Julius Caesar: Analysis by Act and Scene
From Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908.
I. THE EXPOSITION, OR INTRODUCTION (TYING OF THE KNOT)
Act I, Scene i. The popularity of Cæsar with the Roman mob and the
jealousy of the official classes--the two motive forces of the play--are
revealed. The fickleness of the mob is shown in a spirit of comedy; the
antagonism of Marullus and Flavius strikes the note of tragedy.
Act I, Scene ii, 1-304. The supreme characters are introduced, and in
their opening speeches each reveals his temperament and foreshadows the
part which he will play. The exposition of the situation is now
II. THE COMPLICATION, RISING ACTION, OR GROWTH (TYING OF THE KNOT)
Act I, Scene ii, 305-319. In soliloquy Cassius unfolds his scheme for
entangling Brutus in the conspiracy, and the dramatic complication
Act I, Scene iii. Casca, excited by the fiery portents that bode
disaster to the state, is persuaded by Cassius to join "an enterprise of
honourable-dangerous consequence" (lines 123-124). The conspirators are
assigned to their various posts, and Cassius engages to secure Brutus
Act II, Scene i. The humane character of Brutus, as master, husband,
and citizen, is elaborated, and his attitude to Cæsar and the conspiracy
of assassination clearly shown. He joins the conspirators--apparently
their leader, in reality their tool. In lines 162-183 he pleads that the
life of Antony be spared, and thus unconsciously prepares for his own
Act II, Scene ii. Cæsar is uneasy at the omens and portents, and gives
heed to Calpurnia's entreaties to remain at home, but he yields to the
importunity of Decius and starts for the Capitol, thus advancing the
plans of the conspirators. The dramatic contrast between Cæsar and
Brutus is strengthened by that between Calpurnia in this scene and
Portia in the preceding.
Act II, Scene iii. The dramatic interest is intensified by the warning
of Artemidorus and the suggestion of a way of escape for the
Act II, Scene iv. The interest is further intensified by the way in
which readers and spectators are made to share the anxiety of Portia.
III. THE CLIMAX, CRISIS, OR TURNING POINT (THE KNOT TIED)
Act III, Scene i, 1-122. The dramatic movement is now rapid, and the
tension, indicated by the short whispered sentences of all the speakers
except Cæsar, is only increased by his imperial utterances, which show
utter unconsciousness of the impending doom. In the assassination all
the complicating forces--the self-confidence of Cæsar, the unworldly
patriotism of Brutus, the political chicanery of Cassius, the
unscrupulousness of Casca, and the fickleness of the mob--bring about an
event which changes the lives of all the characters concerned and
threatens the stability of the Roman nation. The death of Cæsar is the
climax of the physical action of the play; it is at the same time the
emotional crisis from which Brutus comes with altered destiny.
IV. THE RESOLUTION, FALLING ACTION, OR CONSEQUENCE (THE UNTYING OF THE
Act III, Scene i, 123-298. With Brutus's "Soft! who comes here? A
friend of Antony's" begins the resolution, or falling action, of the
play. "The fortune of the conspirators, hitherto in the ascendant, now
declines, while 'Cæsar's spirit' surely and steadily prevails against
them."--Verity. Against the advice of Cassius, Brutus gives Antony
permission to deliver a public funeral oration. Antony in a soliloquy
shows his determination to avenge Cæsar, and the first scene of the
falling action closes with the announcement that Octavius is within
seven leagues of Rome.
Act III, Scene ii--Scene iii. The orations of Antony, in vivid
contrast to the conciliatory but unimpassioned speeches of Brutus, fire
the people and liberate fresh forces in the falling action. Brutus and
Cassius have to fly the city, riding "like madmen through the gates of
Rome." In unreasoning fury the mob tears to pieces an innocent poet who
has the same name as a conspirator.
Act IV, Scene i. Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, having formed a
triumvirate of which Antony is the master spirit, agree on a
proscription list and join forces against Brutus and Cassius, who "are
Act IV, Scene ii. Brutus and Cassius, long parted by pride and
obstinacy, meet to discuss a plan of action.
Act IV, Scene iii. This is one of the most famous individual scenes in
Shakespeare.... Its intensely human interest is always
conceded, but its dramatic propriety, because of what seems a 'dragging'
tendency, has been often questioned. The scene opens with Brutus and
Cassius bandying recriminations, and the quarrel of the two generals
bodes disaster to their cause. As the discussion proceeds, they yield
points and become reconciled. Brutus then quietly but with peculiar
pathos tells of Portia's death by her own hand. In all the great
tragedies, with the notable exception of Othello, when the forces of
the resolution, or falling action, are gathering towards the dénouement,
Shakespeare introduces a scene which appeals to an emotion different
from any of those excited elsewhere in the play. "As a rule this new
emotion is pathetic; and the pathos is not terrible or lacerating, but,
even if painful, is accompanied by the sense of beauty and by an outflow
of admiration or affection, which come with an inexpressible sweetness
after the tension of the crisis and the first counter-stroke. So it is
with the reconciliation of Brutus and Cassius, and the arrival of the
news of Portia's death."--Bradley. While the shadow of her tragic
passing overhangs the spirits of both, Brutus overhears the shrewd,
cautious counsel of Cassius and persuades him to assent to the fatal
policy of offering battle at Philippi. That night the ghost of Cæsar
appears to Brutus.
Act V, Scene i. The action now falls rapidly to the quick, decisive
movement of the dénouement. The antagonists are now face to face. Brutus
and Cassius have done what Antony and Octavius hoped that they would do.
The opposing generals hold a brief parley in which Brutus intimates that
he is willing to effect a reconciliation, but Antony rejects his
proposals and bluntly charges him and Cassius with the wilful murder of
Cæsar. Cassius reminds Brutus of his warning that Antony should have
fallen when Cæsar did. Antony, Octavius, and their army retire, and the
scene closes with the noble farewell without hope between Brutus and
Act V, Scene ii. The opposing armies meet on the field, and a final
flare-up of hope in the breast of Brutus is indicated by his spirited
order to Messala to charge. The scene implies that Cassius was defeated
by being left without support by Brutus.
V. DÉNOUEMENT, CATASTROPHE, OR CONCLUSION (THE KNOT UNTIED)
Act V, Scene iii. The charge ordered by Brutus has been successful,
and Octavius has been driven back, but Cassius is thus left unguarded,
and Antony's forces surround him. He takes refuge on a hill and sends
Titinius to see "whether yond troops are friend or enemy." Believing
Titinius to be slain, he begs Pindarus to stab him, and Cassius dies
"even with the sword that kill'd" Cæsar. With the same sword Titinius
then slays himself, and Brutus, when Messala bears the news to him,
exclaims in words that strike the keynote of the whole falling action
O Julius Cæsar, thou art mighty yet!
Act V, Scene iv. Like Hamlet, Brutus at the last is a man of supreme
action. He rallies his forces for a last attack. With hopeless failure
before him, he is at once a heroic figure and one of infinite pathos.
Young Cato falls. Lucilius is attacked; assuming the name of Brutus, he
is not killed but taken prisoner. Antony recognizes him and gives orders
that he be treated kindly.
Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails.
Act V, Scene v. Brutus dies by his own sword, and his last words tell
the story of failure and defeat. Like a true Roman, he meets his doom
without a murmur of complaint. He had been true to his ideals. The
tragic dénouement comes as the inevitable consequence, not of wilful
sin, but of a noble mistake. In death he commands the veneration of both
Antony and Octavius, who pronounce over his body the great
interpretation of his character, and in their speeches the tragedy
closes as with a chant of victory for the hero of defeat.
VI. MANAGEMENT OF TIME AND PLACE
1. Historic time. Cæsar's triumph over the sons of Pompey was
celebrated in October, B.C. 45. Shakespeare makes this coincident with
"the feast of Lupercal" on February 15, B.C. 44. In the play Antony
delivers his funeral oration immediately after Cæsar's death;
historically, there was an interval of days. Octavius did not reach Rome
until upwards of two months after the assassination; in III, ii, 261,
Antony is told by his servant immediately after the funeral oration that
"Octavius is already come to Rome." In November, B.C. 43, the triumvirs
met to make up their bloody proscription, and in the autumn of the
following year were fought the two battles of Philippi, separated
historically by twenty days, but represented by Shakespeare as taking
place on the same day.
2. Dramatic Time. Historical happenings that extended over nearly
three years are represented in the stage action as the occurrences of
six days, distributed over the acts and scenes as follows:
Day 1.--I, i, ii.
This compression for the purposes of dramatic unity results in action
that is swift and throbbing with human and ethical interest.
Day 2.--I, iii.
Day 3.--II, III.
Day 4.--IV, i.
Day 5.--IV, ii, iii.
3. Place. Up to the second scene of the fourth act Rome is the natural
place of action. The second and third scenes of the fourth act are at
Sardis in Asia Minor; the last act shifts to Philippi in Macedonia. The
only noteworthy deviation from historical accuracy is in making the
conference of the triumvirs take place at Rome and not at Bononia.... But there is peculiar dramatic effectiveness in placing
this fateful colloquy in the city that was the center of the political
unrest of the time.
How to cite this article:
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Henry Norman Hudson. New York: Ginn and Co., 1908. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/juliuscaesar/juliushudson.html >.
How to Pronounce the Names in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar Overview
Blank Verse and Diction in Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar Summary (Acts 1 and 2)
Julius Caesar Summary (Acts 3 and 4)
Julius Caesar Summary (Act 5)
Julius Caesar Character Introduction
Julius Caesar Study Questions (with Answers)
Julius Caesar Quotations (Top 10)
Julius Caesar Quotations (Full)
All About Et tu, Brute?