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Julius Caesar

ACT II SCENE IRome. BRUTUS’s orchard.
BRUTUSWhat, 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! 5
LUCIUSCall’d you, my lord?
BRUTUSGet me a taper in my study, Lucius:
When it is lighted, come and call me here.
LUCIUSI will, my lord.
BRUTUSIt must be by his death: and for my part, 10
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;– 15
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,
That at his will he may do danger with.
The 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 20
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, 25
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 bear no colour for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented, 30
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.
Re-enter LUCIUS.
LUCIUSThe taper burneth in your closet, sir. 35
Searching the window for a flint, I found
This paper, thus seal’d up; and, I am sure,
It did not lie there when I went to bed.
Gives him the letter.
BRUTUSGet you to bed again; it is not day.
Is not to-morrow, boy, the ides of March? 40
LUCIUSI know not, sir.
BRUTUSLook in the calendar, and bring me word.
LUCIUSI will, sir.
BRUTUSThe exhalations whizzing in the air
Give so much light that I may read by them. 45
Opens the letter and reads
‘Brutus, thou sleep’st: awake, and see thyself.
Shall Rome, &c. Speak, strike, redress!
Brutus, thou sleep’st: awake!’
Such instigations have been often dropp’d
Where I have took them up. 50
‘Shall Rome, &c.’ Thus must I piece it out:
Shall Rome stand under one man’s awe? What, Rome?
My ancestors did from the streets of Rome
The Tarquin drive, when he was call’d a king.
‘Speak, strike, redress!’ Am I entreated 55
To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise:
If the redress will follow, thou receivest
Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!
Re-enter LUCIUS.
LUCIUSSir, March is wasted fourteen days.
Knocking within
BRUTUS‘Tis good. Go to the gate; somebody knocks.
Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, 61
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: 65
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.
Re-enter LUCIUS.
LUCIUSSir, ’tis your brother Cassius at the door, 70
Who doth desire to see you.
BRUTUSIs he alone?
LUCIUSNo, sir, there are moe with him.
BRUTUSDo you know them?
LUCIUSNo, sir; their hats are pluck’d about their ears,
And half their faces buried in their cloaks,
That by no means I may discover them 75
By any mark of favour.
BRUTUSLet ’em enter.
They are the faction. O conspiracy,
Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,
When evils are most free? O, then by day
Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough 80
To mask thy monstrous visage? Seek none, conspiracy;
Hide it in smiles and affability:
For if thou path, thy native semblance on,
Not Erebus itself were dim enough
To hide thee from prevention. 85
CASSIUSI think we are too bold upon your rest:
Good morrow, Brutus; do we trouble you?
BRUTUSI have been up this hour, awake all night.
Know I these men that come along with you?
CASSIUSYes, every man of them, and no man here 90
But honours you; and every one doth wish
You had but that opinion of yourself
Which every noble Roman bears of you.
This is Trebonius.
BRUTUSHe is welcome hither.
CASSIUSThis, Decius Brutus.
BRUTUSHe is welcome too.
CASSIUSThis, Casca; this, Cinna; and this, Metellus Cimber.
BRUTUSThey are all welcome.
What watchful cares do interpose themselves
Betwixt your eyes and night? 99
CASSIUSShall I entreat a word?
BRUTUS and CASSIUS whisper.
DECIUS BRUTUSHere lies the east: doth not the day break here?
CINNAO, pardon, sir, it doth; and yon gray lines
That fret the clouds are messengers of day.
CASCAYou shall confess that you are both deceived. 105
Here, as I point my sword, the sun arises,
Which is a great way 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 110
Stands, as the Capitol, directly here.
BRUTUSGive me your hands all over, one by one.
CASSIUSAnd let us swear our resolution.
BRUTUSNo, not an oath: if not the face of men,
The sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse,– 115
If these be motives weak, break off betimes,
And every man hence to his idle bed;
So let high-sighted tyranny range on,
Till each man drop by lottery. But if these,
As I am sure they do, bear fire enough 120
To kindle cowards and to steel with valour
The melting spirits of women, then, countrymen,
What need we any spur but our own cause,
To prick us to redress? what other bond
Than secret Romans, that have spoke the word, 125
And will not palter? and what other oath
Than honesty to honesty engaged,
That this shall be, or we will fall for it?
Swear priests and cowards and men cautelous,
Old feeble carrions and such suffering souls 130
That welcome wrongs; unto bad causes swear
Such creatures as men doubt; but do not stain
The even virtue of our enterprise,
Nor the insuppressive mettle of our spirits,
To think that or our cause or our performance 135
Did need an oath; when every drop of blood
That every Roman bears, and nobly bears,
Is guilty of a several bastardy,
If he do break the smallest particle
Of any promise that hath pass’d from him. 140
CASSIUSBut what of Cicero? shall we sound him?
I think he will stand very strong with us.
CASCALet us not leave him out.
CINNANo, by no means.
METELLUS CIMBERO, let us have him, for his silver hairs
Will purchase us a good opinion 145
And buy men’s voices to commend our deeds:
It shall be said, his judgment ruled our hands;
Our youths and wildness shall no whit appear,
But all be buried in his gravity.
BRUTUSO, name him not: let us not break with him;
For he will never follow any thing 151
That other men begin.
CASSIUSThen leave him out.
CASCAIndeed he is not fit.
DECIUS BRUTUSShall no man else be touch’d but only Caesar?
CASSIUSDecius, well urged: I think it is not meet,
Mark Antony, so well beloved of Caesar,
Should outlive Caesar: we shall find of him
A shrewd contriver; and, you know, his means,
If he improve them, may well stretch so far
As to annoy us all: which to prevent, 160
Let Antony and Caesar fall together.
BRUTUSOur course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then 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, 170
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, 175
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 to the common eyes,
We shall be call’d purgers, not murderers. 180
And for Mark Antony, think not of him;
For he can do no more than Caesar’s arm
When Caesar’s head is off.
CASSIUSYet I fear him;
For in the ingrafted love he bears to Caesar–
BRUTUSAlas, good Cassius, do not think of him: 185
If he love Caesar, all that he can do
Is to himself, take thought and die for Caesar:
And that were much he should; for he is given
To sports, to wildness and much company.
TREBONIUSThere is no fear in him; let him not die; 190
For he will live, and laugh at this hereafter.
Clock strikes.
BRUTUSPeace! count the clock.
CASSIUSThe clock hath stricken three.
TREBONIUS‘Tis time to part.
CASSIUSBut it is doubtful yet,
Whether Caesar will come forth to-day, or no;
For he is superstitious grown of late, 195
Quite from the main opinion he held once
Of fantasy, of dreams and ceremonies:
It may be, these apparent prodigies,
The unaccustom’d terror of this night,
And the persuasion of his augurers, 200
May hold him from the Capitol to-day.
DECIUS BRUTUSNever fear that: if he be so resolved,
I can o’ersway him; for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betray’d with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes, 205
Lions with toils and men with flatterers;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered.
Let me work;
For I can give his humour the true bent, 210
And I will bring him to the Capitol.
CASSIUSNay, we will all of us be there to fetch him.
BRUTUSBy the eighth hour: is that the uttermost?
CINNABe that the uttermost, and fail not then.
METELLUS CIMBERCaius Ligarius doth bear Caesar hard, 215
Who rated him for speaking well of Pompey:
I wonder none of you have thought of him.
BRUTUSNow, good Metellus, go along by him:
He loves me well, and I have given him reasons;
Send him but hither, and I’ll fashion him. 220
CASSIUSThe morning comes upon’s: we’ll leave you, Brutus.
And, friends, disperse yourselves; but all remember
What you have said, and show yourselves true Romans.
BRUTUSGood gentlemen, look fresh and merrily;
Let not our looks put on our purposes, 225
But bear it as our Roman actors do,
With untired spirits and formal constancy:
And so good morrow to you every one.
Exeunt all but BRUTUS.
Boy! Lucius! Fast asleep? It is no matter;
Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber: 230
Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,
Which busy care draws in the brains of men;
Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.
PORTIABrutus, my lord!
BRUTUSPortia, what mean you? wherefore rise you now?
It is not for your health thus to commit 235
Your weak condition to the raw cold morning.
PORTIANor for yours neither. You’ve ungently, Brutus,
Stole from my bed: and yesternight, at supper,
You suddenly arose, and walk’d about,
Musing and sighing, with your arms across, 240
And when I ask’d you what the matter was,
You stared upon me with ungentle looks;
I urged you further; then you scratch’d your head,
And too impatiently stamp’d with your foot;
Yet I insisted, yet you answer’d not, 245
But, with an angry wafture of your hand,
Gave sign for me to leave you: so I did;
Fearing to strengthen that impatience
Which seem’d too much enkindled, and withal
Hoping it was but an effect of humour, 250
Which sometime hath his hour with every man.
It will not let you eat, nor talk, nor sleep,
And could it work so much upon your shape
As it hath much prevail’d on your condition,
I should not know you, Brutus. Dear my lord, 255
Make me acquainted with your cause of grief.
BRUTUSI am not well in health, and that is all.
PORTIABrutus is wise, and, were he not in health,
He would embrace the means to come by it.
BRUTUSWhy, so I do. Good Portia, go to bed. 260
PORTIAIs Brutus sick? and is it physical
To walk unbraced and suck up the humours
Of the dank morning? What, is Brutus sick,
And will he steal out of his wholesome bed,
To dare the vile contagion of the night 265
And tempt the rheumy and unpurged air
To add unto his sickness? No, my Brutus;
You have some sick offence within your mind,
Which, by the right and virtue of my place,
I ought to know of: and, upon my knees, 270
I charm you, by my once-commended beauty,
By all your vows of love and that great vow
Which did incorporate and make us one,
That you unfold to me, yourself, your half,
Why you are heavy, and what men to-night 275
Have had to resort to you: for here have been
Some six or seven, who did hide their faces
Even from darkness.
BRUTUSKneel not, gentle Portia.
PORTIAI should not need, if you were gentle Brutus.
Within the bond of marriage, tell me, Brutus, 280
Is it excepted I should know no secrets
That appertain to you? Am I yourself
But, as it were, in sort or limitation,
To keep with you at meals, comfort your bed,
And talk to you sometimes? Dwell I but in the suburbs 285
Of your good pleasure? If it be no more,
Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife.
BRUTUSYou are my true and honourable wife,
As dear to me as are the ruddy drops
That visit my sad heart 290
PORTIAIf this were true, then should I know this secret.
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife:
I grant I am a woman; but withal
A woman well-reputed, Cato’s daughter. 295
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so father’d and so husbanded?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose ’em:
I have made strong proof of my constancy,
Giving myself a voluntary wound 300
Here, in the thigh: can I bear that with patience.
And not my husband’s secrets?
BRUTUSO ye gods,
Render me worthy of this noble wife!
Knocking within.
Hark, hark! one knocks: Portia, go in awhile;
And by and by thy bosom shall partake 305
The secrets of my heart.
All my engagements I will construe to thee,
All the charactery of my sad brows:
Leave me with haste.
Lucius, who’s that knocks? 309
Re-enter LUCIUS with LIGARIUS.
LUCIUSHe is a sick man that would speak with you.
BRUTUSCaius Ligarius, that Metellus spake of.
Boy, stand aside. Caius Ligarius! how?
LIGARIUSVouchsafe good morrow from a feeble tongue.
BRUTUSO, what a time have you chose out, brave Caius,
To wear a kerchief! Would you were not sick!
LIGARIUSI am not sick, if Brutus have in hand
Any exploit worthy the name of honour.
BRUTUSSuch an exploit have I in hand, Ligarius,
Had you a healthful ear to hear of it.
LIGARIUSBy all the gods that Romans bow before, 320
I here discard my sickness! Soul of Rome!
Brave son, derived from honourable loins!
Thou, like an exorcist, hast conjured up
My mortified spirit. Now bid me run,
And I will strive with things impossible;
Yea, get the better of them. What’s to do?
BRUTUSA piece of work that will make sick men whole.
LIGARIUSBut are not some whole that we must make sick?
BRUTUSThat must we also. What it is, my Caius,
I shall unfold to thee, as we are going 330
To whom it must be done.
LIGARIUSSet on your foot,
And with a heart new-fired I follow you,
To do I know not what: but it sufficeth
That Brutus leads me on. 335
BRUTUSFollow me, then.

Next: Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 2


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 1

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,’ Anglo-Saxon ort-geard).

1. What: A common exclamation frequent in Shakespeare. So in V, iii, 72. The ‘when’ of l. 5 shows increasing impatience.

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, 71-72.

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 danger.”

19. Remorse: Constantly in Shakespeare ‘remorse’ is used for ‘pity’ or ‘compassion.’ Here it seems to mean something more, ‘conscience,’ ‘conscientiousness.’ So inOthello, 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.

20. affections sway’d: passions (inclinations) governed.

21. proof: experience. So in Twelfth Night, III, i, 135.

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 the ladder.

28prevent: anticipate.–quarrel: cause of complaint.

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 the Spirit.”

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. 143.

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, ii, 255.

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.

70brother: Cassius was married to Junia, the sister of Brutus.

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. See Skeat.

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, 129.

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 as Erebus.”

85. prevention: discovery, anticipation. This, the original sense, would lead to ‘prevention,’ as the term is used today.

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. InHamlet, 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,’ etc.

112. all over: one after the other until all have been included.

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 gerundively.

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 tyranny.

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 way.

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 full-ripen’d grain.”

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 them up.’

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.