Julius Caesar: midpoint

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory, let’s take a look at Julius Caesar.

There are 2451 lines in in the play, which means the midpoint is at line 1226, or at Act Three, Scene One, line 139. Now, Rodes’ theory postulated that you could find (within twenty lines either way) a speech that perfectly summed up the major theme of the play. The 20-line leeway was to help remove the differences in prose line lengths between individual editions.

At this moment in the play, the deed has been done, and Caesar lay bloody and dead at the base of Pompey’s statue. The conspirators have bathed their arms (as in hands) and arms (as in daggers) in the dead man’s blood, and are about to head out into the marketplace to explain their actions.

Only that plan is interrupted by the arrival of Antony’s servant asking for assurances of his master’s safety as he comes to ask for the reasons behind the assassination.

The exact midpoint comes as Brutus begins his response:

Thy master is a wise and valiant Roman.
I never thought him worse.
Tell him, so please him come unto this place,
He shall be satisfied and, by my honor,
Depart untouched.
  • III.i.139-43

Brutus’ response to ensure Antony’s safety is the beginning of Brutus’ own end, as Antony’s survival and allowance to speak at the marketplace will lead to the fall of the conspiracy. The speech shows Brutus’ arrogant faith in both Antony’s rationality (“wise”) and his own powers of persuasion (Antony “will be satisfied”). He also speaks to his own “honor,” a concept that is crucial to his own sense of self; remember that he uses the word four times in the 21 line funeral oration for the commons).

As I’ve noted before, Rodes has given a leeway of 20 lines in each direction to allow for prose differences. Though this play has little prose (much less than the average play or tragedy), the leeway is still important for what those speeches say about the two next most important characters in the play, Antony and Cassius.

The speech Antony’s servant delivers is a directed one: Antony has told the servant exactly what to say–though different editions are punctuated differently, the Pelican Shakespeare edition I’m using even wraps from the fifth line to midway through the last in quotation marks. Antony, even in the chaos of the last 50 or so lines, has the cool head to know to whom to appeal (Brutus, not the Cassius Caesar had earlier warned him about) and how to appeal to him. The scripted speech refers to Brutus as noble twice (III.i.127 and 136) and states that Antony “honor(s)” (III.i.129) Brutus just as Antony had honored and loved Caesar. I mentioned above how important honor is to Brutus, and each statement is calculated for the most positive effect. And it works. When Brutus responds, his first line mirrors the language Antony, through his servant, uses (“Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest” [III.i.127]). The very context of Brutus’ response reveals Antony’s cool calculated nature.

When the servant leaves after Brutus’ response, Cassius’ statement is no less cool though not even half as successful: Cassius “has a mind // That fears (Antony) much” (III.i.145-6). He does not trust that Antony will become a “friend” (III.i.144) to the conspirators, as Brutus believes. Cassius is correct, of course, but in the heat of the moment, he fails to do what he had done earlier to convince Brutus to join the conspiracy (and what Antony had just finished doing by proxy): flatter Brutus. Thus, unlike Antony’s speech, this speech does not work. And we all know how that ends.

Antony, the calculating. Brutus, the arrogantly honor-minded and easily flattered. Cassius, the suspicious.

Pretty much sums up those characters, and sets up the political milieu of the play: calculation, flattery, fear.