Julius Caesar Summary

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

     Julius Caesar begins by setting the scene for the audience. The play takes place in ancient Rome and, in the first scene, the audience is able to recognize some of the central conflict. In the first scene, many people are out and about in Rome, celebrating Caesar's recent victory over a man named Pompey. To some people-like tribunes Marullus and Flavius-this celebration seems out of place. Once, Caesar and Pompey had been allies and, according to Marullus, it wasn't long ago that the people of Rome were celebrating Pompey's victories, rather than his defeat. After a conversation about this issue with some of the commoners, Marullus and Flavius to go through the streets of Rome and tear down any decorations that have been put up in Caesar's honor. This is their way of protesting Caesar's hero-like status.

     In the next scene, the audience sees that there is a celebration taking place. A soothsayer approaches Julius Caesar, warning him of the ides of March, or March 15. Caesar ignores this warning and continues on his way. Meanwhile, Brutus walks apart from Caesar and has a quiet conversation with an old friend, Cassius. Ever observant, Cassius has noticed that Brutus has not been acting like himself lately. Though he doesn't say it directly, Cassius clearly knows what is the matter with Brutus. It seems that Brutus has been very worried that Caesar-and old friend of his-has quickly gained too much power. Brutus doesn't quite know what to do about him. Cassius easily recognizes this source of conflict in Brutus.

     During this conversation, Brutus and Cassius hear shouting. Later, they find out that Caesar was offered a crown a total of three times, though each time he refused it. Caesar also fell down and had a seizure in front of the crowd, displaying a clear physical weakness despite the fact that he acts like he is invincible.

     As they continue their conversation, Cassius tries to convince Brutus that there is no reason for Caesar to have become quite so powerful so quickly. He is intentionally trying to manipulate Brutus, and he says as much in a soliloquy, or a speech that he gives while alone on stage.

     In the second act, it becomes obvious just how much Cassius' words have impacted Brutus. Alone at night, Brutus wonders out loud what he should do about Caesar. He concludes that, though Caesar has not been dangerous yet, that he has the potential to become very dangerous, just as an unhatched snake does. Because of this, Brutus concludes that he must kill Caesar while he has the chance.

     Soon, Cassius and the other conspirators arrive at Brutus' home. Together, they begin to put a plan together for how they will kill Julius Caesar. They decide they will kill him at the Capital, and that they will go to his home to ensure that he does show up on the day he is supposed to be crowned. As all of this takes place, the leadership of the conspiracy very clearly shifts toward Brutus. This is most clear in how they decide to deal with Mark Antony. Because Antony is a loyal follower of Caesar, Cassius fears that he may try to take revenge on the conspirators. As a result, Cassius wants to kill Antony as well as Caesar. However, Brutus doesn't want their actions to be too bloody, so he argues that they should not kill Antony. He also argues that Antony cannot do anything with Caesar, essentially saying that he has no mind of his own. The conspirators decide to do nothing about Antony based on Brutus' assessment.

     Following this conversation, Brutus speaks with his wife, Portia. Portia expresses her concern for her husband because she has noticed that he has not been acting like himself lately. She has also, of course, noticed the group of strange men who have shown up at her house in the middle of the night. Though Brutus does not tell her exactly what is wrong, he does promise that the will do so at a later time.

     The next scene moves to Caesar's home. Caesar is supposed to go to the Capitol that day to be crowned. However, his wife, Calpurnia, has had some terrible dreams. She dreamed that a statue of Caesar ran with Caesar's blood and that the citizens of Rome washed their hands in it. As a result of this dream, she wants him to stay home instead of going to the Capitol. Just when Caesar is almost convinced to listen to his wife, one of the conspirators, Decius, arrives at his home. Hearing about the dream, Decius reinterprets it in a less literal and more metaphorical way. He tells Caesar that the dream means that Caesar will give new life to Rome. He also cautions Caesar that if he does not got to the Capital that the Senate may change their mind about crowning him.

     Caesar does not need more convincing than that. Shortly, the other conspirators arrive, and they all escort him to the Capitol.

     In the final scene of Act II, Portia sends a servant to the Capitol to what is going on with her husband, as she cannot go herself.

     Act III begins with Caesar's murder. He arrives at the Capitol, where one man-Artimedorus-attempts to give him a letter of warning about the conspirators. However, Caesar brushes off this warning. Shortly after this, the conspirators gather around Caesar, under the pretext of begging for the return of one man's brother. While he is so distracted, the first conspirator stabs Caesar, and all of the others follow suit. Brutus is the last to stab Caesar, and Caesar's final words show his shock at seeing betrayal by someone he had considered to be a good friend.

     Following his murder, the conspirators walk the streets of Rome with blood on their hands. They want the Romans to see that they are not afraid to take credit for what they have done. Clearly, the audience is supposed to connect this image with Calpurnia's foreboding dream. During this time, Brutus also sends for Mark Antony. Antony sends a messenger in response, saying that he will only come to speak to Brutus if he can be assured of his own safety. Ever honorable, Brutus assures Antony that he is safe.

     When Antony approaches Brutus a short while later, he is clearly distraught over the death of Caesar. However, he agrees that he will make peace with the conspirators, or at least appears that he will. Antony asks Brutus if he might be allowed to speak at Caesar's funeral. Cassius objects to this, cautioning Brutus that Antony might be able to stir up trouble. However, Brutus gives Antony permission regardless of this warning. He outlines several rules for Antony that he feels will prevent Antony from causing any trouble.

     At the end of the scene, Antony is left alone for a time. At this point, he receives word that Octavius-Caesar's nephew-is approaching Rome. Antony sends word to Octavius to wait a while before approaching the city, for his own safety.

     In the next scene, the reader sees Brutus and Antony's speeches at Caesar's funeral. Brutus speaks first, and explains to the commoners that he only killed Caesar because he thought it was in the best interest of Rome. He leaves, and Antony speaks next. Antony follows Brutus' guidelines; however, though he calls the conspirators "honorable men," he is able to clearly show how he believes their actions to be quite the opposite of honorable. Through his words, he is able to turn the common people against the conspirators. Ultimately, Brutus and Cassius are forced to flee Rome, and the commoners rampage through the streets, violently seeking out all of the conspirators.

     The final two acts focus on the aftermath of Caesar's death. The first scene of Act IV shows Antony with his new allies, Octavius, and Lepidus. Antony has clearly taken control of the situation. He also does not hesitate to use Lepidus or to condemn many people to death. This scene serves to show just how deeply Brutus underestimated Antony.

     The next scene moves to Brutus and Cassius, who have gathered an army outside of Rome. It is clear to the audience in this scene that discord has sown itself between Brutus and Cassius. They have several disagreements between the two of them. However, they do eventually make up. Brutus also reveals in this scene that part of the reason he has been on edge is because his wife, Portia, has died.

     Brutus and Cassius go on to discuss their battle plans. They know that Octavius and Antony have gathered an army and are marching to a place called Philippi. Brutus and Cassius have two options: to stay where they are and let the opposition come to them, or to boldly go forward and meet the army at Phillipi. Cassius wants to say where they are, reasoning that Antony's army will use up all of its supplies to get to them. Brutus, however, is worried that if they don't move that they will themselves run out of supplies. They decide to go with Brutus plan and ready their forces to march toward Philippi. That evening, however, Brutus has a vision of the ghost of Caesar, who says he will see him at Philippi. This is some clear foreshadowing of what will happen to Brutus at the upcoming battle.

     The final act of the play shows the battle between these two opposing forces. During the battle, Cassius sends one of his men-Titinius-out to see if an approaching group of soldiers is friend or foe. Meanwhile, he has a servant, Pindarus, climb a hill to see what is happening. Pindarus reports that it looks like Titinius was taken captive. Grieved over having sent his friend to his death, Cassius asks Pindarus to take his sword and kill him while he covers his eyes. Pindarus does so and flees the scene.

     A short time later, Titinius returns to report that the group of soldiers he rode into were friends and were celebrating with him a recent victory. Seeing Cassius dead, he too kills himself.

     The battle continues on, and things do not go well for Brutus. However, the audience can clearly see the respect that his men have for him when one of them attempts to protect Brutus by pretending to be him. Knowing he cannot win, Brutus asks several of his companions to hold his sword while he runs into it. Finally, someone agrees to help him and, thus, he dies.

     At the very end of the play, Antony and Octavius find Brutus' body. Antony, Brutus' worst enemy, recognizes Brutus was a noble person. Where all of the other conspirators acted out of jealousy for Caesar, Antony says, Brutus did what he did only because he thought that it was right.

     Throughout the play, Brutus is very much the tragic hero. A tragic hero is a character in a Shakespeare play who has some sort of fatal flaw or error in judgment that leads to their downfall. For Brutus, his downfall is his single-mindedness when it comes to doing what is right. Though a noble characteristic, it often clouds his judgment so that he cannot see the whole picture. He is also a character who makes several bad decisions, including not killing Antony and choosing to march to Phillipi. This only makes his downfall all the more tragic. Though he has the best intentions, he does not win out in the end.

     One of the major themes of Julius Caesar is the idea of persuasion. Throughout the play, many characters use the power of persuasion to sway others. The first example of this is Cassius, who uses several convincing arguments to win Brutus to the conspiracy. Antony is also a prime example. His funeral speech is incredibly powerful and, through it, he is even able to stir a rebellion against Brutus and Cassius. Even Decius, a minor character, is able to persuade Julius Caesar to see his wife's ominous dream in a new light.

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Julius Caesar Act II Quiz
Julius Caesar Act III Quiz
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Julius Caesar Act III Summary
Julius Caesar Act IV Summary
Julius Caesar Act V Summary
Julius Caesar Important Characters
Literature Summaries

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