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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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ACT III, SCENE III

The poet Cinna is murdered by an angry mob because he has the same name as one of the conspirators. Why is a poet the crowd's first victim? Perhaps because the murder of someone so obviously innocent and apolitical emphasizes the horror of the deed. Perhaps Shakespeare is suggesting-though he does not actually say so-that artists have no place in a world torn by civil strife, since it is the artist's job to create order from disorder, and to insist upon the truth.

The murder reminds us how dangerous the masses are when their emotions are unchecked. It also foreshadows months of death and destruction, to innocent and guilty alike.

NOTE: ON THE POWER OF NAMES
Cinna the poet is murdered because he has the same name as one of the conspirators. How powerful names are, and how often people mistake them for the person beneath! Portia, Brutus, Caesar-all try to live up to their names and bring about their own destruction. The crowds are happy to call Brutus "Caesar," because it is the name that matters to them, not the man.



ACT IV, SCENE I

The "dogs of war" have been set loose. The sickness that began with Caesar's death has spread and infected the entire state of Rome. In a world without order, brother kills brother and friend kills friend.

Antony checks off the names of men to die as casually as someone checking off items on a shopping list. This is clearly not the "freedom" Brutus envisioned for the people of Rome after the death of Caesar.

Antony is ruthless. He is a man without conscience, who will let nothing-not honor, not friendship-stand in his way. Yet he remains a devoted friend to Caesar. He is also honest with himself and does not try to be something he is not. He is brutally effective. He is a realist who is willing to dirty his hands to achieve what he considers noble ends.

Antony plans to deprive the people of the money promised them in Caesar's will. A contemptible act, yes, yet necessary perhaps to raise an army to fight the conspirators.

Antony makes use of Lepidus, then scoffs at him behind his back-refusing to share power with such a "barren-spirited fellow" who feeds on the fashions of the moment.

Antony reveals himself both in his willingness to manipulate and kill and in his readiness to defy even Caesar's wishes for the people. He is wonderfully clearsighted and self-controlled, and yet obsessed by the desire for revenge. His mission defines him; it gives him a purpose in life without which, it seems, he cannot exist.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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