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Antony now addresses Caesar’s departed spirit, asking to be pardoned for making peace with the conspirators over his dead body. After Antony praises Caesar’s bravery, Cassius questions his loyalty. Antony assures Cassius that he indeed desires to be numbered among their friends, explaining that he merely forgot himself for a moment upon seeing Caesar’s body. He emphasizes that he will gladly ally himself with all of the former conspirators, as long as they can explain to him why Caesar was dangerous.
Brutus assures Antony that he will find their explanation satisfactory. Antony asks if he might bring the body to the Forum and speak a funeral oration. Brutus consents, but Cassius urges him against granting permission. He tells Brutus that Antony will surely move the people against them if he is allowed to speak. Brutus replies that he will preface Antony’s words, explaining to the public the reason for the conspirators’ deed, and then explain that Antony has been allowed to speak only by Brutus’s consent. He believes that the people will admire his magnanimity for allowing Antony, a friend of Caesar’s, to take part in the funeral, and that the episode will benefit the conspiracy’s public image. Cassius remains displeased, but Brutus allows Antony to take Caesar’s body, instructing him to speak well of them since they are doing him a favor by permitting him to give the oration.
All depart; Antony remains alone onstage. He asks Caesar to pardon him for being gentle with his murderers. Antony prophesies that civil strife will follow Caesar’s death and lead to much destruction. As long as the foul deed of Caesar’s death remains unavenged, he predicts, Caesar’s spirit will continue to seek revenge, bringing chaos to Rome.
Octavius’s servant enters and sees the body on the ground. Antony tells him to return to Octavius, who had been traveling to Rome at Caesar’s behest, and keep his master out of the city; Rome is now dangerous for Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son and appointed successor. But Antony urges the servant to come to the Forum and hear his funeral speech. Once they see how the public responds to the conspirators’ evil deed, they can decide how Octavius should proceed.Read a translation of Act III, scene i →
Just preceding his death, Caesar refuses Artemidorus’s pleas to speak with him, saying that he gives last priority to his nearest, most personal concerns. He thus again demonstrates a split between his public and private selves, endangering himself by believing that his public self is so strong that his private self cannot be harmed. This sense of invulnerability manifests itself clearly when Caesar compares himself to the North Star, which never moves from its position at the center of the sky: “constant as the Northern Star, / Of whose true fixed and resting quality / There is no fellow in the firmament. / [the] one in all [that] doth hold his place” (III.i.60–65). He not only considers himself steadfast but also infallible, beyond the questioning of mortal men, as he compares the foolish idea of him being persuaded of something to the impossible act of hefting the weight of Mount Olympus. In positioning himself thus as a divine figure (the Romans deified certain beloved figures, such as popular leaders, and believed that, upon dying, these figures became ensconced in the firmament), Caesar reveals his belief that he is truly a god. His refusal to pardon Metellus’s banished brother serves to show that his belief in the sanctity of his own authority is unwavering up to the moment that he is killed.
Cassius suggests that future generations will remember, repeat, and retell the conspirators’ actions in the years to come. The statement constitutes a self-referential moment in the play, since Shakespeare’s play itself is a retelling of a retelling: the historical murder of Caesar had been treated earlier by Plutarch (46–119? a.d.), whose Lives of the Noble Greeks and Romans served as Shakespeare’s source. It was Plutarch who asserted that Caesar ceased to defend himself upon recognizing Brutus among the conspirators, and Plutarch who first gave Caesar his famous last words, which Shakespeare preserves in the original Latin, “Et tu, Brute?” (“And you, Brutus?” [III.i.76]). With these words, Caesar apprehends the immensity of the plot to kill him—a plot so total that it includes even his friends—and simultaneously levels a heartbroken reproach at his former friend. By Shakespeare’s time, Plutarch’s lines had already achieved fame, and an Elizabethan audience would likely have anticipated them in the murder scene.