Brutus prepares for another battle with the Romans. In the field, Lucillius pretends that he is Brutus, and the Romans capture him. Antony’s men bring him before Antony, who recognizes Lucillius. Antony orders his men to go see if the real Brutus is alive or dead and to treat their prisoner well.
Brutus sits with his few remaining men. He asks them to hold his sword so that he may run against it and kill himself. The Ghost of Caesar has appeared to him on the battlefield, he says, and he believes that the time has come for him to die. His men urge him to flee; he demurs, telling them to begin the retreat, and that he will catch up later. He then asks one of his men to stay behind and hold the sword so that he may yet die honorably. Impaling himself on the sword, Brutus declares that in killing himself he acts on motives twice as pure as those with which he killed Caesar, and that Caesar should consider himself avenged: “Caesar, now be still. / I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.50–51).
Antony enters with Octavius, Messala, Lucillius, and the rest of their army. Finding Brutus’s body, Lucillius says that he is glad that his master was not captured alive. Octavius decides to take Brutus’s men into his own service. Antony speaks over the body, stating that Brutus was the noblest Roman of all: while the other conspirators acted out of envy of Caesar’s power, Brutus acted for what he believed was the common good. Brutus was a worthy citizen, a rare example of a real man. Octavius adds that they should bury him in the most honorable way and orders the body to be taken to his tent. The men depart to celebrate their victory.
Brutus preserves his noble bravery to the end: unlike the cowardly Cassius, who has his slave stab him while he, Cassius, covers his face, Brutus decides calmly on his death and impales himself on his own sword. Upon giving up the ghost, Brutus, like Cassius, addresses Caesar in an acknowledgment that Caesar has been avenged; whereas Cassius closes with a factual remark about Caesar’s murder (“Even with the sword that killed thee” [V.iii.45]), Brutus closes with an emotional expression that reveals how his inextinguishable inner conflict has continued to plague him: “I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.51). Additionally, whereas the dead Cassius is immediately abandoned by a lowly slave, the dead Brutus is almost immediately celebrated by his enemy as the noblest of Romans. Notably, Brutus is also the only character in the play to interpret correctly the signs auguring his death. When the Ghost of Caesar appears to him on the battlefield, he unflinchingly accepts his defeat and the inevitability of his death.
With Antony’s speech over Brutus’s body, it finally becomes clear who the true hero—albeit a tragic hero—of the play is. Although Caesar gives the play its name, he has few lines and dies early in the third act. While Octavius has proven himself the leader of the future, he has not yet demonstrated his full glory. History tells us that Antony will soon be ousted from the triumvirate by Octavius’s growing power. Over the course of the play, Cassius rises to some power, but since he lacks integrity, he is little more than a petty schemer. The idealistic, tormented Brutus, struggling between his love for Caesar and his belief in the ideal of a republic, faces the most difficult of decisions—a decision in which the most is at stake—and he chooses wrongly. As Antony observes, Brutus’s decision to enter into the conspiracy does not originate in ambition but rather in his inflexible belief in what the Roman government should be. His ideal proves too rigid in the political world of the play, in which it appears that one succeeds only through chameleonlike adaptability, through bargaining and compromise—skills that Antony masterfully displays.
Brutus’s mistake lies in his attempt to impose his private sense of honor on the whole Roman state. In the end, killing Caesar does not stop the Roman republic from becoming a dictatorship, for Octavius assumes power and becomes a new Caesar. Brutus’s beliefs may be a holdover from earlier ideas of statesmanship. Unable to shift into the new world order, Brutus misunderstands Caesar’s intentions and mistakes the greedy ambition of the conspirators for genuine civic concern. Thus, Brutus kills his friend and later dies himself. But in the end, Antony, the master rhetorician, with no trace of the sarcasm that suffuses his earlier speech about Brutus, still honors him as the best Roman of them all.
An idea about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar...
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I just read Julius Caesar. I liked the play, and I loved Marc Antony's funeral speech. If you're interested, check out my blog on the play:
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