Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare

Act IV, scenes i–ii

Summary Act IV, scenes i–ii

Brutus suggests that they march to Philippi to meet the enemy. Cassius says that he would rather let the enemy come to them. Brutus protests that they are at the peak of their readiness and should seize the opportunity. Cassius relents and agrees to march. The others depart, leaving Brutus in his tent with his servant Lucius. Brutus summons Varro and Claudio to sleep in his tent until they are needed for early morning messages.

The others fall asleep while Brutus lies awake trying to read. A spectral image enters (identified in the text as “Ghost of Caesar”). Brutus wonders if he is dreaming; he asks the form to identify himself. The Ghost replies that he is “thy evil spirit” (IV.ii.333). After telling Brutus that they will see each other again at Philippi, the Ghost disappears, and Brutus wakes his attendants. He asks them if they saw anything strange, but they reply that they did not.

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Analysis: Act IV, scenes i–ii

These scenes deal with the events that take place in the vacuum of power left by Caesar’s death. Antony’s speech to the Roman citizens in Act III, scene ii centers on the fact that Caesar had set aside money for each citizen. Now, ironically, he searches for ways to turn these funds into cash in order to raise an army against Brutus and Cassius. Although he has gained his current power by offering to honor Caesar’s will and provide the citizens with their rightful money, we now see that he apparently has no intention of fulfilling this promise. In a strange dialogue with Octavius, he also badly insults Lepidus, explaining how, just as his horse has been taught to fight, turn, stop, and move his body according to Antony’s will, so, too, must Lepidus now be trained. Antony declares Lepidus “a barren-spirited fellow, one that feeds / On objects, arts, and imitations”; he reproaches Octavius, saying, “Do not talk of him / But as a property,” that is, as a mere instrument for the furtherance of their own goals (IV.i.3640). Lepidus proves an effective tool for them in that he is malleable and apparently not intelligent enough to devise his own motives. While Shakespeare may have inserted this string of insults simply for comic relief, this abuse serves as another illustration of Antony’s sense of political expediency: while he does not respect Lepidus, he still uses him for his own purposes.

Meanwhile, questions of honor plague the conspirators as well, as Cassius and Brutus exchange accusations. Their argument seems to arise partially from a misunderstanding but also partially from stubbornness. Though Brutus claims that his honor forbids him from raising money in unscrupulous ways, he would still use such money as long as it was not he himself, but rather Cassius, who raised it. We see that Brutus speaks against corruption, but when he has no other means of paying his army, he quickly consents to unscrupulousness, if only indirectly.

Portia’s death is reported twice in scene ii (Plutarch’s telling, upon which Shakespeare based his play, describes Portia’s death more explicitly: she put hot coals in her mouth and choked herself to death). Some argue that the repetition of the announcement of Portia’s suicide reveals the effect of revision on Shakespeare’s part; perhaps, while adding in one section of the scene, he forgot to remove another. Other scholars suggest that Brutus’s two separate comments regarding Portia’s death show two separate sides of his personality—again, the private versus the public. That is, alone with Cassius, he admits that his distress at the loss of his wife, but before his men, he appears indifferent or dispassionate. Perhaps the latter reaction is merely a facade, and Brutus simply has too much pride to show his true feelings in public.

Brutus’s words to Cassius proclaiming their readiness for battle are significant in that they emphasize Brutus’s belief in the power of the will over fate: