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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 70-85

The conspirators enter, their faces buried in their cloaks, and Brutus is upset and embarrassed to associate with them. His conflict is one we all face at one time or another when we are forced to compromise ourselves (lie, cheat, etc.) for what we consider a greater good.

LINES 86-111

Cassius who considers Brutus his good friend-immediately begins to play on Brutus' vanity:

and no man here But honors you; and every one doth wish You had but that opinion of yourself Which every noble Roman bears of you.

Act II, Scene i, lines 90-93

Brutus wants to know what cares are keeping his friends from sleep. Does he really not know? Can there by any question what these men are plotting? He may just be asking for details, or he may be trying once again to lay the blame for the plot on others in order to keep his own hands clean. While Cassius confers with Brutus, the other conspirators-Casca, Cinna and Decius-debate where the sun will rise. Dawn represents a new day, literally and symbolically. Evil deeds, bad dreams, heavenly disorders-these are associated with the night. Note that the three conspirators can't agree on where the sun will rise, and that Casca points toward the rising sun with a sword.

LINES 112-140

In his speech to the conspirators, Brutus tries to portray the assassination as a virtuous act. Taking an oath, he argues, will put a stain on a noble enterprise. To Brutus it is not a conspiracy, not a murder, but an "enterprise." Like many public figures, he uses words to cloak the horror of his deed.

Unlike Brutus, Cassius admits that the work at hand is bloody, fiery, and terrible (Act I, Scene iii, line 130). He too believes his goal is noble, but he is honest with himself about the means he must use to accomplish his goal.

Is there such a thing as a virtuous murder? Can good come from evil? Brutus hides from these questions, but his behavior forces us to ask them of ourselves.

LINES 141-161

Once Brutus joins the conspirators, he quickly takes over. The others defer to his judgment. Metellus recommends that Cicero join them-his age will lend an air of respectability to the plot. Brutus says no, "For he will never follow anything / that other men begin." This is Brutus' first decision as one of the conspirators; is it a wise one? Cicero was Rome's greatest orator, who might have swayed the crowds at Caesar's funeral, and changed the course of Roman history. Does Brutus fear that Cicero will question his authority?

Notice how quickly Cassius accepts Brutus' judgment. Is the issue not important enough to risk a break with Brutus? Or does Cassius simply lack the confidence to stand up to his high-minded friend?

Brutus' second decision is to spare Antony's life. It is a decision that is morally correct, but politically disastrous. Trying to remain pure and faithful to his principles, he unleashes death and destruction on Rome, and dooms himself.

If Brutus had listened to Cassius and killed Antony, the conspirators might have restored power to the people and their elected representatives.

Does the world belong, then, to opportunists like Cassius-men or women with no consciences? Is Shakespeare suggesting that politics and ideals never mix? That a person with principles is doomed to failure in an imperfect world? These are chilling thoughts.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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