Julius Caesar abbreviated

On the streets of 32 BC Rome, two tribunes, tribunes being elected to protect the rights of common citizens (the plebeians), berate some of those they were elected to serve.  It’s a most famous time, made famous by Shakespeare.  The tribunes are ridiculing the plebeians for what they see as their unjustified celebration of Julius Caesar’s return to Rome.  When the tribunes ask a cobbler “Why dost thou lead these men about the streets” the cobbler, who identifies himself as “a mender of bad soles,” responds “we make holiday to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph.”  The tribunes rhetorically ask the cobbler “Wherefore rejoice?  What conquest brings he home?” 

The tribunes are truly irritated with the way the gullible public, in their view, unjustifiably worships Caesar, whose “triumph” as he returns to Rome is that he has killed Pompey’s sons, his prospective adversaries. The young men’s father (Pompey the Great) had been a hero to the Roman plebeians. (History, Act 1, Scene 1) The tribunes have a point. 

Caesar soon enters stage central with his entourage.  It’s here where a soothsayer, who is off to the side of the street, famously warns Caesar to “Beware the ides of March.” Caesar dismisses him and his comment saying “He is a dreamer. Let us leave him.” Watching Caesar’s passing parade, Cassius and Brutus talk of the political climate in Rome, both of them displeased with current trends, their thoughts matching those of the tribunes.  For among other reasons they are worried that the Roman senate may soon crown Caesar as Rome’s king. (History, Act 1, Scene 2) Seeing Cassius, Caesar prophetically says to Mark Antony, his key aide “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look.  He thinks too much.  Such men are dangerous.”  Antony responds “Fear him not, Caesar; he’s not dangerous.”  Caesar then says, “Would he were fatter!  But I fear him not.”  Brutus is recognized as a major Roman statesman and Cassius is his brother-in-law, and no light-weight himself. (Jealousy, Act 1, Scene 2)

Shakespeare has Cassius quietly begin the process of organizing a group of men in his effort to plot against Caesar, having been Caesar’s friend since childhood, but passionately feeling that Caesar is overrated.  He may be jealous of Caesar’s political success, but he does say “I had as lief not be as live to be in awe of such a thing as I myself.”  Saying to his friend Casca “Will you dine with me tomorrow,” Cassius lets us know that he plans to enlist Casca to his cause; Casca to be an early recruit in his plans to assassinate Caesar.

A strong storm strikes Rome and Casca is frightened, believing “mighty gods by tokens send such dreadful heralds to astonish us.” (Counsel, Act 1, Scene 3) It’s here where Cassius indirectly and delicately persuades Casca, Casca being a little slow on the uptake, to join his cause, Casca finally saying “’Tis Caesar that you mean, is it not, Cassius?”  (Insight, Act 1, Scene 3) The two of them quickly get Cinna to join their now common cause, Cinna saying “O Cassius, if you could but win the noble Brutus to our party.” Brutus is widely recognized as a leading statesman in Rome.  They all agree that they must get Brutus onboard if they are to make this conspiracy work.  Cassius, quite the talented promoter-organizer, arranges for his collected group of men to meet with Brutus for a late-night session in Brutus’ home. (Introspection, Act 2, Scene 1)

Following Cassius’ persuasive sales pitch, independent Brutus, who keeps his own counsel, agrees to join the Conspirators’ cause. (Persuasion, Act 2, Scene 1) But Portia, Brutus’ wife, overhearing some of what the men had to say and frightened for her husband and for Rome, says “Dear my lord, make me acquainted with your cause of grief” and “Within the bonds of marriage, is it excepted I should know no secrets that appertain to you?” (Wife to Husband, Act 2, Scene 1) Cassius may be the better organizer and the better persuader, but Brutus, through force of personality, controls the agenda.  Assassination plans develop quickly, Decius telling his fellow Conspirators that he will make sure Caesar is on the Senate steps in the morning.

Meanwhile, Caesar, unable to sleep very well, is up often during the very stormy night. His wife, with thoughts similar to Casca’s, fears the gods are sending a message.  Separately, Artemidorus, a rhetoric teacher and friend of some of the conspirators, has a letter hand delivered to Caesar, warning him that “There is but one mind in all these men, and it is bent against Caesar.”  For a number of reasons, including the warnings from the Soothsayer, Artemidorus, and Caesar’s sleepless night, Calphurnia, Caesar’s wife, talks him out of going to the Senate that morning. (Husband to Wife, Act 2, Scene 2) However, Decius, a talented salesman, persuades Caesar to change his mind, to the dismay of Calphurnia. A proud Caesar leaves for the Senate, accepting the risks, knowing plans are being made to crown him king.

As Caesar works his way to the Senate, both the Soothsayer and Artemidorus vie to gain his attention.  But Caesar, not about to miss this opportunity to be crowned king, dismisses them, saying to the Soothsayer “The ides of March are come.”  The Soothsayer responds “Ay, Caesar, but not gone.”  Cozying up to Caesar, Metellus Cimber pleads for a pardon for his brother.  Brutus, Cassius, Casca and others then also draw close to Caesar, supporting Metellus Cimber’s cause.  Caesar denies the request.  Casca then stabs Caesar; the other conspirators quickly follow Casca’s lead.  Caesar dies quickly, but not before famously saying “Et tu Brute?  Then fall Caesar.” Caesar had explicitly trusted Brutus, some believing Brutus to be Caesar’s illegitimate son. When Brutus stabbed him, Caesar conceded his life.  

Most everybody there, except for the Conspirators, scatter in fear.  Antony, Caesar’s closest aide, humbly returns to the crime scene, ready to be killed, if that’s the Conspirators’ plan.  He is welcomed.  He asks to speak at Caesar’s memorial service, and Brutus grants his request.  Cassius is suspect of the thought of giving Antony a chance to provide a eulogy, but these guys didn’t challenge Brutus. (Honor, Act 3, Scene 2.1)

At the service for Caesar, Brutus is the first to speak and he speaks from the pulpit.  He makes a strong case justifying the actions of the Conspirators.  He exits. (Honor, Act 3, Scene 2.2) But then to Brutus’ ultimate undoing, Antony steps up into the pulpit and wows the crowd, speaking to the plebeians at length with warmth, charm and empathy, winning their hearts. (Persuasion, Act 3, Scene 2.1) (Persuasion, Act 3, Scene 2.2) (Persuasion, Act 3, Scene 2.3)  As the plebeians exit, carrying Caesar’s shrouded body, Octavius Caesar’s servant enters to tell Antony that Octavius (Octavius being Caesar’s nephew and adopted son) and Lepidus are waiting for him at Caesar’s home.  Antony sees it all falling into place for him. 

Antony had given the right speech at the right time, one of history’s great speeches, convincing many Romans that the Conspirators had overplayed their hand.  It was rumored that angry mobs had run Brutus and Cassius out of town.  Cinna, a mild-mannered poet, but to his misfortune having the same name as one of the conspirators, is roughed up and carried away. 

In retribution for Caesar’s assassination, the triumvirate that now rules Rome (Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus) has strong supporters who soon kill scores of senators; those they believe might have been connected to the Conspirators.  Meanwhile, Cassius and Brutus, having organized their own army, have a falling out of sorts with each other, arguing in Brutus’ tent on the battlefield at Sardis over really minor issues, Brutus claiming “You say you are a better soldier” with Cassius responding “I said an elder soldier, not a better.”  Brutus then accuses Cassius of using his position to accept bribes, and Cassius, denying none of it, resents the need to be so accused. (Disillusionment, Act 4, Scene 3)  Times are tough for both of them and both are tense.  An anxious Brutus lets us know that his wife, Portia, has just died, “Impatient of my absence, and grief that young Octavius with Mark Antony have made themselves so strong.” They apologize to each other and bury the hatchet, Brutus saying “Lucius, a bowl of wine.” (Persuasion, Act 4, Scene 3) You can’t help but like these guys, bigger than life though they are.

The battle that will determine who will lead Rome is about to begin.  Cassius’ military strategy is to wait for Antony and Octavius and their army to come to them at Sardis; Brutus’ suggesting they attack them at Philippi.  As usual, Brutus, with his persuasive and commanding presence, wins the argument. (Acceptance, Act 5, Scene 1)

That night, Caesar’s ghost visits Brutus.  Earlier in the day Cassius had seen bad omens in the flight of birds.  It’s Cassius’ birthday.  The battle on the Plains of Philippi begins.  Through flawed intelligence, Cassius believes Antony is about to overrun his position.  He takes his own life.  Separately, Brutus wins his first encounter with Octavius Caesar, but he loses the second.  As a classic Roman warrior, Brutus then takes his own life, much as did Cassius. (Capitulation, Act 5, Scene 5)  Antony enters and pays tribute in particular to Brutus, calling him “The noblest Roman of them all” and that “This was a man.”   

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