From Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.
orchard. Shakespeare generally uses 'orchard' in its
original sense of 'garden' (literally 'herb-garden,'
1.What: A common exclamation frequent in Shakespeare.
So in V, iii, 72. The 'when' of l. 5 shows increasing
10. Brutus has been casting about on all sides to find
some means to prevent Cæsar's being king, and here admits that
it can be done only by killing him. Thus the soliloquy opens
in just the right way to throw us back upon his antecedent
meditations. In expression and in feeling it anticipates
Hamlet, III, i, 56-88. From now onwards the speeches of
Brutus strangely adumbrate those of Hamlet.
12.the general: the general public, the community at
large. Cf. Hamlet, II, ii, 457, "pleas'd not the million; 't
was caviare to the general." See III, ii, 89, and V, v,
14. The sunshine of royalty will kindle the serpent in
Cæsar. The figure in 32-34 suggests that 'bring forth' may
here mean 'hatch.'
17.do danger with: do mischief with, prove dangerous.
Cf. Romeo and Juliet, V, ii, 20: "neglecting it May do much
19.Remorse: Constantly in Shakespeare 'remorse' is
used for 'pity' or 'compassion.' Here it seems to mean
something more, 'conscience,' 'conscientiousness.' So in
Othello, III, iii, 468:
Let him command,
And to obey shall be in me remorse,
What bloody business ever.
The possession of dictatorial power is apt to stifle or sear
the conscience, so as to make a man literally remorseless.
21.proof: experience. So in Twelfth Night, III, i,
23. Warburton put a hyphen between 'climber' and
'upward.' Delius, however, would connect 'upward' with
'whereto' and 'turns.'
26.: base degrees: lower steps. 'Degrees' is here used
in its original, literal sense for the rounds, or steps, of
28: prevent: anticipate.--quarrel: cause of
29-34.colour: pretext, plausible appearance. The
general meaning of this somewhat obscure passage is, Since we
have no show or pretext of a cause, no assignable ground or
apparent ground of complaint, against Cæsar, in what he is, or
in anything he has yet done, let us assume that the further
addition of a crown will quite upset his nature, and
metamorphose him into a serpent. The strain of casuistry used
in this speech is very remarkable. Coleridge found it
perplexing. On the supposition that Shakespeare meant Brutus
for a wise and good man, the speech seems unintelligible. But
Shakespeare must have regarded him simply as a well-meaning
but conceited and shallow idealist; and such men are always
cheating and puffing themselves with the thinnest of sophisms,
feeding on air and conceiving themselves inspired, or
"mistaking the giddiness of the head for the illumination of
40. The Folio reading 'first of March' cannot be right
chronologically, though it is undoubtedly what Shakespeare
wrote, for in Plutarch, Marcus Brutus, he read: "Cassius
asked him if he were determined to be in the Senate-house the
first day of the month of March, because he heard say that
Cæsar's friends should move the Council that day that Cæsar
should be called king by the Senate." This inconsistency is
not without parallels in Shakespeare. Cf. the "four strangers"
in The Merchant of Venice, I, ii, 135, when six have been
mentioned. In Scott, too, are many such inconsistencies.
44.exhalations: meteors. In Plutarch's Opinions of
Philosophers, Holland's translation, is this passage
(spelling modernized): "Aristotle supposeth that all these
meteors come of a dry exhalation, which, being gotten enclosed
within a moist cloud, seeketh means, and striveth forcibly to
get forth." Shakespeare uses 'meteor' repeatedly in the same
way. So in Romeo and Juliet, III, v, 13.
48. The Folios give this line as it is here. Some
editors arrange it as the beginning of the letter repeated
ponderingly by Brutus.
49-50. See quotation from Plutarch in note, p. 40, l.
59.fifteen: This, the Folio reading, is undoubtedly
correct. Lines 103-104 and 192-193 show that it is past
midnight, and Lucius is including in his computation the dawn
of the fifteenth day, a natural thing for any one to do,
especially a Roman.
64.motion: prompting of impulse. Cf. King John, IV,
65.phantasma: a vision of things that are not.
"Shakespeare seems to use it ('phantasma') in this passage in
the sense of nightmare, which it bears in Italian."--Clar.
What Brutus says here is in the very spirit of Hamlet's
speeches. Cf. also the King's speech to Laertes, Hamlet, IV,
vii, 115-124, and Macbeth, I, vii, 1-28.
66. Commentators differ about 'Genius' here; some taking
it for the 'conscience,' others for the 'anti-conscience.'
Shakespeare uses 'genius,' 'spirit,' and 'demon,' as
synonymous, and all three, apparently, both in a good sense
and in a bad, as every man was supposed to have a good and a
bad angel. So, in this play, IV, iii, 282, we have "thy evil
spirit"; in The Tempest, IV, i, 27, "our worser genius"; in
Troilus and Cressida, IV, iv, 52, "some say the Genius so
Cries 'come' to him that instantly must die"; in Antony and
Cleopatra, II, iii, 19, "Thy demon, that's thy spirit which
keeps thee"; where, as often, 'keeps' is 'guards.' In these
and some other cases the words have some epithet or context
that determines their meaning, but not so with 'Genius' in the
text. But, in all such cases, the words indicate the directive
power of the mind. And so we often speak of a man's 'better
self,' or a man's 'worser self,' according as one is in fact
directed or drawn to good or to evil.--The sense of 'mortal'
here is also somewhat in question. Shakespeare sometimes uses
it for 'perishable,' or that which dies; but oftener for
'deadly,' or that which kills. 'Mortal instruments' may well
be held to mean what Macbeth refers to when he says, "I'm
settled, and bend up Each corporal agent to this terrible
feat."--As Brutus is speaking with reference to his own case,
he probably intends 'Genius' in a good sense, for the
spiritual or immortal part of himself. If so, then he would
naturally mean by 'mortal' his perishable part, or his
ministerial faculties, which shrink from executing what the
directing power is urging them to. The late Professor Ferrier
of St. Andrews seems to take a somewhat different view of the
passage. He says, "In this speech of Brutus, Shakespeare gives
a fine description of the unsettled state of the mind when the
will is hesitating about the perpetration of a great crime,
and when the passions are threatening to overpower, and
eventually do overpower, the reason and the conscience."
67-69. Cf. I, ii, 39-47; Macbeth, I, iii, 137-142.
70: brother: Cassius was married to Junia, the sister
72.moe: more. The old comparative of 'many.' In
Middle English 'moe,' or 'mo,' was used of number and with
collective nouns; 'more' had reference specifically to size.
73. Pope was evidently so disgusted with Shakespeare's
tendency to dress his Romans like Elizabethans, that in his
two editions he omits 'hats' altogether, indicating the
omission by a dash!
76.favour: countenance. So in I, ii, 91; I, iii,
79.evils: evil things. So in Lucrece, l. 1250, we
have 'cave-keeping evils.' The line in the text means, When
crimes and mischiefs, and evil and mischievous men, are most
free from the restraints of law or of shame. So Hamlet speaks
of night as the time "when hell itself breathes out Contagion
to this world." Cf. l. 265.
83.path: take thy way. Drayton employs 'path' as a
verb, both transitively and intransitively, literally and
figuratively, in England's Heroicall Epistles (1597-1598).
The verb seems to have been in use from the fourteenth century
to the close of the seventeenth.
84.Erebus: the region of nether darkness between
Earth and Hades. Cf. The Merchant of Venice, V, i, 87: "dark
85.prevention: discovery, anticipation. This, the
original sense, would lead to 'prevention,' as the term is
101-111. This little side-talk on a theme so different
from the main one of the scene, is finely conceived, and aptly
marks the men as seeking to divert anxious thoughts of the
moment by any casual chat. It also serves the double purpose
of showing that they are not listening, and of preventing
suspicion if any were listening to them. In itself it is
thoroughly Shakespearian; and the description of the
dawn-light flecking the clouds takes high place among
Shakespeare's great sky pictures.
104.fret: "mark with interlacing lines like
fretwork."--Clar. There are two distinct verbs spelled 'fret,'
one meaning 'to eat away,' the other 'to ornament.' See Skeat.
In Hamlet, II, ii, 313, we have "this majestical roof
fretted with golden fire."
107.growing on: encroaching upon, tending towards.
108.Weighing: if you take into consideration.
110.high: full, perfect. Cf. 'high day,' 'high noon,'
112.all over: one after the other until all have been
114.No, not an oath: This is based on Plutarch's
statement in Marcus Brutus: "Furthermore, the only name and
great calling of Brutus did bring on the most of them to give
consent to this conspiracy: who having never taken oaths
together, nor taken or given any caution or assurance, nor
binding themselves one to another by any religious oaths, they
all kept the matter so secret to themselves, and could so
cunningly handle it, that notwithstanding the gods did reveal
it by manifest signs and tokens from above, and by predictions
of sacrifices, yet all this would not be believed."--if not
the face of men. This means, probably, the shame and
self-reproach with which Romans must now look each other in
the face under the consciousness of having fallen away from
the republican spirit of their forefathers. The change in the
construction of the sentence gives it a more colloquial cast,
without causing any real obscurity. Modern editors have
offered strange substitutes for 'face' here,--'faith,'
'faiths,' 'fate,' 'fears,' 'yoke,' etc.
115.sufferance: suffering. So in Measure for
Measure, III, i, 80; Coriolanus, I, i, 22. In I, iii, 84,
'sufferance' is used in its ordinary modern sense.--the
time's abuse: the miserable condition of things in the
present. Such 'time's abuse' in his own day Shakespeare
describes in detail in Sonnets, LXVI.
118-119. Brutus seems to have in mind the capriciousness
of a high-looking and heaven-daring Oriental tyranny, where
men's lives hung upon the nod and whim of the tyrant, as on
the hazards of a lottery.
123.What need we: why need we. So in Antony and
Cleopatra, V, ii, 317; Titus Andronicus, I, i, 189. Cf.
Mark, xiv, 63.
125.secret Romans: Romans who had promised secrecy.
126.palter: equivocate, quibble. The idea is of
shuffling as in making a promise with what is called a "mental
reservation." "Palter with us in a double sense" is the famous
expression in Macbeth, V, viii, 20, and it brings out
clearly the meaning implicit in the term.
129.cautelous: deceitful. The original meaning is
'wary,' 'circumspect.' It is the older English adjective for
'cautious.' "The transition from caution to suspicion, and
from suspicion to craft and deceit, is not very
abrupt."--Clar. Cf. 'cautel' in Hamlet, I, iii, 5.
130.carrions: carcasses, men as good as dead.
133.The even virtue: the virtue that holds an equable
and uniform tenor, always keeping the same high level. Cf.
Henry VIII, III, i, 37.]
134.insuppressive: not to be suppressed. The active
form with the passive sense. Cf. 'unexpressive,' in As You
Like It, III, ii, 10.
135.To think: by thinking. The infinitive used
145.opinion: reputation. So in The Merchant of
Venice, I, i, 91.
150.break with him: broach the matter to him. This
bit of dialogue is very charming. Brutus knows full well that
Cicero is not the man to take a subordinate position; that if
he have anything to do with the enterprise it must be as the
leader of it; and that is just what Brutus wants to be
himself. Merivale thinks it a great honor to Cicero that the
conspirators did not venture to propose the matter to him. In
Plutarch, Marcus Brutus, the attitude of the conspirators to
Cicero is described thus: "For this cause they durst not
acquaint Cicero with their conspiracy, although he was a man
whom they loved dearly and trusted best; for they were afraid
that he, being a coward by nature, and age also having
increased his fear, he would quite turn and alter all their
purpose, and quench the heat of their enterprise (the which
specially required hot and earnest execution), seeking by
persuasion to bring all things to such safety, as there should
be no peril."
164.envy: malice. Commonly so in Shakespeare, as in
The Merchant of Venice, IV, i, 10. So 'envious' in the sense
of 'malicious' in l. 178.
175-177. So the king proceeds with Hubert in King
John. And so men often proceed when they wish to have a thing
done, and to shirk the responsibility; setting it on by dark
hints and allusions, and then, after it is done, affecting to
blame or to scold the doers of it.
180.purgers: healers, cleansers of the land from
187. 'Think and die,' as in Antony and Cleopatra, III,
xiii, 1, seems to have been a proverbial expression meaning
'grieve oneself to death'; and it would be much indeed, a very
wonderful thing, if Antony should fall into any killing
sorrow, such a light-hearted, jolly companion as he is. Cf.
Hamlet, III, i, 85. 'Thoughtful' (sometimes in the form
'thoughtish') is a common provincial expression for
'melancholy' in Cumberland and Roxburghshire today.
188-189. Here is Plutarch's account in Marcus
Antonius, of contemporary criticism of Antony's habits: "And
on the other side, the noblemen (as Cicero saith), did not
only mislike him, but also hate him for his naughty life: for
they did abhor his banquets and drunken feasts he made at
unseasonable times, and his extreme wasteful expenses upon
vain light huswives; and then in the daytime he would sleep or
walk out his drunkenness, thinking to wear away the fume of
the abundance of wine which he had taken over night."
190.no fear: no cause of fear. Cf. The Merchant of
Venice, II, i, 9.
192.stricken. In II, ii, 114, we have the form
'strucken.' An interesting anachronism is this matter of a
striking clock in old Rome.
198.apparent prodigies: evident portents. 'Apparent'
in this sense of 'plainly manifest,' and so 'undeniable,' is
found more than once in Shakespeare. Cf. King John, IV, ii,
93; Richard II, I, i, 13.
205. Bears are said to have been caught by putting
looking-glasses in their way; they being so taken with the
images of themselves that the hunters could easily master
them. Elephants were beguiled into pitfalls, lightly covered
over with hurdles and turf.
206.toils: nets, snares. The root idea of the word is
a 'thing woven' (Cf. Spenser's 'welwoven toyles' in
Astrophel, xvii, 1), and while it seems to have primary
reference to a web or cord spread for taking prey, the old Fr.
toile sometimes means a 'stalking-horse of painted canvas.'
Shakespeare uses the word several times. Cf. Antony and
Cleopatra, V, ii, 351; Hamlet, III, ii, 362.
215.doth bear Cæsar hard: For a discussion of this
interesting expression see note, p. 29, l. 310. "Now amongst
Pompey's friends there was one called Caius Ligarius, who had
been accused unto Cæsar for taking part with Pompey, and Cæsar
discharged him. But Ligarius thanked not Cæsar so much for his
discharge, as he was offended with him for that he was brought
in danger by his tyrannical power: and therefore in his heart
he was always his mortal enemy, and was besides very familiar
with Brutus, who went to see him being sick in his bed, and
said unto him: 'Ligarius, in what a time art thou sick?'
Ligarius, rising up in his bed, and taking him by the right
hand, said unto him: 'Brutus,' said he, 'if thou hast any
great enterprise in hand, worthy of thyself, I am
whole.'"--Plutarch, Marcus Brutus.
218.by him: by his house. Make your way home that
225. Let not our looks betray our purposes by wearing,
or being attired with, any indication of them. Cf. Macbeth,
I, vii, 81.
230. The compound epithet, 'honey-heavy,' is very
expressive and apt. The 'dew of slumber' is called 'heavy'
because it makes the subject feel heavy, and 'honey-heavy,'
because the heaviness it induces is sweet. But there may be a
reference to the old belief that the bee gathered its honey
from falling dew. So in Vergil's Georgics, IV, i, we have
"the heavenly gifts of honey born in air." Brutus is naturally
led to contrast the free and easy state of the boy's mind with
that of his own, which the excitement of his present
undertaking is drawing full of visions and images of trouble.
233. Similarities and differences between this scene
with Brutus and Portia and that between Hotspur and his wife
in 1 King Henry IV, II, iii, will prove a suggestive study.
The description of the development of Portia's suspicion here
is taken directly from Plutarch. "Out of his house he (Brutus)
did so frame and fashion his countenance and looks that no man
could discern he had anything to trouble his mind. But when
night came that he was in his own house, then he was clean
changed: for either care did wake him against his will when he
would have slept, or else oftentimes of himself he fell into
such deep thoughts of this enterprise, casting in his mind all
the dangers that might happen: that his wife, lying by him,
found that there was some marvellous great matter that
troubled his mind, not being wont to be in that taking, and
that he could not well determine with himself."--Plutarch, Marcus Brutus.
250.humour: moody caprice. The word comes to have
this meaning from the theory of the old physiologists that
four cardinal humors--blood, choler or yellow bile, phlegm,
and melancholy or black bile--determine, by their conditions
and proportions, a person's physical and mental qualities. The
influence of this theory survives in the application of the
terms 'sanguine,' 'choleric,' 'phlegmatic,' and 'melancholy'
to disposition and temperament.
254.condition: disposition, temper. So in The
Merchant of Venice, I, ii, 143: "If he have the condition of
a saint and the complexion of a devil, I had rather he should
shrive me than wive me." Cf. the term 'ill-conditioned,' still
in use to describe an irascible or quarrelsome disposition. In
l. 236 'condition' refers to bodily health.
255.Dear my lord: This transposition, common in
earnest address, is due to close association of possessive
adjective and noun.
266. 'Rheumy' here means that state of the air which
causes the unhealthy issue of 'rheum,' a word which was
specially used of the fluids that issue from the eyes or
mouth. So in Hamlet, II, ii, 529, we have 'bisson rheum' for
'blinding tears.' So in A Midsummer Night's Dream, II, i,
105, Titania speaks of the moon as washing "all the air, That
rheumatic diseases do abound."
271.charm: conjure, appeal by charms. So in
Lucrece, l. 1681.
279. This speech, and that beginning with l. 291, follow
Plutarch very closely: "His wife Porcia ... was the
daughter of Cato, whom Brutus married being his cousin, not a
maiden, but a young widow after the death of her first husband
Bibulus, by whom she had also a young son called Bibulus, who
afterwards wrote a book of the acts and gests of Brutus ....
This young lady, being excellently well seen[B] in philosophy,
loving her husband well, and being of a noble courage, as she
was also wise: because she would not ask her husband what he
ailed before she had made some proof by her self: she took a
little razor, such as barbers occupy to pare men's nails, and,
causing her maids and women to go out of her chamber, gave
herself a great gash withal in her thigh, that she was
straight all of a gore blood: and incontinently after a
vehement fever took her, by reason of the pain of her wound.
Then perceiving her husband was marvellously out of quiet, and
that he could take no rest, even in her greatest pain of all
she spake in this sort unto him: 'I being, O Brutus,' said
she, 'the daughter of Cato, was married unto thee; not to be
thy bed-fellow and companion in bed and at board only, like a
harlot, but to be partaker also with thee of thy good and evil
fortune. Now for thyself, I can find no cause of fault in thee
touching our match: but for my part, how may I shew my duty
towards thee and how much I would do for thy sake; if I cannot
constantly bear a secret mischance or grief with thee, which
requireth secrecy and fidelity? I confess that a woman's wit
commonly is too weak to keep a secret safely: but yet, Brutus,
good education, and the company of virtuous men, have some
power to reform the defect of nature. And for my self, I have
this benefit moreover, that I am the daughter of Cato, and
wife of Brutus. This notwithstanding, I did not trust to any
of these things before, until that now I have found by
experience, that no pain or grief whatsoever can overcome me.'
With those words she shewed him her wound on her thigh, and
told him what she had done to prove herself. Brutus was amazed
to hear what she said unto him, and lifting up his hands to
heaven, he besought the gods to give him the grace he might
bring his enterprise to so good pass, that he might be found a
husband, worthy of so noble a wife as Porcia: so he then did
comfort her the best he could."--Marcus Brutus.
289-290. This embodies what was known about the
circulation of the blood at the close of the sixteenth
century. In 1616, the year of Shakespeare's death, William
Harvey, born in 1578, lectured on his great discovery, but his
celebrated treatise was not published until 1628. The general
fact of the circulation was known in ancient times, and
Harvey's discovery lay in ascertaining the modus operandi of
it, and in reducing it to matter of strict science.
295. Cf. The Merchant of Venice, I, 1, 166:
Her name is Portia, nothing undervalued
To Cato's daughter, Brutus' Portia.]
308.charactery: "writing by characters or strange
marks." Brutus therefore means that he will divulge to her the
secret cause of the sadness marked on his countenance.
'Charactery' seems to mean simply 'writing' in the well-known
passage in The Merry Wives of Windsor, V, v, 77: "Fairies
use flowers for their charactery." So in Keats: "Before
high-piled books in charactery Hold like rich garners the
309. Editors from Pope down have been busy trying to
mend the grammar and the rhythm of this line. But in
Shakespeare the full pause has often the value of a syllable,
and the omission of the relative is common in Elizabethan
literature. See Abbott, § 244.
315.To wear a kerchief: It was a common practice in
England for those who were sick to wear a kerchief on their
heads. So in Fuller's Worthies, Cheshire, 1662, quoted by
Malone: "If any there be sick, they make him a posset and tye
a kerchief on his head: and if that will not mend him, then
God be merciful to him."
321.I here discard my sickness: Ligarius here pulls
off the kerchief. Cf. Northumberland's speech, 2 Henry IV,
I, i, 147, "hence, thou sickly quoif! Thou art a guard too
wanton for the head."
323. In Shakespeare's time, 'exorcist' and 'conjurer'
were used indifferently. The former has since come to mean
only 'one who drives away spirits'; the latter, 'one who calls
324.My mortified spirit: my spirit that was dead in
me. So 'mortifying groans' in The Merchant of Venice, I, i,
82, and 'mortified man' in Macbeth, V, ii, 5. Words directly
derived from Latin are often used, by Shakespeare and
sixteenth century writers, in a signification peculiarly close
to the root notion of the word.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908. Shakespeare Online. 20 Dec. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_2_1.html >.