Julius Caesar

Summary and Analysis of Act 3

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Act Three, Scene One

Caesar is headed to the Senate House with all of the conspirators surrounding him. He sees the soothsayer and tells the man that the ides of March have come. The soothsayer responds with, "Ay, Caesar, but not gone" (3.1.2). However, Caesar is not concerned and continues to the Senate. Next Artemidorus attempts to hand Caesar his letter, explaining its contents affect him personally, but Decius responds quickly, telling Caesar the Trebonius has a document for him to read instead. Caesar tells Artemidorus that, "What touches us ourself shall be last served" (3.1.7).

As they approach the Senate House, Trebonius manages to pull Mark Antony aside and away from Caesar, thus making him more vulnerable to attack. Caesar takes his seat in the Senate and proceeds to allow Metellus Cimber to petition him. The man throws himself down at Caesar's feet begging for his brother's release from banishment, but is ordered to stand. Caesar tells him that fawning will not win him any favors, and that, "Know Caesar doth not wrong but with just cause" (3.1.47). At this Brutus comes forward, to Caesar's great surprise, and pleads for the man's brother. Cassius soon joins him. Caesar tells them his decision is, "constant as the Northern Star" and that he will not remove the banishment. Cinna approaches and Caesar tells him, "Hence! wilt thou lift up Olympus?" (3.1.73). Decius and Ligarius come forward and kneel before him as well. Finally Casca also kneels and says, "Speak hands for me" (3.1.76), and stabs Caesar. All the conspirators continue to stab him as he falls saying, "Et tu, Brute? - Then fall Caesar" (3.1.77).

Cinna immediately starts crying out, "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" (3.1.78) The other senators all run out of the Senate House in confusion while the conspirators stay together to protect themselves. Brutus finally tells them to,

"Stoop, Romans, stoop.

And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood

Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords;

Then walk we forth even to the marketplace,

And, waving our red weapons o'er our heads,

Let's all cry out 'peace, freedom, and liberty!'" (3.1.106-111).

Cassius continues this exultation of their deed, saying, "How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!" (3.1.112-114). Cassius further adds that they will be known as, "The men that gave their country liberty" (3.1.118).

The servant of Mark Antony arrives and falls prostrate before Brutus, telling Brutus that Antony wishes to meet with him to learn why Caesar had to die. Brutus promises Antony will not be harmed and tells the servant to bring him. Cassius tells Brutus that he still has misgivings about Antony even though he has promised to not hurt him.

Antony arrives and laments the death of Caesar, begging the murderers, specifically Brutus, to explain why Caesar had to be killed. Brutus tells him that Caesar was destroying the republic and had to be removed from power. Antony pretends to be convinced by this and asks the conspirators to, "Let each man render me his bloody hand" (3.1.185). He then shakes hands with each of them, naming them as he faces each man. The last hand he takes is that of Trebonius, who actually did not commit the murder, but distracted Mark Antony so he would not be able to protect Caesar.

Antony quickly recants his agreement with the murderers, and tells Cassius that he almost joined them after shaking their hands, was swayed at the sight of Caesar's body. He asks them if he may have permission to take the body to the marketplace and show it to the crowds. Brutus gives him permission to do this, but Cassius warns, "You know not what you do. Do not consent / That Antony speak in his funeral. / Know you how much the people may be moved / By that which he will utter?" (3.1.234-237). As a compromise, Brutus decides to give his speech first, and to allow Antony to speak afterwards, provided that Antony only says positive things about the conspirators. Antony agrees.

Left alone with the body of Caesar, Antony says, "O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth / That I am meek and gentle with these butcher" (3.1.257-258). He continues, becoming ever more violent in his speech, "Domestic fury and fierce civil strife / Shall cumber all the parts of Italy" (3.1.266-267). A servant sent from Octavius Caesar arrives and sees the body. Antony tells him to stay for the funeral eulogies in the marketplace and report back to Octavius on the state of affairs in Rome. Together they carry out Caesar's body.

Act Three, Scene Two

Brutus and Cassius tell the plebeians to follow them in order to hear an explanation for the murder. They split the multitude into two parties and Cassius leaves to speak to one group while Brutus speaks to the other. Brutus tells the masses that he loved Caesar more than any of them, but that he killed Caesar because he loved Rome more. He says, "As Caesar loved me, I weep for him. As he was fortunate, I rejoice at it. As he was valiant, I honor him. But as he was ambitious, I slew him" (3.2.23-25). Brutus then asks them if they wish him to die for his actions, to which the crowd replies, "Live, Brutus, live, live!" (3.2.44). Lastly, he begs them listen to Mark Antony and to let him depart alone. Thus, he leaves Mark Antony alone to give his oration.

Antony's speech begins with the famous lines, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" (3.2.70). His speech continually praises Brutus as "an honourable man" who has killed Caesar for being ambitious yet also describes Caesar as the most honorable and generous of men. In this way, Antony appears to praise his friend while respecting the men who murdered him, when in fact, Antony is inciting hte crowd against Brutus, Cassius and the conspirators.

The plebeians are easily swayed and conclude that Caesar was not ambitious, and was wrongly murdered. Next, after the plebeians beg, Antony reads Caesar's will after descending into the masses and standing next to Caesar's body. He shows them the stab wounds and names the conspirators who gave Caesar the wounds. The crowd starts to surge away in anarchy, crying, "Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay!" (3.2.196). Antony stops them and finally reads the will, in which Caesar has given every Roman citizen seventy-five drachmas and the freedom to roam his land. The plebeians react in a frenzy of anger against the men who killed Caesar, and carry away the body. Antony says, "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. / Take thou what course thou wilt" (3.2.248-249). The servant of Octavius arrives and tells Antony that Octavius is already in Rome and is waiting for him at Caesar's house.

Act Three, Scene Three

Cinna the poet (not Cinna the conspirator) is unable to sleep that night and wanders through the streets of Rome. Some plebeians find him and demand to know who he is and what he is doing on the street. He tells them that he is going to Caesar's funeral as a friend of Caesar. When they ask him his name, he tells them Cinna, at which the plebeians cry, "Tear him to pieces! He's a conspirator" (3.3.27). Cinna responds by saying, "I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet" (3.3.28), but they attack him anyway and carry him away.

Analysis

The images of Caesar throughout the play are those of constancy and greatness. Caesar himself exclaims, "But I am constant as the northern star" (3.1.60), "Hence! wilt thou lift up Olympus?" (3.1.73). Cassius even angrily compares Caesar to the Colossus, saying, "Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world / Like a Colossus, and we petty men / Walk under his huge legs and peep about" (1.2.136-138). Thus when Caesar falls, the world falls into chaos. There is no one able to replace Caesar's power immediately after his death, and so anarchy reigns until Octavius eventually seizes power in the final lines of the play.

Caesar's greatest flaw is his refusal to acknowledge his mortality. Often referring to himself in the third person, he develops a sense of greatness and godliness that distracts him from taking appropriate precautions. Artemidorus tries to hand him a note warning him about the dangers of the conspirators, but Caesar refuses because Artemidorus informs him that the note is personal. "What touches us ourself shall be last served" (3.1.7).

The moments immediately following Caesar's death are highly ironic, as the murderers cry out, "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!" (3.1.78) They have committed an extralegal act and yet now cry out in the name of liberty. Next, they dip their hands in Caesar's blood:

"Stoop, Romans, stoop.

And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood

Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords;

Then walk we forth even to the marketplace,

And, waving our red weapons o'er our heads,

Let's all cry out 'peace, freedom, and liberty!'" (3.1.106-111).

Cassius remarks, "How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, / In states unborn and accents yet unknown!" (3.1.112-114). These lines, alluding to Shakespeare's retelling of Julius Caesar's story, were used even during the French Revolution, due to their simultaneous expression of grotesque death and the rallying cry of "peace, freedom, and liberty!". Brutus and the other conspirators fail to grasp the hypocrisy of their actions.

Mark Antony does not believe the conspirators are justified in crying "peace", and is the first to condemn their actions. When Antony states, "Let each man render me his bloody hand" (3.1.185), he is marking them for revenge rather than celebrating their actions. Even Trebonius, who did not stab Caesar, but prevented Antony from protecting him, is marked by Antony. Antony shakes hands with Trebonius last, transferring Caesar's blood, collected from his previous handshakes, to his clean hands.

At this moment, Antony symbolizes anarchy, blaming the conspirators and marking them for revenge. He shows his taste for chaos when finally left alone with Caesar, saying, "O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth / That I am meek and gentle with these butchers" (3.1.257-258). His final words indicate his goals, stating, "Domestic fury and fierce civil strife / Shall cumber all the parts of Italy" (3.1.266-267).

Indeed, Anarchy does rule by the final scene of Act III, in which innocent Cinna the poet is killed because his namesake was one of the murderers. This scene, in which the plebeians are unwilling to listen to Cinna, expresses the death of not only order but also of literature and reason. Cinna cries out, "I am Cinna the Poet" (3.3.28), at which the crowd simply changes its charges against him to, "Tear him for his bad verses" (3.3.29). The death of Cinna is an attack on men of words and literature, and marks the first time a poet, often an icon of political rebellion, is ignored. Later on in the play, a poet tries to separate Brutus and Cassius during a great argument, but is ignored and sent away. Perhaps, with these examples, Shakespeare is asking the audience to give more weight to the work of poets and writers in the affairs of the world.

Critics often point out Brutus' tactical errors which lead to his eventual loss. Brutus' first grave mistake is allowing Mark Antony to live. However, his greatest mistake is allowing Antony to speak to the crowds. Cassius' fears are justified when Antony turns the crowd against the conspirators. Furthermore, Brutus leaves Antony alone with the crowd, thereby losing all control of the situation.

Antony realizes the nature of the people he is dealing with, and tells the crowd, "You are not wood, you are not stones, but men" (3.2.139). This contrasts with Murellus in the very first scene who calls the crowd, "You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things" (1.1.34). Antony is able to influence the crowd because he flatters them and uses repetition and poetry to drive his points home. With this careful manipulation, Antony overcomes Brutus, who instead addressed the crowd in prose, syllogisms and logic. However, although a powerful speaker, Antony relies on Caesar's body and will to win the crowd over. Thus, the audience sees the continual influence Caesar maintains over events, even after his death. Antony says that he would, "put a tongue / In every wound of Caesar that should move / The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny" (3.2.219-221).