Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare

Act II, scenes ii–iv

Summary Act II, scenes ii–iv
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Summary: Act II, scene iv

Portia sends Brutus’s servant to the Senate to observe events and report back to her how Caesar is faring. A Soothsayer enters, and Portia asks him if Caesar has gone to the Capitol yet. The Soothsayer replies that he knows that Caesar has not yet gone; he intends to wait for Caesar along his route, since he wants to say a word to him. He goes to the street to wait, hoping Caesar’s entourage will let him speak to the great man.

Read a translation of Act II, scene iv →

Analysis: Act II, scenes ii–iv

These scenes emphasize the many grave signs portending Caesar’s death, as well as his stubborn refusal to heed them. Initially, Caesar does agree to stay home in order to please Calpurnia, showing more concern for his wife than Brutus did for Portia in the previous scene. In appreciating Calpurnia’s fear, Caesar demonstrates an ability to pay attention to his private matters, albeit a muffled one. But when Decius tells him that the senators plan to offer him the crown that day, Caesar’s desire to comfort his wife gives way to his ambition, and his public self again prevails over his private self.

Increasingly and markedly in these scenes, Caesar refers to himself in the third person, especially when he speaks of his lack of fear (“Yet Caesar shall go forth, for these predictions / Are to the world in general as to Caesar” [II.ii.2829]). Tragically, he no longer sees the difference between his powerful public image and his vulnerable human body. Even at home in his dressing gown, far from the senators and crowds whose respect he craves, he assumes the persona of “Caesar,” the great man who knows no fear. Caesar has displayed a measure of humility in turning down the crown the day before, but this humility has evaporated by the time he enters into his third-person self-commentary and hastens to the Senate to accept the crown at last.

Perhaps this behavior partially confirms the conspirators’ charges: Caesar does seem to long for power and would like to hold the crown; he really might become a tyrant if given the opportunity. Whether this speculation constitutes reason sufficient to kill him is debatable. Indeed, it seems possible that the faults that the conspirators—with the possible exception of Brutus—see in Caesar are viewed through the veil of their own ambition: they oppose his kingship not because he would make a poor leader, but because his leadership would preclude their own. In explaining the noble deed to be performed to Ligarius, Brutus describes it as “a piece of work that will make sick men whole.” Ligarius responds, “But are not some whole that we must make sick?” (II.i.326327). Whereas Brutus’s primary concern is the well-being of the people, Ligarius’s is with bringing down those above him.

Calpurnia’s dream of the bleeding statue perfectly foreshadows the eventual unfolding of the assassination plot: the statue is a symbol of Caesar’s corpse, and the vague smiling Romans turn out, of course, to be the conspirators, reveling in his bloodshed. Yet, to the end, Caesar remains unconvinced by any omens. If one argues that omens serve as warnings by which individuals can avoid disaster, then one must view Caesar’s inflexibility regarding these omens as an arrogance that brings about his death. On the other hand, Shakespeare also imparts Caesar’s stubbornness with dignity and a touch of wisdom, as when Caesar professes that since the gods decide the time of one’s death, death cannot be averted: if it is fated for the conspirators to kill him, perhaps to die bravely is the most honorable, worthy course of action he can take.