Julius Caesar Summary and Analysis

Act 2

Buy Study Guide

Act Two, Scene One

Brutus is in his garden and has decided that Caesar must be killed. His reasons for reaching this conclusion are that Caesar is abusing his power and that has ascended far too quickly. Lucius, Brutus' servant, brings him a letter (planted by Cassius) he has found in Brutus' private room. The first line of the letter reads, "Brutus, thou sleep'st. Awake, and see thyself" (2.1.46). Brutus interprets the letter as if it were a request from all of Rome to slay Caesar and restore the republic.

Brutus then asks Lucius what day it is, and he informs his master that it is the ides of March, or March 15th. A knock sounds on the door and Lucius leaves to answer it. Alone, Brutus states he has not slept since Cassius first incited him against Caesar.

Cassius, Casca, Decius, Cinna, Metellus and Trebonius, all of them conspirators against Caesar, have arrived at Brutus' home. Brutus invites them in and Cassius takes him aside. Soon Brutus rejoins the group of men and shakes all their hands, agreeing to join them in their murderous quest. The men then discuss whether they should invite Cicero, the great orator, to join their plot, but Brutus convinces them against it. Cassius states Mark Antony should be killed along with Caesar, but again Brutus is against the plan, fearing they will be perceived as too bloody.

The group plans to commit Caesar's murder at the Senate at eight o'clock that morning (it is only three in the morning at this point). However, they are worried that Caesar will not attend the Senate because he has become increasingly superstitious over the past few months. Decius tells the group that he knows how to flatter Caesar, and assures them he will convince Caesar to go to the Senate. Cassius and his followers then depart, leaving Brutus alone.

Brutus' wife Portia arrives and tells him he has left her bed and given her unkind looks. She begs him to tell her why he is so upset. He lies, telling her he is sick, to which she responds that it appears to be a sickness of the mind, not of the body. A strong woman of brave lineage, she again begs him to tell her what is wrong, asking him, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, / Being so fathered and so husbanded?" (2.1.295-6). She then stabs herself in the thigh as proof of her courage. Brutus finally agrees to tell her what is concerning him, but sends her away before he is able to explain, because there is another knock on the door.

Ligarius enters, pretending to be sick. He tells Brutus that he could be cured if only Brutus had a noble undertaking in mind. Brutus tells him that he does, and Ligarius pledges to follow Brutus on whatever task he leads him to.

Act Two, Scene Two

Caesar, still in his nightgown, is terrified by a dream his wife Calpurnia has had in which she cried out, "Help, ho! They murder Caesar!" He orders a servant to go to the priests and have them sacrifice an animal in order to read the entrails for predictions of the future. Calpurnia arrives and tells him that he dare not leave the house that day. Caesar acts brave and tells her that he fears nothing, and that he will die when it is necessary for him to die. The servant returns and tells him that the sacrificed animal did not have a heart, a very bad omen. Caesar insists on misinterpreting the omens, but Calpurnia begs him to blame her for his absence from the Senate, to which he finally agrees.

However, Decius soon arrives to fetch Caesar to the Senate House. Caesar tells him to inform the Senate that he will not come this day. Decius claims that he will be mocked if he cannot provide a good reason for Caesar's absence. Caesar then tells Decius about Calpurnia's dream, to which Decius replies that the dream was misinterpreted. The fountains of blood pouring from Caesar's body that Calpurnia saw reflected the new life Caesar is giving to Rome, not his death. Decius overwhelms Caesar's resistance by asking him if the Senate should dissolve until a better time when Calpurnia has more favorable dreams. Caesar tells Calpurnia that he was acting foolishly, and agrees to go to the Senate. Cassius and the other conspirators then arrive to accompany him to the Senate. Antony also appears and joins the group of men who then escort Caesar out of his house.

Act Two, Scene Three

Artemidorus has written Caesar a letter in which he names all of the conspirators against Caesar. He stands on a street near the Capitol and waits for Caesar to pass by on his way to the Senate so that he can hand Caesar the note.

Act Two, Scene Four

Portia orders the servant Lucius to go to the Senate House. He asks her what he should do there, but she is so distracted that she is unable to tell him the purpose. She remarks to the audience, "I have a man's mind, but a woman's might. / How hard it is for women to keep counsel!" (2.4.7-8). She is alluding to the fact that she knows what Brutus is planning to do to Caesar, and is unwilling to keep it a secret. The soothsayer who previously warned Caesar sees her and speaks with her, informing Portia that he will try to once again warn Caesar about his fate.

Analysis

Throughout the play, Brutus alone suffers from a lack of sleep. Brutus says that, "Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar / I have not slept" (2.1.61) He adds to this that his mind, "Like to a little kingdom, suffers then / The nature of an insurrection" (2.1.68-9). His insomnia represents an internal struggle over whether to betray his friend or act in what he believes to be the best interests of Rome. His personal struggle is a microcosm for the civil war that eventually occurs. In 4.3 Brutus again suffers from a bout of insomnia during which he encounters Caesar's ghost.

Women are marginalized in Julius Caesar. Portia and Calpurnia are the women in the play, and are confined to the domestic household. However, there are important differences between them. Portia is the first of the two to appear, and she struggles to convince Brutus that she is worthy of his confidence. She first kneels, begging him to share his secrets, and then stands up dramatically, stating, "Think you I am no stronger than my sex, / Being so fathered and so husbanded?" (2.1.295-6), and stabs herself in the thigh to prove her strength. Brutus capitulates to Portia, acknowledging her strength. In contrast, Caesar ignores and spurns his wife Calpurnia's warnings against attending Senate. At first, her dream of his death keeps him home, but Decius is able to convince him tha this wife is silly in her concern. Clearly, Calpurnia is not as powerful a woman as Portia. However, both women go to extreme actions to attempt to sway their husbands.

Ironically, Calpurnia's dream of a Caesar statue bleeding from a hundred holes with which Romans bath their hands, is an accurate prediction of Caesar's death, which occurs in the Act 3. Decius first mocks the dream, saying, "Bring up the Senate till another time, / When Caesar's wife shall meet with better dreams" 2.2.98-99). He then brilliantly creates an alternate interpretation of the dream, saying, "Your statue spouting blood in many pipes, / In which so many smiling Romans bathed, / Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck / Reviving blood" (2.2.85-88).

Brutus, contrary to the way he tries to present himself, is a vain man, easily manipulated by Cassius. Cassius first compares Brutus to Caesar by comparing their names, and subsequently tells Brutus he represents the best qualities of Caesar without the flaws. Next, Cassius drafts letters to Brutus which he has Cinna deliver by tossing them through the window or leaving them where Brutus will find them. Brutus' fatal flaw is revealed when he interprets the first letter he receives according to his personal bias. Thus, like Malvolio in Twelfth Night, Brutus misconstrues the letter's meaning to fulfill his desire for power.

"Give me much light that I may read by them.

[He] opens the letter and reads

'Brutus, thou sleep'st. Awake, and see thyself.

Shall Rome, et cetera? Speak, strike, redress.'

'Brutus, thou sleep'st. Awake.'

Such instigations have been often dropped

Where I have took them up.

'Shall Rome, et cetera?' Thus must I piece it out:

Shall Rome stand under one man's awe? What, Rome?

'Speak, strike, redress.' Am I entreated

To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise,

If the redress will follow, thou receivest

Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus."

Brutus is so focused on his inner turmoil that when he reads the letter, he fills in the blanks with, "Shall Rome stand under one man's awe?" He further misunderstands the letter by attributing it to Rome, as if this were a call from the people rather than a note written by Cassius. Brutus has been looking for a reason to act, and the letter provides that stimulation. To this point, Brutus has hesitated to act against Caesar because he feels that needs the support of the Roman citizenry. However, the letter, which he believes to be from Roman citizens, provides him with an excuse to act.

Brutus' greatest error is in through the murder wanting to uphold the republic while simultaneously breaking the fundamental rules of the republic. He tells Cassius:

Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.

We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar;

And in the spirit of men there is no blood:

O, that we then could come by Caesar's spirit,

And not dismember Caesar! But, alas,

Caesar must bleed for it! And, gentle friends,

Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;

Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,

Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds:

And let our hearts, as subtle masters do,

Stir up their servants to an act of rage,

And after seem to chide 'em. This shall make

Our purpose necessary and not envious:

Which so appearing to the common eyes,

We shall be call'd purgers, not murderers.

Yet "murderers" is exactly what Antony will call the conspirators. Brutus falsely tries to divide the indivisible by pretending killing Caesar is not murder, when it clearly is.

Caesar's greatest achievement is his ability to outlive his mortal death. He alludes to this through his use of the third person: "Caesar should be a beast without a heart" (2.2.42), "And Caesar shall go forth" (2.2.48). This contrasts with Brutus' use of "I", and his eventual defeat:

"That you do love me I am nothing jealous.

What you would work me to I have some aim.

How I have thought of this and of these times

I shall recount hereafter. For this present,

I would not, so with love I might entreat you"

Caesar's use of the third person creates a sense of permanence, as do the images Caesar involes of Mount Olympus and the Colassus. These references foreshadow the power Caesar will continue to hold, even after his death.