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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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In February, 44 BC, Julius Caesar returns to Rome in triumph, having defeated the sons of his archenemy, Pompey the Great. The pomp and splendor of his victory is evident on all the streets, and most citizens are ready to proclaim him King of the entire Roman State. Only one person, the Soothsayer, speaks publicly of the possibility of trouble. He warns Caesar to "beware the Ides of March." Caesar ignores him and proceeds to enjoy his triumph.

Cassius and a few others, known collectively as the conspirators, are envious of Caesar's popularity and have begun to plot against him. They hope to give their cause respectability by enlisting Caesar's good friend, Marcus Brutus, as a member of their group. Brutus, a noble man, is an idealist who stands on principle above all else. The conspirators believe he can easily be swayed to join them by convincing him that Caesar is a threat to the good of Rome. Cassius, a shrewd man and the key conspirator, begins to slowly plant the seeds of doubt and anxiety in Brutus. He forges letters from concerned citizens and has them delivered to Brutus. Further, he tells Brutus stories that portray Caesar as weak and vulnerable.

Brutus is torn between friendship and politics. He is afraid that Cassius may be right and that Caesar, his good friend, may be unfit to rule; worried that Caesar may become a tyrant, Brutus feels he has a moral and ancestral obligation to protect Rome against such leadership. After much deliberation, Brutus decides it would be in the best interests of Rome if Caesar were to be killed before problems have time to develop. The conspirators meet with him and they plot their moves carefully. Brutus make a huge mistake when he convinces the assassins that it is not necessary to kill Mark Antony, Caesar's close friend; he erroneously argues that Antony is harmless to their cause. After the meeting ends and the conspirators depart, Brutus' wife Portia urges him to tell her what is happening and he only promises to tell her everything soon.

On the night before the assassination, Caesar's wife, Calphurnia, has nightmares about his death, a clear foreshadowing of things to come; she sees smiling Romans dipping their hands in her husband's blood. Because she sees the dream as an omen, she begs Caesar not to leave the house that day to go the Capitol. The priests also tell him to stay at home, alarmed that a sacrificial animal offered for Caesar was found to have no heart. Caesar scoffs at the fearful ones who surround him; he decides to humor them by staying home. When Caesar does not arrive at the Capitol, Decius Brutus, one of the conspirators, comes to Caesar's home. When told about the dream, Decius Brutus gives it a favorable interpretation and convinces Caesar to go to the Capitol, agreeing to escort him there. Caesar departs with the conspirator.

At the Capitol, a teacher of rhetoric tries to convince Caesar that there are conspirators plotting to kill him. The vain Caesar refuses to listen, believing himself to be invulnerable. He proceeds to the Senate House, where his "friends" surround him and stab him to death. Brutus delivers the final blow. When he is recognized by his dying friend, Caesar utters in total disbelief the famous phrase, "Et tu, Brute?" (And you too, Brutus?)

As the onlookers flee the murderous scene in panic, the assassins bathe their hands in Caesar's blood, just like in Calphurnia's dream. Antony, recovering from the initial shock over his friend's death, states peacefully that he will come to terms with the conspirators. When he is alone with the mutilated corpse, Antony reveals his true emotions and vows to take revenge on the conspirators, declaring that "domestic fury and fierce civil strife" will ravage all of the Roman Empire. His attitude of cooperation with and acceptance of the conspirators has obviously been an act to mask his vengeful spirit.

At Caesar's funeral, Brutus first tells the citizens that Caesar has been killed because his ambition was a threat to their liberties. Brutus is pleased with the approving reaction of the crowd to his speech and makes way for Antony to give his eulogy. Antony subtly incites the crowd to turn against the conspirators, reminding them of Caesar's goodness and telling them Caesar left them each a sizeable inheritance. By the end of his speech, Antony manipulates the citizens to turn against Brutus and Cassius. The small army of conspirators has to flee the city in order to escape the wrath of the mob.

Antony allies himself with Caesar's heir, Octavius, and with Aemilius Lepidus. The three men declare themselves the Second Triumvirate of Rome and propose to jointly rule in the wake of Caesar's reign. Almost immediately, they try to out-maneuver one another to gain more power. They also declare a civil war against Brutus, Cassius, and the conspirators. Brutus, quarreling with Cassius, begins to think that he has allied himself with a less than honorable partner.

When the fighting begins, things at first go well for Brutus and his soldiers. Then Cassius, hard pressed by Antony's soldiers, sends Titinius to learn the identity of some nearby troops. When Cassius' slave, Pindarus, mistakenly reports that Titinius has been captured, Cassius loses all hope of victory. He kills himself order to escape the ignominy of defeat. Titinius laments Cassius' death and then kills himself. Brutus continues to fight until his troops are defeated in another part of the battlefield. Brutus despairs and asks his servants Clitus and Volumnius to kill him, but they refuse. At last, Strato agrees to hold the sword while Brutus runs on it. Upon finding the body, Antony expresses his admiration for the fallen patrician, who was guided solely by his concern for the welfare of Rome rather than by greed or envy. Octavius orders that Brutus be buried with full military honors. Caesar's murder has been avenged and order is restored.

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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Summary


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