Julius Caesar, Act Three: 23 Stabbings and a Funeral

Act Three of Julius Caesar begins with Caesar’s arrival at the Capitol, mocking the soothsayer who had told him to beware the Ides of March. The soothsayer can only say that while the day has come, it hasn’t passed yet. Artemedorus is there, too, trying to get Caesar to read his letter revealing the conspiracy. Meanwhile, others have petitions for him to read, and when Artemedorus says that his “touches Caesar nearer” (III.i.7), Caesar responds that any such letter will be “last served” (III.i.8).

There’s a bit of suspense when Popillius wishes Cassius success in his “enterprise today” (III.i.13), and then speaks to Caesar. Then Trebonius pulls Mark Antony aside. The conspirators take their places. Metellus comes forward with a request to allow his banished brother to return to Rome, but Caesar interrupts him before he can even get the plea out, preemptively denying even Metellus’ begging:

Thy brother by decree is banishèd.
If thou dost bend and pray and fawn for him,
I spurn thee like a cur out of my way.
  • III.i.44-6

Brutus comes forward to plead on behalf of Metellus, so does Cassius. Three of the conspirators are within striking distance. None of their appeals are heard, as Caesar is
constant as the Northern Star,

Of whose true fixed and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament.
  • III.i.60-2

He simply will not change his mind. So, Cinna, Decius, and Ligarius move forward to kneel and appeal as well. When Caesar mocks their pleas, Casca begins the assault: “Speak hands for me” (III.i.76). Caesar’s final words are: “Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar” (III.i.76). It’s as if by seeing Brutus with a knife as well, Caesar gives up his life (though as we shall see later, not his ghost… ooooh, foreshadowing).

When the non-conspirators, including senators, the Soothsayer and Artemedorus, flee the Senate, Brutus tries to calm them: “Fly not! Stand still! Ambition’s debt is paid” (III.i.82), stating the conspiracy’s rationale for the assassination. When the aging senator Publius is found hiding, both Brutus and Cassius make sure he has safe passage out to ensure that “no man abide(s) this deed // But … the doers” (III.i.94-5). Once it’s only the conspirators, Brutus has another way of having the public know exactly who is responsible for the killing:

                 Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows and besmear our swords.
Then walk we forth, even to the marketplace,
And, waving our red weapons o’er our heads,
Let’s all cry “Peace, freedom, and liberty!”
  • III.i.106-11

As they are about to make their separate ways into the public, Antony’s servant arrives to flatteringly request safe passage to Brutus so that he and the conspirators explain to Antony “How Caesar hath deserved to lie in death” (III.i.133). Brutus assures safe passage, but while the servant goes to get Antony, Cassius voices his fear of Antony.

Antony arrives and upon seeing Caesar’s body, immediately offers to die alongside Caesar, as for him

                 there is no hour so fit
As Caesar’s death’s hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world.
  • III.i.154-7

Instead, Brutus welcomes him as a brother, and Cassius assures him that he will have a part in the new government. Antony shakes the bloody hands of the conspirators and immediately apologizes to Caesar’s corpse for doing so. Cassius, suspicious, asks,

But what compact mean you to have with us?
Will you be pricked in number of our friends,
Or shall we on and not depend on you?
  • III.i.217-9

Antony says he will support them, but he wants to know the reasons for the assassination. Oh, and one more thing: to…

Produce his body to the marketplace,
And in the pulpit, as becomes a friend,
Speak in the order of his funeral.
  • III.i.230-2

When Brutus agrees, Cassius argues–privately–against this, as he doesn’t know how this will affect the masses. But Brutus says that this will be fine, as he will speak first then Antony will say that the conspirators have allowed him to speak. Cassius doesn’t like it, but there’s nothing he can do, as Brutus gives Caesar’s body to Antony and tells him to follow to the marketplace.

Alone, finally, Antony speaks to Caesar’s dead body–and us–and reveals his plan to release “Domestic fury and fierce civil strife” (III.i.266). The servant to Octavius, Caesar’s adopted son, enters to announce the impending arrival of his master. Antony tells him to keep Octavius out of the city for now, as this is “No Rome of safety for Octavius yet” (III.i.292), but he wants the servant to report to Octavius the results of Antony’s funeral speech to the people. And with that the long first scene of the third act is over.

The second (and almost as long) scene begins in the Forum, where Brutus begins his funeral oration before a less than happy mob. But it doesn’t take much to turn them to his side: Did you want to be a slave? Well, Caesar was ambitious. If you don’t want to be a real Roman, then I’ve probably offended you. Are you offended? No, then we’re cool. And then he drops this nugget of unfortunate foreshadowing: “I have done no more to Caesar than you shall do to Brutus” (III.ii.35-6). He tells the crowd that Antony is there to speak over the body of Caesar and that they should listen to them… and remember that Brutus “has the same dagger for (him)self when it shall please (Rome) to need (his) death” (III.ii.42-6). And the people love Brutus, calling for him to live, to have statues raised of him, to make him Caesar.

Brutus’ speech has worked so well that as Antony ascends to the podium to deliver the eulogy, it is not to a sympathetic crowd. So begins one of the most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare..

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…

[we’ll be going over both these speeches later in our two-month discussion, paying close attention to both form and content]

Suffice to say, within 30 lines, Antony is already refuting the accusation of ambition on the part of Caesar made by Brutus, and is beginning to build his case against the conspirators, whom he calls all “honorable men” (III.ii.83), and the crowd is already starting to sway in its affections: one citizen says that he thinks “there is much reason in (Antony’s) sayings” (III.ii.108) and another that “there’s not a nobler in man in Rome than Antony” (III.ii.116).

Antony continues to call the conspirators “honorable men” with each time dripping with more and more irony. He says that he has Caesar’s will, but is afraid to read it as he is afraid that it “will inflame (the citizens), it will make (them) mad (because they) are (Caesar’s) heirs” (III.ii.144-5). And with this, the masses have turned, mocking the “honorable men” as “villains, murderers” (III.ii.155). Antony shows the crowd Caesar’s cloak, calling attention to every blood-marked hole, telling the story of Caesar’s death, especially the actions of Brutus, who “was Caesar’s angel” (III.ii.178), saying that his “was the most unkindest cut of all” (III.ii.180). When Antony reveals Caesar’s body, the crowd is ready to search out the conspirators and “be revenged” (III.ii.198). Antony holds them back, however, readying to fire them even more: he reads to the crowd the will. And then he cannot hold them any longer; the mob exits, or as Antony refers to them: “Mischief, thou art afoot” (III.ii.252). Antony leaves to meet with Octavius to close the scene.

The short third and final scene of the act exactly what this mischief will do: the mob finds Cinna. Only it’s not the conspirator Cinna, but the poet Cinna. The mob doesn’t care, though, they “set upon” him (III.iii.35, stage direction). And with the crowd carrying off the poet for some unknown punishment, the third act ends.