Julius Caesar Act II Summary

     Act II of Julius Caesar opens with one of Brutus' famous soliloquies. In the wee hours of the morning, he is alone on stage, debating with himself about what to do regarding Julius Caesar. On the one hand, he compares Caesar to an unhatched snake, asserting that Caesar is not dangerous yet but that he could become dangerous. Brutus also worries that, as Caesar climbs the ladder of power, he will forget all of the people beneath him and, thus, become a corrupted leader. However, Brutus keeps coming back to the idea that Caesar hasn't done anything wrong up until now. Ultimately, Brutus decides that he will go through with killing Caesar because he worries that Caesar has too much potential to do evil.

     At the conclusion of this speech, Brutus' servant brings him a letter he has found. This is, of course, one of the letters that Cassius has had planted in Brutus' home. It asks Brutus to "speak, strike, redress" or, in other words, to take action against a wrong, i.e. Caesar. Reading this letter only furthers Brutus' resolve to do something.

     Following this, Cassius arrives at Brutus' house with other men who have joined the conspiracy to kill Caesar. Brutus greets each of them in turn, and they begin to discuss how they will bring about Caesar's demise. Cassius suggests they all make a promise to go through with their plans no matter what. However, Brutus insists that they should not be driven by some empty oath but rather the knowledge that they are doing what is best for Rome.

     As the discussion progresses, it becomes obvious that leadership of the conspiracy is quickly shifting to Brutus. When someone suggests asking a man named Cicero to join the conspiracy, Brutus expresses his disapproval. Immediately, everyone in the conspiracy agrees. Cassius then goes on to assert his belief that they should kill Mark Antony as well, as he is Caesar's loyal follower and may be tempted to seek revenge after Caesar's assassination. However, Brutus replies that they don't want their actions to become a blood path, so they must only kill Caesar. He assures them that Antony, without Caesar, would be as useless as Caesar's hand if his head were to be cut off. Once again, the conspirators quickly agree with Brutus.

     The conspirators plan to murder Caesar the following day before he can be crowned. Because Caesar has been superstitious lately, the conspirators resolve to meet him at his house and be sure that he goes to the Capitol.

     The plans to kill Caesar thus made, the conspirators depart. Portia, Brutus's wife, then comes onto the scene. She has seen this group of strange men in her home late at night, and she wants to know what has transpired between them. She has also noticed that Brutus has not been acting like himself lately, and she has concluded that he must have a "sickness of the mind" or some sort of mental burden. Brutus at first refuses to tell her anything. Then, however, she stabs herself in the thigh, attempting to show Brutus that if she can bear such physical pain then surely she can bear the weight of his secrets. So convinced, Brutus agrees to tell her what he knows later on.

     In Scene II, the focus shifts to Caesar's home. The previous night, Caesar's wife, Calpurnia had nightmares about Caesar's death, and she begs Caesar not to go to the Capitol that day. Caesar wavers at this issue, finally relenting. He agrees that he will tell the senators that he is sick and therefore cannot go to the Capitol.

     Soon enough, however, one of the conspirators-Decius-arrives. Caesar tells him of his troubles. He reveals that Calpurnia dreamed that a fountain of himself ran with blood and that the people of Rome washed their hands in it. Decius tells Caesar not to worry and reinterprets the dream, showing it to be symbolic rather than literal. He tells Caesar it means that Caesar will be able to give new life to Rome. He also cautions Caesar that if they don't show up, the Senators may not give him a crown at all.

     Having heard this, Caesar tells Calpurnia that her fears were silly. He agrees to go to the Capitol and leaves with the conspirators.

     Scene III is very brief and shows a man, Artemidorus, writing a letter of warning to Caesar. He basically names all of the conspirators in the letter and resolves to give this letter to Caesar if he can.

     The final scene, scene IV, moves back to Portia. Because she is a woman-and women in ancient Rome's time were not given much power-she cannot go to the Capitol to see what is happening. It's a little unclear whether or not Brutus told her his plans after all. It is possible that she came to her own conclusions, as she does wish him good luck in his "enterprise."

     Act II is an important one, especially in terms of the development of Brutus' character. His famous soliloquy at the beginning of the act shows the depth of his inner turmoil. He is a man who is torn by loyalty to a friend and doing what is best for his country. Ultimately, he decides that killing Caesar is for the best. Though the audience might find his decision a little unfounded, as Caesar has done no wrong yet, it is also very clear that Brutus is not sneaky and manipulative like Cassius in this endeavor. Rather, he truly wants what is best for his beloved Rome. Unfortunately for him, this sometimes causes a blind spot in his judgment.

     Something similar occurs in regards to Marc Antony. Brutus is quick to write him off as harmless because he is concerned with justice, above all else. This is despite Cassius' warning that they may regret letting Antony live. And, indeed, Cassius will later prove to be correct about this issue. Once again, Brutus' genuine desire to do what is right gets in the way.

     In this Act, Shakespeare also artfully builds tension leading up to the death of Julius Caesar. Foreshadowing in the first act suggested that something bad would happen on March 15. This, as it turns out in the second act, is the day Caesar is to be crowned. A whole host of warnings have piled up until this point, and it is compounded by Calpurnia's rather obviously foreboding dream. Despite these multitude of warnings, it is clear that Caesar has a flaw just as Brutus does. However, Caesar's flaw is his overconfidence and his unwillingness to believe that he is not invincible.

     Additionally, the interaction between the principal men characters and their wives also contrasts their nature. Where Brutus seems genuinely moved by Portia's emotional speech, Caesar hesitates to heed his wife's warning and eventually brushes her off. This helps to develop Brutus, once again, as a character with whom the audience can sympathize with while Caesar is certainly less so.



Related Links:

Julius Caesar Quotations
Julius Caesar Act III Summary
Julius Caesar Act IV Summary
Julius Caesar Summary
Julius Caesar Quiz
Literature
Literature Summaries



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