
    a while]
    And by and by thy bosom shall partake
    [and soon I will tell you]
    The secrets of my heart.
    [all my secrets.]
    All my engagements I will construe to thee,
    [I will tell you all the things that I’m planning to do]
    All the charactery of my sad brows:
    [and why I have lately seemed so upset.]
    Leave me with haste.
    [Leave quickly.]

    Exit PORTIA

    Lucius, who's that knocks?
    [Lucius, who’s at the door?]

    Re-enter LUCIUS with LIGARIUS


render: To cause to be, or to become.

hark: Listen.

charactery: The meaning.

brow: The prominent ridge over the eye, forming an arch above the orbit. The skin of this arch or ridge is moved by muscles, which contract it in a frown and elevate it in joy or surprise.


LUCIUS

    He is a sick man that would speak with you.
    [It’s a sick man who wants to speak with you.]


Lucius, like Brutus, is “sick,” though Lucius is physically sick, while Brutus is mentally “sick” (not mentally ill, but rather overcome with stress). Lucius is, however, mentally well; his physically condition is even invigorated by the prospect of the assassination plot. This contrast highlights the difficulty Brutus has morally with the assassination of Caesar. While the other conspirators, at least as far as we can tell from the play, seem to be certain about the righteousness of their plot, Brutus struggles with the moral propriety of it, making him seem the most noble of the conspirators (a sentiment expressed at the end of the play by Antony).


BRUTUS

    Caius Ligarius, that Metellus spake of.
    [It’s Caius Ligarius, who Metellus mentioned.]
    Boy, stand aside. Caius Ligarius! how?
    [Step aside, Lucius. Caius Ligarius, how are you doing?]

LIGARIUS

    Vouchsafe good morrow from a feeble tongue.
    [Let me, a sick man, say hello to you.]


vouchsafe: To condescend to grant; to concede; to bestow.


BRUTUS

    O, what a time have you chose out, brave Caius,
    [O, what a time you have chosen, brave Caius]
    To wear a kerchief! Would you were not sick!
    [to wear a scarf on your head  [i.e., what an inconvenient time it
    is for you to be sick [he’s wearing the kerchief because he’s
    sick and needs to keep his head warm]]. If only you weren’t
    sick!]


kerchief: A head dress; a cloth to cover the head.

would: I wish.


LIGARIUS

    I am not sick, if Brutus have in hand
    [I won’t be sick [i.e., I will be active despite being sick], if you
    have]
    Any exploit worthy the name of honour.
    [something honorable for me to to do.]


exploit: A deed or act; especially, a heroic act; a deed of renown.


BRUTUS

    Such an exploit have I in hand, Ligarius,
    [I have something honorable for you to do, ]
    Had you a healthful ear to hear of it.
    [if you’ll let me tell you about it.]

LIGARIUS

    By all the gods that Romans bow before,
    [By God,]
    I here discard my sickness! Soul of Rome! [I will no longer be sick!
    You are the soul of Rome!]
    Brave son, derived from honourable loins!
    [Brave man, who had an honorable upbringing (or has honorable
    parents, or follows in the tradition of Rome’s honorable men)]
    Thou, like an exorcist, hast conjured up
    [You have invigorated]
    My mortified spirit. Now bid me run,
    [me, who before felt almost dead. Tell me to do something]
    And I will strive with things impossible;
    [and I will do the impossible;]
    Yea, get the better of them. What's to do?
    [yes, I’ll overcome the impossible. What should I do?]


loins: The reproductive organs.

exorcist: One who pretends to expel evil spirits by conjuration, prayers, and ceremonies.

conjure: To make visible, as a spirit, by magic arts.

mortify: To destroy active powers or essential qualities.


In calling Brutus a “brave son, derived from honorable loins,” Caius Ligarius hints at Brutus’s supposed lineage with Lucius Junius Brutus. Like the conspirators, he “[strove] with things impossible,” by unseating the Tarquin monarchy. After this he founded the Roman Republic. The conspirators seem to see Marcus Brutus as something of a second coming of the earlier Brutus, and feel that with his leadership, they will unseat their own Tarquin, Caesar, and reestablish the Roman Republic.


BRUTUS

    A piece of work that will make sick men whole.
    [Something that will make sick men well again. [Something that
    will restore the Roman Republic.]]

LIGARIUS

    But are not some whole that we must make sick?
    [But aren’t there some who are healthy that we need to make
    sick? [don’t we need to kill Caesar for the state to become
    healthy?]]

BRUTUS

    That must we also. What it is, my Caius,
    [We must also do that. What we need to do exactly, my Caius,]
    I shall unfold to thee, as we are going [I will tell  you as we walk to
    the Capitol,]
    To whom it must be done.
    [towards the person who we must make sick [the person whom
    we must kill [Caesar]]]

LIGARIUS

    Set on your foot,
    [Start walking]
    And with a heart new-fired I follow you,
    [and, re-energized, I will follow you;]
    To do I know not what: but it sufficeth
    [what we will do I don’t know,     but it’s enough]
    That Brutus leads me on.
    [that Brutus is leading me to do it]


suffice: To be enough, or sufficient.


BRUTUS

    Follow me, then.
    [Follow me, then.]

    Exeunt
 


Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 3      |      Julius Caesar Index      |      Julius Caesar Act 2, Scene 2