Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 1
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
After the first scene the entire act is devoted to the unfolding of the character of Brutus, whom we see placed in the most interesting and moving situations, -- the quarrel and reconciliation with Cassius, the reception of the news of Portia's death, the night scene with the boy Lucius, the interview with the ghost. Every detail is meant to exalt our estimate of the nobility of Brutus. Historically this is not an accurate picture of the man as he was. In making him his hero Shakespeare naturally exaggerates his virtues and overlooks many of his faults.
Some time has evidently elapsed since Caesar's death. In reality this meeting of the three men, who formed the Second Triumvirate, occurred in November, 43 B.C., nineteen months after the events of Act III.
A house in Rome. History tells us that the actual meeting place was on an island in the river Rhenus near Bononia (now Bologna). Do you see any particular reason for Shakespeare's transferring it to Rome?
1. their names are pricked: marked.
Will you be pricked in number of our friends,
Or shall we on, and not depend on you?
(III, I, 217, and note.)
6. with a spot I damn him: with a mark (a prick) I condemn him to death.
9. charge: expense. Antony proposes to use some of Caesar's legacies, of which he spoke in his oration to the people, for war expenses against Brutus and Cassius.
11. Or here, or. Notice other uses of this expression for either ... or in these last two acts.
14. The three-fold world: Europe, Asia, and Africa.
16. took his voice who: took his vote as to who, etc.
20. divers slanderous loads: various disagreeable charges.
22. business: Here pronounced in three syllables, bus-i-ness.
So sol-di-er in line 28 below.
27. commons: The commons of an English village in Shakespeare's time were the pasture lands held in common by the townspeople for their cattle. Boston "Common" was originally such a public grazing field.
30. appoint him store of provender. That is, provide him
with an abundance of corn and hay.
32. wind: turn, wheel.
33. His corporal motion: the movements of his body, his
34. in some taste: in a sense, in some ways.
36. barren-spirited: lacking spirit, or character.
37. abjects: things thrown away, leavings. orts: scraps, broken fragments, -- about the same as "abjects."
37-39. "Lepidus is a man," says Antony, "who is always interested in things that everybody else has grown tired of and thrown aside." [The Folio reading of "abjects, orts " is "objects, arts," changed by Staunton, and generally adopted by later editions.]
38. staled: made stale or common.
39. Begin his fashion: "Are the newest fashion with him."
40. a property: a piece of property, a tool, -- which we can
use as we wish.
41. Listen great things. Later in the play we have "list a word," and in "Much Ado about Nothing," "To listen our purpose." The omission of prepositions was common in Elizabethan English.
42. powers: forces. straight make head. That is, we must raise an army at once.
44. our means stretched. We must exert ourselves to the utmost. The line is defective; it will not scan. Many alterations have been suggested, one of which will do for a sample: "Our best friends made secure, our means stretched out."
45. presently: at once, -- as often in Shakespeare.
46. How covert matters, etc. As to how secret, hidden matters, etc.
47. answered: faced, met.
48. 49. at the stake, and bayed about, etc. The figure is from the old sport of bear-baiting, in which a bear was tied to a stake to be "bayed" at, bitten, and tormented by a pack of dogs. When besieged in his castle and attacked on every side by his enemies, Macbeth exclaims
They have tied me to a stake ; I cannot fly,
But, bear-like, I must fight the course.
How to cite the explanatory notes and scene questions:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Samuel Thurber. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1919. Shakespeare Online. 26 Feb. 2013. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/julius_4_1.html >.
Scene Questions for Review
1. Discuss Antony's reasons for sending Lepidus to Caesar's house.
2. What opinion do you form of Lepidus from this scene?
3. In what ways does Antony seem to have changed since we last saw him in Act III?
4. Does Octavius give any indications of being the man who is later to oppose and conquer Antony?
Thoughts on Brutus... Shakespeare "has endowed him with a nature as profound and with feelings as powerful and excitable as Hamlet and Macbeth, but the poet has concealed the uncommon intensity of these emotions under the veil of heroic calmness, and behind the accepted character of the determined politician. We scarcely perceive the uneasiness which disturbs him within those passages where, at the beginning of the conspiracy and towards the conclusion of it, he envies the careless sleep of his boy Lucius." (G. Gervinus. Commentaries. Trans. Fanny Elizabeth Bunnett)