“And since the quarrel/Will hear no colour for the thing he is,/Fashion it thus…”

Julius Caesar

Act Two

By Dennis Abrams

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Act Two:  Brutus privately concludes that Caesar’s ambition means he must die.  Joined by Cassius and other conspirators, he agrees to kill Caesar, but Brutus vetoes the suggestion that Antony should also be killed.  Portia notices that her husband is troubled but reluctant to explain why.  Caesar is also nervous about the portents, and when a sacrifice goes wrong, Calpurnia begs him not to leave home, revealing that she has dreamt of his death.  Caesar initially agrees (or gives in), but changes his mind when Decius (a conspirator) tells Caesar how the Senate wish to make him king.  Other conspirators, and Antony, arrive to escort him to the Capitol.  Artemidorus, meanwhile, plans to warn Caesar by giving him a letter as he passes by.

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Throughout the play, it seems, Caesar’s actions remain in shadow.  He is on stage for just three scenes, and it can’t be an accident that Shakespeare emphasizes the human failings of this world-conqueror – his indecisiveness, his physical frailty, (the playwright even makes him deaf).  Persuaded to join the conspirators against him, Brutus seems only too aware that the arguments for assassinating this man also leave plenty of unanswered questions.  Even so, “if it must be by his death,” he resolves,

And for my part

I know no personal cause to spurn at him,

But for the general.  He would be crowned.

How that might change his nature, there’s the question…

Th’abuse of greatness is when it disjoins

Remorse from power.  And to speak truth of Caesar,

I have not known when his affections swayed

More than his reason.  But ‘tis a common proof

That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,

Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;

But when he once attains the upmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend.  So Caesar may.

“May” is very much, I think, the operative word in this speech, a masterpiece of ambiguity; the question of how Caesar would really behave as king is one the play is never permitted to answer.  In the same way, Brutus, for all his show of logic, starts from a presumption that Caesar’s “death” is necessary.  His words are a remarkable example of someone preventing themselves being argued out of a case – even by himself.

So…is Caesar a “Colossus” who threatens to swallow up Rome, or an ill man who struggles to get through a public meeting without collapsing?  Is he unmoved, “as constant as the Northern Star” (as he claims to the Senators), or fatally swayed by impulse?  Are the citizens right to hail him as their leader, or does he really represent a danger to their city?  In short:  will his death be defensive assassination (what Brutus calls “the even virtue of our enterprise” or cold-blooded murder?  One answer is that Caesar is all these things and more:  he is the great paradox at the center of the play.  Another answer is that Shakespeare doesn’t allow us to easily make up our mind – or, rather, doesn’t allows us to hold just one view.  And while we sit by in our indecision, the conspirators themselves force events to a head.  Surrounding Caesar in the Senate while he hears Cinna’s plea to reverse the banishment of his brother, they suddenly surge forward and unsheathe their knives.

But when Caesar is dead, the conspirators too can’t make up their minds.  Against Cassius’s instincts, Brutus decides that, so that their actions don’t “seem too bloody,” Antony should not be killed along with his master:

For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.

Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.

With these words Brutus demonstrates that he has little capacity for dealing with the reality of what he is about to unleash; that reality includes a knife-riddled body and a life Antony who has every intention in the world of doing something about it.

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From Bloom:

“Brutus, a Stoic, has no envy of Caesar’s splendor yet fears the potential of unlimited power, even if exercised by the responsible and rational Caesar.  The soliloquy in which this fear is voiced is the best thing of its kind that Shakespeare had yet written, and is marvelously subtle, particularly where I [put it in bold]:

It must be by his death: and for my part,

I know no personal cause to spurn at him,

But for the general.  He would be crown’d:

How that might change his nature, there’s the question.

It is the bright day that brings forth the adder,

And that craves wary walking.  Crown him? – that, —

And then, I grant, we put a sting in him.

That at his will he may do danger with.

Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins

Remorse from power; and, to speak truth of Caesar,

I have not known when his affections sway’d

More than his reasons. But ‘tis a common proof,

That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,

Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;

But when he once attains the upmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend.  So Caesar may,

Then lest he may, prevent.  And since the quarrel

Will hear no colour for the thing he is,

Fashion it thus:  that what he is, augmented,

Would run to these and these extremities;

And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg

Which, hatch’d, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,

And kill him in the shell.

It is one thing to speculate, ‘So Caesar may,” and to follow with ‘then lest he may, prevent.’  But it is peculiarly shocking that Brutus practices the overt self-deception of ‘And since the quarrel/Will bear no colour for the thing he is,/Fashion it thus.’  That is to acknowledge that there is no plausible complaint to make against Caesar; ‘Fashion it thus’ means to make up your own anxious fiction, and then believe in its plausibility.  Caesar, contrary to his entire career, will become an unreasonable and oppressive tyrant, only because Brutus wants to believe this.

Why should Brutus knowingly fashion such a fiction?  The instigations of Cassius aside, Brutus appears to need the role of leading the conspiracy to slay Caesar.  One could regard Freud’s Totem and Taboo as a rewriting of Julius Caesar:  the totem father must be murdered, and his corpse divided and devoured by the horde of his sons.  Though Caesar’s nephew, Octavius, is his adopted son and heir, there is a tradition that Brutus was Caesar’s natural son, and many critics have noted the similarities that Shakespeare portrays between the two.  I firmly reject Freud’s identification of Hamlet with Oedipus, it is Brutus, and Macbeth after him, who manifest Oedipal ambivalences toward their fatherly rulers.

Brutus’s patriotism is itself a kind of flaw, since he overidentifies himself with Rome, just as Caesar does.  It is uncanny that Brutus, awaiting the night visit of Cassius and the other conspirators, suddenly becomes a prophecy of Macbeth, in a further soliloquy that seems to belong in the first act of Macbeth:

Brutus:

Between the acting of a dreadful thing

And the first motion, all the interim is

Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:

The genius and the mortal instruments

Are then in council, and the state of man,

Like to a little kingdom, suffers then

The nature of an insurrection.

For a few months Brutus anticipates Macbeth’s proleptic imagination, with ‘the state of man” echoed by Macbeth in Act I, Scene iii, line 140:  ‘My thought, whose murther yet is but fantastical,/Shakes so my single state of man.’  Macbeth has nothing like Brutus’s rational powers; Brutus has nothing like the Scottish regicide’s range of fantasy, yet they almost fuse together here.  The difference is that Brutus’s ‘state of man’ is more unaided and lonesome then Macbeth’s.  Macbeth is the agent of supernal forces that transcend Hecate and the witches.  Brutus, the Stoic individual, is affected not by preternatural forces, but by his ambivalence which he has managed to evade.  His love of Caesar has in it a negative element darker than Cassius’s resentment of Caesar.  Masking his own ambivalence toward Caesar, Brutus chooses to believe in a fiction, a rather unlikely one in which a crowned Caesar becomes only another Tarquin.  But that fiction is not the quality of being that we hear in Caesar’s final speech, when he refuses the conspirator’s hypocritical pleas that an exile be allowed to return:

Caesar:

I could be well mov’d, if I were as you,

If I could pray to move, prayers would move me,

But I am constant as the northern star,

Of whose true-fix’d and resting quality

There is no fellow in the firmament.

The skies are painted with unnumber’d sparks,

They are all fire, and every one doth shine;

But there’s but one in all doth hold his place.

So in the world:  ‘tis furnish’d well with men,

And men are flesh and blood, and apprehensive,

Yet in the number I do know but one

That unassailable holds on his rank,

Unshak’d of motion; and that I am he,

Let me a little show it; even in this,

That I was constant Cimber should be banish’d,

And constant do remain to keep him so.

Some critics interpret this as absurd or arrogant, but it is true gold; Caesar may idealize himself, and yet he is accurate.  He is the northern star of his world, and his rule partly depends upon his consistency.  The essence of this speech is its exaltation of a natural hierarchy that has become political.  Caesar has no natural superior, and his intrinsic rank has extended itself outward to dictatorship.  The skeptic could remark that actually the political here masks as the natural, but natural ease is Caesar’s great gift, so much envied by Cassius.  Julius Caesar, and not Brutus or Cassius, is the free artist of himself in this play, in living and dying.  The audience’s underlying impression that Caesar is the playwright gives us the unsettling notion of his death as a willing sacrifice to the imperial ideal.  I call this unsettling because it diminishes Brutus, whose story then ceases to be a tragedy.  Sometimes I entertain the notion that Shakespeare’ himself – a specialist in kings, older man, and ghosts – played Julius Caesar.  Caesar wants the crown, and (according to North’s Plutarch) fresh conquests on Parthia; Shakespeare is on the threshold of writing the high tragedies:  Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Antony and Cleopatra.  The cool disengagement of the dramatist’s stance in Julius Caesar allows for an inner gathering of the forces, just as perhaps Caesar gathered himself for conquest.  Caesarism and tragedy, the first true works in that kind since ancient Athens, will triumph together.  The play’s authentic victims are Brutus and Cassius, not Caesar, just as its victors are not Mark Antony and Octavius, tuning up for their cosmological contest in Antony and Cleopatra.  Caesar and Shakespeare are the winners; it is appropriate that this tragedy’s most famous lines show Caesar at his finest:

Caesar:

Cowards die many times before their deaths;

The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,

It seems to me most strange that men should fear,

Seeing that death, a necessary end,

Will come when it will come.

That is not quite Hamlet’s ‘the readiness is all,’ for Hamlet means something more active, the willingness of the spirit though the flesh be weak.  Caesar, gambling on eternity, falls back upon a rhetoric unworthy of him, one that Hamlet would have satirized:

Caesar:

The gods do this in shame of cowardice:

Caesar should be a beast without a heart

If he should stay at home to-day for fear.

No, Caesar shall not.  Dangers know full well

That Caesar is more dangerous than he.

We are two lions litter’d in one day,

And I the elder and more terrible,

And Caesar shall go forth.

That bombast, mocked by Ben Jonson, nevertheless is there to considerable purpose, lest Caesar become so sympathetic that Brutus alienate us wholly.  Shakespeare’s Brutus is difficult to characterize.  To call him a hero-villain clearly is wrong; there is nothing Marlovian about him.  Yet he does seem archaic, as archaic as Julius Caesar, in contrast to Mark Antony and Octavius.  A stoic tragic hero may be an impossibility.  Titus Andronicus, contra many critics, was no such being, as we have seen.  Brutus may attempt to assert reason against emotion, but pragmatically he stabs Caesar (by some traditions, in the privates), and then endures the mob’s initial outcry:  ‘Let him be Caesar,’ after it has heard his peculiar oration explaining his murder of Julius Caesar, dear friend if not hidden father, but less dear to him than Rome.”

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And from Goddard:

“Brutus is an exceptional man.  Yet Brutus is Everyman in the sense that every man is Brutus at some hour of his life.  Whoever is aware of the disparity between what he would be and what the world seems bent on making him is a Brutus in a general sense.  More specifically, Brutus is the man of sensitive nature who, outraged by the cruelty and tyranny around him, sadly and reluctantly concludes that there is no way to oppose the world but with the world’s weapons, that fire must drive out fire and force force.

The lofty character of the end intended, the preservation of the liberties of Rome, blinds Brutus to the low character of the means proposed.  He represses, but he cannot eradicate, that abhorrence of force which, by definition, must be inherent in every lover of liberty.  The result is war in that psychological realm where all war begins.

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar

I have not slept.

Between the acting of a dreadful thing

And the first motion, all the interim is

Like a phantasma or a hideous dream.

The genius and the moral instruments

Are then in council; and the state of man,

Like to a little kingdom, suffers then

The nature of an insurrection.

Dreadful, hideous, mortal!  His own words ought to have been warning enough.  But reason does not understand the language of the imagination.  In the conflict of instincts let loose within Brutus, Lucius, and Portia are his good angels, Caesar and Cassius his evil ones.  With or without knowing it, they strive for the possession of his soul.

Portia is one of the first of a number of Shakespearean heroines who have brief roles of supreme importance.  Speaking to Brutus, she refers to herself as ‘your self, your half.’  The phrase ‘better half’ as applied to a wife has been so prostituted to jocosity that it is scarcely possible to use it seriously.  Yet it describes precisely Portia’s relation to Brutus.  She is all that is fine in his unconscious nature, and their conjugal partnership is as lovely as any Shakespeare ever pictured, even including that between Coriolanus and Virgilia.  The point is underlined by the fact that Calpurnia bears somewhat the same relation to Caesar.  These women through their dreams and intuitions draw from deeper springs of wisdom than any to which their husband have access.  And Caesar because of his vanity and ambition, Brutus because of a strain of cold rationalism that runs through his nature, are in peculiar need of the insight of their wives.

If Portia is Brutus’ wisdom, the boy Lucius is his original innocence.  ‘Become what thou art,’ says Pindar.  Brutus was well on his way toward obeying that injunction when this business of Caesar’s assassination intervened.  Lucius is Brutus before he was contaminated, and in him his master can see himself as he came from the hand of god.  Innocence does not mean unsophistication.  It means the state of being unpoisoned.

Lucius, naturally, does not know the role he is playing in Brutus’ life.  Portia is only partly conscious of her participation in his fate.  Nor can Caesar suspect the evil he has unloosed within him.  But is quite otherwise with Cassius.  He is cynically aware of every step he takes.  He is the Seducer.  He proceeds to lay siege to Brutus’ integrity exactly as a seducer in a commoner sense does to a woman’s chastity.  Cassius looks up to Brutus, even loves him.  Why, then, does he not let him alone and find someone more fit for the business at hand?  Because the conspiracy needs the moral prestige that only Brutus can lend it.

Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,

That you would have me seek into myself

For that which is not in me?

Like the woman who thinks it is not in her, he thinks it is not in him, but proves that it is by remaining to hear more – just as Ivan Karamazov once remained to hear more from Smerdyakov.

Cassius knows his brother will entertain no proposal save for the general good.  So he attacks him were virtue and its opposite are forever getting confused, in his pride, pride in his ancestors’ dedication to republicanism:

O, you and I have heard our fathers say,

There was a Brutus once that would have brook’d

Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome

As easily as a king.

The fathers once more!  It is the clinching argument.  Like Romeo and Hal, Brutus capitulates to the past, or rather to Cassius’ subtle perversion of it (the earlier Brutus did not kill the tyrant).  ‘I sense what you are driving at,’ Brutus confesses in effect.  ‘Indeed, I have been meditating on these very things myself, and will confer about them – later.’

What you have said

I will consider; what you have to say

I will with patience hear, and find a time

Both meet to hear and answer such high things.

The lines have a familiar ring.

Yet when we can entreat an hour to serve,

We would spend it in some words upon that business,

If you would grant the time.

Macbeth to Banquo! a sinister parallel.

Caesar with his train enters, and when he has retired, Casca tells how he was three times offered the crown and three times refused it.  As Casca goes out, Brutus changes his appointment with Cassius from some indefinite time to a definite one on the morrow at his home.  Cassius has won.  He soliloquizes:

Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet, I see,

Thy honourable metal may be wrought

From that it is dispos’d.  Therefore it is meet

That noble minds keep ever with their likes:

For who so firm that cannot be seduc’d?

Seduced:  he is honest enough to use the very word.  With cynical frankness he admits that he has corrupted his friend, that his own conduct has been ignoble, that, if the roles had been reversed, Brutus would never have done to him what he had done to Brutus.  And yet, in the face of all this from the arch-conspirator, men have argued whether Brutus did right nor wrong to enter the conspiracy!

His evil angels have had their way with Brutus in the first act.  As the second act opens, we find him invoking his good angel.  But he does not know it:  he thinks he is just a sleeping man arousing a sleeping child.

What, Lucius, ho!

I cannot, by the progress of the stars,

Give guess how near to day.  Lucius, I say!

I would it were my fault to sleep so soundly.

When, Lucius, when!  Awake, I say!  What, Lucius!

Here the metaphor of daybreak that figures so significantly through the play is beautifully introduced.  The daybreak of the fatal day of Caesar’s death is but an hour or so away.  Following close upon it will be the daybreak of new liberty for Rome, or so Brutus believes.  Finally, there is the daybreak of life itself incarnated in the child.  Brutus cannot estimate by the stars how near day is.  But he looks in the wrong place.  The dawn that might save him is as near as the next room, as near as the child, as near as himself, and when he cries ‘Awake!’ he is beseeching the child within to awaken before it is too late.  The boy enters, and his mater sends him to light a taper in another room, not realizing that the child himself is the best light.  From end to end the role of Lucius is permeated with this symbolism.  Caesar, just before his fall, announces that he is the Northern Star that alone holds a fixed place in the moving firmament.  Lucius is that star.  It is not by chance that the moment the boy is gone Brutus begins to lose his way, to strike the note of darkness:  ‘It must be by his death.’

Presently Lucius comes back with a paper that was thrown in the window of Brutus’ study:

Brutus, thou sleep’st; awake, and see thyself!

How different that ‘Awake’ from the one that opened the scene, and what ironical words to address to a victim of insomnia who has been awake all night!  Lucius, whom Brutus has sent out for a calendar, re-enters, and the Janus-like stage direction is ‘Knocking within.’  The boy goes to the gate and reports that Cassius has come with others he cannot identify because their hats are plucked about their ears and half their faces buried in their cloaks.  ‘O conspiracy!’ cries Brutus, and the speech that follows shows how his soul abhors the enterprise he is nevertheless bent on undertaking.  Dangerous, dark, monstrous; night, cavern, evil; shame, mask, hide:  adjectives, nouns and verbs conspire fairly to shout the truth in his ears.  But he is deaf.  And this lover of truth stoops to the abjectest hypocrisy when he bids the conspiracy hide itself in smiles and affability.

To beguile the time,

Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,

Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under’t.

These lines are Lady Macbeth’s.  Except perhaps for the touch about the serpent, where she goes a bit beyond him, they might pass unchallenged if assigned to Brutus at this point.

As Brutus and Cassius whisper together, several of the other conspirators take up, as if the scene were music, the theme of daybreak with which it opened:

Decius:  Here lies the east.  Doth not the day break here?

Casca:   No.

Cinna:   O, pardon, sir, it doth; and yon grey lines

             That fret the clouds are messengers of day.

Casca:

You shall confess that you are both deceiv’d..

Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises

Which is a great way of growing on the south,

Weighing the youthful season of the year.

Some two months hence, up higher toward the north

He first presents his fire; and the high east

Stands as the Capitol, directly here.

‘While Brutus and Cassius confer,’ says Kittredge, ‘the others courteously occupy themselves with casual talk about indifferent matters.’  It may have seemed casual and indifferent to the speakers.  But it was not to their imagination, nor to Shakespeare’s.  If there is a passage in the play that lets us into the secret of what the author thought of the conspiracy, it is this.  (This, and possibly two others yet to be mentioned.)  As we have seen, Shakespeare is forever using such apparent parentheses for uttering his own convictions under the protection of a metaphor.  These men think they are about to bring a new day to Rome when they cannot even agree as to where the geographical east lies.  They promise a new spiritual morning before they have even learned where the material sun comes up!  And when Casca cries:

Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises,

we feel the presumption of expecting a new day to break at the command of a sword.  Casca has surpassed Chaunticleer in egotism.  Thus is the political message of the play condensed into a metaphor, its whole point suspended, as it were, on the point of a sword.

Cassius suggests in succession that the conspirators bind themselves to one another by an oath, sound out Cicero, and mark Antony to fall with Caesar.  Brutus negatives each of these proposals, revealing in each instance how unfitted he is for the business he is undertaking.  In the case of Cicero, the reason he gives,

For he will never following anything

That other men begin,

strongly implies that he does not want to share his prestige as moral head of the conspiracy.  In the other two cases he is unconsciously attempting to compensate for an ignoble major decision by minor nobler ones.

If there were no other evidence whatever, the speech in which Brutus seeks to justify the sparing of Antony would be enough itself to show how completely the true Brutus recognizes in advance the futility of the course on which the false Brutus is embarking.  Without knowing it, he puts his finger on the precise reason why the conspiracy was bound to fail.  As in Richard II’s tribute to Peace, or Henry V’s argument with Williams about the king’s responsibility for the consciences of his soldiers, the imagination of the man tells the truth over his head.  He thinks he is saying one thing when actually he is saying just the opposite.

Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,

To cut the head off and hack the limbs,

Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;

For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.

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 in the common eyes,

We shall be call’d purgers, not murderers.

And for Mark Antony, think not of him;

For he can do no more than Caesar’s arm

When Caesar’s head is off.

Disentangle the syllogism underlying the verbiage in the first part of this speech and this is what we have:  (1) The spirit of men contains no blood.  (2) We wish to destroy the spirit of Caesar.  Therefore (3) we must spill Caesar’s blood.  No one will question that major premise.  All lovers of liberty will second the minor one.  The tragedy is dedicated to demonstrating the absurdity of the conclusion.  The true inference from the premises is obviously:  Therefore it is useless to spill Caesar’s blood.  Moral pride prevents Brutus from seeing it.

The logic is false, but the metaphors, as usual slip in the truth,

Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius…

Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods.

Dropping out the six lines that intervene between these two reveals the tricks his mind is playing upon Brutus – for who ever carved what had not previously been butchered?  And the figure of the master and servants betrays him even more ignominiously.  The conspirators seek the end of the man who would make himself master of Rome.  Brutus tells them they must imitate the subtle master who stirs up his servants to a violent act and then chides them for committing it.  Thus the assassination will be received as a deed of necessity rather than envy:

We shall be call’d purgers, not murderers.

Purgers! is the very word that in our day has been used so often to camouflage murder.  The example establishes the point it is supposed to refute and stamps the act it is used to justify as murder.

Brutus’ opinion prevails, Antony is spared, and to an ominous striking of the clock, anticipating the ringing of the bell that summoned Macbeth ‘to heaven or to hell,’ the conspirators disperse as Cassius cries, ‘The morning comes upon’s,’ and Brutus warns,

Let not our looks put our purposes

But bear it as our Roman actors do.

He is indeed, himself, playing a part.  And when he turns to the child, it is as if he were bidding a final farewell to his true but discarded self:

Boy!  Lucius!  Fast asleep?  It is no matter.

No matter that his innocence slumbers?  He did not think so when the scene opened.

But if one of Brutus’ good angels is asleep, the other is not.  Portia enters to inquire why her lord has left her bed at this unwonted hour.  And with a skill that would do credit to a twentieth-century psychiatrist, she lists the symptoms she has noted of his mental perturbation, signs of a nervous irritability that has altered him almost past recognition.  He protests that he is merely physically unwell.  She will have nothing of that explanation, and piercing directly to the truth, she cries:

No, my Brutus,

You have some sick offence within your mind.

She kneels to him, begging him to reveal his secret.

There is a tide in the affairs of men…

It was at this moment, not when, too late, he uttered those famous lines to Cassius, that Brutus should have recognized that his last chance to save himself from becoming an assassin had come.

O ye gods!

Render me worthy of this noble wife!

If ever a prayer was sincere, it is this.  If ever a man had a chance to help answer his own prayer, this is he.  Again, the stage direction registers the spiritual crisis with a ‘Knocking within.’  It is as ominous a knocking as the more famous one in Macbeth.

And what does Brutus say and do?

Hark, Hark! one knocks.  Portia go in while,

And by and by thy bosom shall parake

The secrets of my heart.

All my engagements I will construe to thee,

All the charactery of my sad brows.

Leave me with haste (Exit Portia)

Lucius, who’s that knocks?

(Re-enter Lucius with Ligarius)

Lucius:  Here’s a sick man that would speak with you.

Brutus:  Caius Ligarius, that Metellus spake of.

Boy, stand aside.  Caius Ligarius! how?

If the poet had had Brutus say, ‘My Wisdom, go in awhile!  My Innocence, stand aside!  Sickness, let me embrace you!’ he could hardly have made his point clearer.  There are few stage directions in his plays more pathetic than those two words:  Exit Portia.  It might have been:  Exit the Soul of Brutus.

Brutus tells Ligarius that great things are afoot, and, summoning his failing forces, the latter inquires, ‘What’s to do?’

A piece of work that will make sick men whole,

replies Brutus.

But are not some whole that we must make sick?

asks Ligarius, suspecting the truth. He does not know that his words fit the man to whom he is speaking better than they do the intended victim, who in an hour or two will be beyond both sickness and wholeness.  ‘That must we also,’ replies Brutus, equally ignorant of the application of the words to himself.  ‘Set on your foot,’ says Ligarius.

And with a heart new-fit’d I follow you,

To do I know not what:  but it sufficeth

That Brutus leads me on.

              Follow me then,

says Brutus, and he too might well have added, ‘to do I know not what.’  It is tragic when a nobility that might have led only follows, when it consents to be used by envious men for their base purposes.  It adds to the tragedy when weak men, trusting that nobility, follow it blindly into that baseness.”

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Our next reading:  Julius Caesar, Act Three

My next post:  Thursday evening/Friday morning

Enjoy.

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