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Julius Caesar Summary and Analysis

by William Shakespeare

Act 5

Act Five, Scene One

Octavius and Antony, located on a battlefield in Philippi, have just learned that Brutus and Cassius are marching towards them. A messenger arrives and tells both generals that the enemy is so close that they must do something quickly. Antony orders Octavius to, "lead your battle softly on / Upon the left hand of the even field" (5.1.16-17). Octavius contradicts him, and decides to march on the right hand side. Antony is annoyed by this, asking, "Why do you cross me in this exigent?" (5.1.19). Octavius replies, "I do not cross you, but I will do so" (5.1.20).

Brutus and Cassius arrive at the head of their army. Octavius asks if he should give the sign of battle, and Antony says, "No, Caesar, we will answer on their charge" (5.1.24). The generals all meet and converse, but only to insult each other. Antony accuses Brutus and Cassius of being "villains," whereas Cassius tells Brutus that they would not have to listen to Antony now if he had been allowed to kill him as he originally wanted to. The men refuse to back down and are forced to return to their armies and prepare for battle.

Cassius calls Messala over and tells him that this battle is similar to the one Pompey fought and lost against Caesar. He points out that although not normally superstitious, he is upset by the fact that two eagles who accompanied the army all the way from Sardis have been replaced by crows and ravens, symbols of bad things to come. He ends his speech by stating, "Our army lies ready to give the ghost" (5.1.88).

Cassius then talks to Brutus and asks him what he will do if they should lose the battle. Brutus rejects suicide, but also tells Cassius that he will never be dragged through the streets of Rome as a bound prisoner. The two generals say a dramatic farewell and return to their respective armies to prepare for battle.

Act Five, Scene Two

The battle begins and Brutus gives Messala orders to bring to Cassius. He tells Messala to inform Cassius that he needs to advance faster in order to catch Octavius' flank which is not fighting very well.

Act Five, Scene Three

Cassius is upset because he is afraid his men are running away from the field of battle. He tells Titinius that he personally killed his standard-bearer who was trying to run away and took up the banner himself. Titinius informs him that Brutus "gave the word too early" (5.3.5) and that his soldiers quickly started looting the enemy camp once they captured it. In the meantime, Antony's army has been able to surround Cassius.

Pindarus arrives and tells Cassius to run further away. He informs his general that the tents have been taken and are burning in the distance. Cassius sends Titinius to check on some soldiers and find out if they are his men or not, and simultaneously sends Pindarus up a hill to watch and see what happens. Pindarus misinforms him, telling him Titinius is captured and killed by the troops.

Cassius calls Pindarus back down from the hill and hands him the sword with which he stabbed Caesar. He tells Pindarus to take the sword and stab him with it. Pindarus obeys, kills Cassius on the spot, and runs away.

Titinius and Messala return to where Cassius is lying. Titinius has a wreath of laurels on his head, a sign of victory, and is telling Messala that Brutus has defeated Octavius but Antony has conquered Cassius' army. He sees Cassius on the ground and realizes that Cassius misunderstood what happened on the battle field. Titinius sends Messala to Brutus to tell him what has happened. He then turns to Cassius' body and says, "Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything" (5.3.83). Titinius then picks up Cassius' sword and kills himself.

Brutus arrives and sees the two dead bodies lying on the ground. He remarks, "Oh Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet" (5.3.93). Brutus quickly recovers from the loss of his confederate and immediately orders the soldiers to prepare for another battle, this time against Antony.

Act Five, Scene Four

Brutus appears again, still leading his troops. He tells his men to continue fighting and leaves them in the midst of battle. Cato valiantly fights but is killed. Lucillius pretends to be Brutus and challenges the soldiers, but is quickly captured. The soldiers send for Antony, thinking they have finally captured Brutus. Antony arrives and recognizes Lucillius and tells his soldiers that although they did not get Brutus, they still captured a nobleman. He orders his soldiers to continue fighting.

Act Five, Scene Five

Brutus arrives accompanied by several stragglers from his defeated army. He first asks Clitus and then Dardanius to kill him so that he will not be captured. They both refuse and stand away from him. He then asks Volumnius to kill him as a friend, but Volumnius tells him, "That's not the office for a friend, my lord" (5.5.29). At the sound of another call to battle, Brutus hastily gets up and orders his men to flee ahead of him. He keeps Strato with him, and finally convinces Strato to hold the sword while he impales himself on it.

Antony and Octavius arrive with their army. They find Brutus dead on the ground and Strato nearby. Strato informs them how Brutus died, and Antony states, "This was the noblest Roman of them all" (5.5.67). He says that of all the conspirators only Brutus believed that he was killing Caesar to uphold the Roman Republic; the others were simply jealous and power hungry. Antony continues, saying, "his life was gentle, and the elements / So mixed in him that nature might stand up / And say to all the world 'This was a man'" (5.5.74). Octavius orders the body placed in his tent and to cease fighting. The play ends with Octavius stating, "So call the field to rest, and let's away / To part the glories of this happy day" (5.5.79-80).

Analysis

For the first time in the play Octavius emerges as a new leader. It has been said that each act of the play belongs to a different man. Thus the first act belongs to Cassius, the second to Brutus, the third to Caesar, the fourth to Antony, and the last act to Octavius. When Antony orders Octavius to, "lead your battle softly on / Upon the left hand of the even field" (5.1.16-17), he is contradicted for the first time. Octavius decides to march on the right hand side instead. Antony, annoyed by this challenge to his power, asks, "Why do you cross me in this exigent?" (5.1.19). Octavius replies, "I do not cross you, but I will do so" (5.1.20). This statement also foreshadows how Octavius will eventually cross Antony by removing him from of power. By the end of Act 5, Octavius rules singly. Unlike Caesar, with whom the audience saw a personal side, Octavius is depicted as ruthless, barely human, and a politician without moral scruples or emotional conflict.

This shift in power from Antony to Octavius is signified through the use of names. Up until the point where Octavius challenges Antony, he is referred to as "young Octavius". Only after Octavius asserts his authority is he referred to without the demeaning modifier. After asking Antony if he should give the sign of battle, Antony replies to Octavius, "No, Caesar, we will answer on their charge" (5.1.24). For the first time, Octavius is called only "Caesar", and for the rest of the play is referred to similarly, even by Cassius.

The omens first seen in Act 1 reappear here as well. In fact, Cassius is so overwhelmed by the omens that he compares this battle to the one that Pompey fought and lost. Cassius speaks of the noble eagles being replaced by kites and ravens, a change considered to be a very bad sign. This superstition leads him to believe that he will lose the battle, and he remarks, "Our army lies ready to give the ghost" (5.1.88). The ghost, of course, is that of Caesar, whose presence and memory is the reason for battle.

The deaths of Cassius and Brutus demonstrate that Caesar, even in death, is as strong as ever. His spirit dominates in the battle. Cassius' last words are, "Caesar, thou art revenged, / Even with the sword that killed thee" (5.3.44-45). Brutus also invokes the image of Caesar, not only when dying, but also when he sees Cassius dead on the ground. He says, "Oh Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet" (5.3.93). As he commits suicide he again mentions Caesar, saying, "Caesar, now be still. / I killed not thee with half so good a will." (5.5.50-51).

Titinius, when he discovers Cassius, recalls the words of Cicero in the beginning about men construing the plot as they saw fit. He speaks to Cassius and says, "Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything" (5.3.83). This remark, meant to imply that Cassius killed himself because he was too quick to assume defeat, also is a comment on the fact that Cassius killed Caesar. It can easily be interpreted as stating that Cassius misconstrued the facts about Caesar, allowing him to convince Brutus to join the conspirators through his plots. This further implies that even the necessity of killing Caesar was misconstrued, thus giving it a literal meaning, "thou hast misconstrued everything."

At Brutus' death, Strato comments, "For Brutus only overcame himself" (5.5.56). This represents the fact that for Brutus this play is a tragedy, a play about dealing with the internal struggle of whether to support Caesar as a friend or kill him as a dictator. It is this internal struggle which causes the civil war between Brutus and Antony, and the deaths of so many Romans.

Brutus' inability to overcome his internal struggle allows Antony to say, "This was the noblest Roman of them all" (5.5.67). He is implying that only Brutus really believed that he was killing Caesar to uphold the Roman Republic. However, the audienve must remember how easily Cassius manipulated Brutus into murdering Caesar. Despite his seeming eagerness to achieve power, Brutus is the only conspirator to maintain his humanity and dignity throughout the play. He stands as a symbol of honor against the dishonorable Cassius who lies, manipulates, and wishes to take bribes, and Brutus' rhetoric implies that he would never have killed Caesar except to defend the Roman Republic. Thus Antony continues his epilogue for Brutus, saying, "his life was gentle, and the elements / So mixed in him that nature might stand up / And say to all the world 'This was a man'" (5.5.74)

Brutus' tragic ending is, however, mirrored by the ascension of Octavius. Thus, the play's conclusion combines the sad defeat of the "noblest Roman" with the victorious emergence of a new Caesar. It is therefore Octavius, not Antony, who ends the play with the lines, "So call the field to rest, and let's away / To part the glories of this happy day" (5.5.79-80). Happy is hardly the words the audience would use to describe what has taken place. Yet, for Octavius, this is the day that begins his rule over Rome and is worthy of celebration.

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