David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scene 2

 — 1.2 —

In a public place in Rome were standing Julius Caesar, Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife), Brutus, Portia (Brutus’ wife), Mark Antony, Decius Brutus, Cicero, Caius Cassius, and Casca. A great crowd of people, among them a soothsayer (fortune teller), were around them. Trumpets occasionally sounded. Marullus and Flavius now came walking up to the group of people; they had arrived too late to keep the commoners from gathering around Caesar.

Caesar said, “Calpurnia!”

Casca ordered, “Everyone, be quiet. Caesar is speaking.”

Caesar said again, “Calpurnia!”

Calpurnia replied, “Here I am, my lord.”       

“Mark Antony will be one of the young men running naked through the streets and touching spectators with leather thongs to celebrate the Feast of Lupercal,” Caesar said. “Make sure that you stand directly in Mark Antony’s way when he runs.”

He then called, “Antony!”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Do not forget when you are running naked through the streets to touch Calpurnia because our wise men say that barren women, when touched in this holy chase, will be cured of the curse of sterility.”

“I shall remember to do so,” Antony replied. “When Caesar says, ‘Do this,’ it will be done.”

“Let us proceed,” Caesar said. “We will observe all the rites.”

The soothsayer in the crowd called, “Caesar!”

“Who is calling me?” Caesar asked.

Casca ordered, “Let all noise stop. Again, be quiet!”

“Who in the press of people is calling my name? I hear a voice, shriller than all the music, crying, ‘Caesar!’ Speak to me. Caesar is ready to listen to you.”

The soothsayer called, “Beware the Ides of March — beware March 15.”

“Which man is saying that?” Caesar asked.

One of Caesar’s friends, Brutus, replied, “A soothsayer tells you to beware the Ides of March.”

“Set him before me; let me see his face.”

“Soothsayer, come from the crowd,” Cassius said. “Look at Caesar.”

“What have you to say to me now?” Caesar asked. “Speak once again.”

“Beware the Ides of March.”

“He is a dreamer,” Caesar said. “Let us leave him. Let us pass him.”

Everyone departed except for Brutus and Cassius. The two men were brothers-in-law. Cassius was married to one of Brutus’ three sisters.

Cassius asked Brutus, “Will you go and see the progress of the race?”

“No,” Brutus replied.

“Please, do so.”

“I am not a merry fellow who is fond of games,” Brutus said. “I lack the quick and lively spirit that Mark Antony has in abundance. But do not let me stop you from enjoying the race, Cassius.”

“Brutus, I have lately been observing you. You no longer look at me with that gentleness and show of friendship that you used to have for me. You are intent on having your own way, and you are treating me less than as a friend although I still love and respect you.”

“Cassius, do not be deceived. If I have veiled my face and not shown my true feelings, I do so because I turn my troubled looks only upon myself. Recently, I have been vexed with greatly conflicting emotions that concern only myself. This perhaps has changed my behavior. But my good friends should not therefore grieve — and I count you, Cassius, among my good friends. Do not interpret my neglect of my friends as meaning anything more than that I am at war with myself and therefore I forget to show my friendship to my friends.”

“Then, Brutus, I have much misunderstood your feelings. Because of that, I have not told you certain important thoughts of great value — they are worthy cogitations. Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your own face?”

“No, Cassius, I cannot. The eye cannot see itself unless it is reflected by something such as a mirror or a calm surface of water.”

“That is true, and it is very much to be lamented, Brutus, that you have no such mirrors as will reflect your hidden worthiness to your eye, so that you might see your reflection. I have heard many people of the highest importance in Rome, except for immortal Caesar, speak about you and wish that noble Brutus could see what they see.”

“Into what dangers are you trying to lead me, Cassius, that you want me to seek within myself for qualities that are not in me?”

“Good Brutus, listen to me. Since you know that the best way to see yourself is by reflection, I will be your mirror and without exaggeration reveal to yourself things about yourself that you do not know. Do not be suspicious of me, noble Brutus. Regard me as dangerous if you know that I am a common laughingstock, or if you know that I am accustomed to cheapen my friendship by promising it with clichéd oaths to every new person who comes along, or if you know that I pretend to be friends with men and hug them hard and afterwards slander them, or if you know that I make professions of friendship to everyone after I have had a few drinks.”

A great shout arose in the distance.

“What does this shouting mean?” Brutus asked. “I am afraid that the Roman people have chosen Caesar to be their King.”

“Are you afraid of that?” Cassius asked. “Then I have to think that you do not want Julius Caesar to be King.”

“I do not want Caesar to be King, Cassius, although I love and respect Caesar. But why are you keeping me here so long? What is it that you want to say to me? If you want me to do something for the general good — the public welfare — then I would do it even if it meant that I would die. I pray that the gods help me only as long as I love the name of honor more than I fear death.”

“I know that virtue is in you, Brutus, as well as I know your outward appearance,” Cassius said. “Honor is what I want to talk to you about. I cannot tell what you and other men think about this life, but speaking for myself, I would rather be dead than live in awe of someone who is just a man like myself. I was born as free as Caesar; so were you. We both have eaten as well as Caesar, and we both can endure the winter’s cold as well as he. I remember that once, on a raw and gusty day, when the troubled Tiber River was raging against the restraint of her banks, Caesar said to me, ‘Do you dare, Cassius, to now leap in with me into this angry flood, and swim to that point over there?’ Hearing that, fully dressed as I was, I plunged in and bade him to follow me. He also jumped into the river. The torrent roared, and we fought against it with strong arms, throwing it aside and making progress and competing against each other and the river. But before we could arrive at the point that Caesar had proposed, he cried, ‘Help me, Cassius, or I will sink and drown!’ Aeneas, our great ancestor, had put his aged father upon his shoulder and carried him away from the flames of Troy. I did the same thing: I put the tired Caesar upon my shoulder and carried him out of the Tiber River. And this man — Caesar — has now become a god, and Cassius is only a wretched creature who must bend his body and bow whenever Caesar carelessly nods at him. Caesar had a fever when he was in Spain, and when the fit was on him, I noticed how he shook. It is true: This god did shake. He went pale, color fled from his coward lips, and that same eye whose glance awes the world lost its luster. I heard him groan — indeed, I did — and that tongue of his that makes the Romans take notice of him and even copy his speeches into their books cried, ‘Give me something to drink, Titinius,’ as if he were a sick girl. By the gods, it amazes me that a man of such a feeble constitution has outraced the world and seized power and carried away the victor’s crown of palm leaves.”

The crowd of people around Caesar shouted again.

“I hear another great shout!” Brutus said. “I do believe that these shouts are for some new honors that are heaped on Caesar.”

“Caesar straddles the world like the Colossus of Rhodes — a huge statue that is said to have spanned the entrance to the harbor of the Greek island of Rhodes,” Cassius said. “We petty menwalk under Caesar’s huge legs and peep about and find ourselves dishonorable graves.Men at some time are masters of their fates:The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,but in ourselves, if we find that we are only underlings.

“Think of the names Brutus and Caesar. What is special about that ‘Caesar’? Why should that name be sounded more than yours? Write them together. Your name is as fair a name as his name. Say the two names. Your name fills the mouth as well as his name. Weigh the two names. Your name is as heavy as his name. Conjure up spirits with the two names. The name ‘Brutus’ will raise a spirit as quickly as will the name ‘Caesar.’

“Now, in the names of all the gods at once, what meat has this Caesar eaten that he is grown so great? Our era should be ashamed! Rome, you have lost the breed of noble-blooded men! You are not raising men of notable worth! Since the great flood that Zeus, King of gods and men, sent to punish Humankind — a great flood that only one man and only one woman survived — when has there ever been an era in which only one man was considered great! When could people say until now, when they talked about Rome, that her wide walls contained only one man? Now Rome indeed has plenty of room, because only one man is in it.

“You and I have heard our fathers say that there was a Brutus once who would have allowed the eternal devil to rule Rome exactly as much as he would have allowed a King to rule Rome!”

Cassius was referring to an ancestor of Brutus — Lucius Junius Brutus — who had driven the last King out of Rome in the 6th century BCE and had founded the Roman Republic.

Brutus replied, “That you do love and respect me, I have no doubt. What you would persuade me to do, I have some idea. How I have thought of this and of these times, I shall tell you at a later time; at present, I will not, so respectfully I ask you not to try to persuade me to do anything. I will think about what you have said. What you have to say to me later, I will patiently listen to, and I will find a suitable time when we can meet and discuss such important matters.

“Until then, my noble friend, think about this: Brutus would prefer to be a villager than to be known as a son of Rome under the hard conditions that this time is likely to lay upon us.”

“I am glad that my weak words have struck even this much show of fire from Brutus,” Cassius said.

“The games are done and Caesar is returning,” Brutus said.

“As Caesar and the others walk by us, grab Casca’s sleeve,” Cassius said. “He will, after his sour fashion, tell you what has happened that is worthy of note today.”

Caesar and his band of followers walked toward Brutus and Cassius.

“I will do as you say,” Brutus said. “But, look, Cassius, an angry spot glows on Caesar’s brow, and all the rest look like they have been scolded. Calpurnia’s cheek is pale; and Cicero looks around with fiery and angry eyes like a ferret hunting rats. We have seen him look this way in the Capitol after some Senators have opposed him in debate.”

“Casca will tell us what has happened.”

Caesar said, “Antony!”

“Caesar?” Antony answered.

“Let me have men about me who are fat, who smoothly comb their hair, and who sleep throughout the night. Cassius over there has a lean and hungry look; he thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.”

“Do not fear him,” Antony said. “He is not dangerous. He is a noble Roman and has a good reputation.”

“I wish that he were fatter!” Julius Caesar replied. “But I do not fear him. Yet if I had any tendency to be afraid, I do not know the man I would avoid as quickly as that lean Cassius. He reads much. He is a great observer, and he looks at the deeds of men and understands the men’s motives. He does not love to watch plays the way that you do, Antony. He does not listen to music. He seldom smiles, and when he does smile, he smiles as if he is mocking himself because he is smiling at something. Such men as he are never comfortable when they see a greater man than themselves, and therefore they are very dangerous.

“I am telling you what ought to be feared rather than what I fear; for always I am Caesar and I am afraid of nothing.

“Come over to my right side because my left ear is deaf, and tell me truly what you think about Cassius.”

Everybody left except for Brutus, Cassius, and Casca, who said to Brutus, “You pulled me by my cloak. Do you want to speak to me?”

“Yes, Casca. Tell us what happened just now. Why does Caesar look so serious?”

“Why, you were with him, weren’t you?”

Brutus replied, “If I had been with him, I would not now be asking you what happened.”

“Why, the crown of a King was offered to Caesar, who pushed it away with the back of his hand, and then people began to shout.”

“What was the second shout we heard for?”

“Why, that was for the same reason. Caesar was offered the crown a second time.”

Cassius said, “The people shouted three times. What was the last cry for?”

“Why, for that same reason, too.”

Brutus asked, “Was the Kingly crown offered to Caesar three times?”

“Yes, it was,” Casca answered. “Caesar pushed it away three times, each time gentler than the previous time. Each time he pushed it away, the crowd of respectable people around me shouted.”

Cassius asked, “Who offered Caesar the crown?”

“Why, Antony,” Casca replied.

“Tell us how everything happened, noble Casca,” Brutus requested.

“I can as well be hanged as tell you how it happened,” Casca said. “It was mere foolery, and so I did not pay attention to it. I saw Mark Antony offer Caesar a crown — and yet it was not a crown — it was one of these coronets. As I told you, Caesar pushed it away the first time Antony offered it to him — but, for all that, I think that Caesar wanted to have it. Then Antony offered it to him again, and again Caesar pushed it away — and again I think that he hated to let go of it. And then Antony offered it the third time, and Caesar pushed it away the third time. Each time he refused the crown, the rabble hooted and clapped their chapped hands and threw into the air their sweaty caps and breathed out a huge amount of stinking breath because Caesar refused the crown. Their stinking breath almost choked Caesar — he fainted and fell down at it. As for myself, I dared not laugh for fear of opening my lips and breathing in the bad air.”

“Did you say that Caesar fainted?” Cassius asked.

“He fell down in the marketplace, and foamed at the mouth, and was speechless.”

“It is very likely that he has the falling sickness — epilepsy,” Brutus said.

Cassius said, “No, Caesar does not have the falling sickness, but you and I and honest Casca, we have the falling sickness. We have fallen.”

“I do not know what you mean by that, but I am sure that Caesar fell down,” Casca said. “If the rag-tag people did not applaud him and hiss him, accordingly as he pleased or displeased them, as they are accustomed to treat the actors in the theater, I am no true man.”

“What did Caesar say when he regained consciousness?” Brutus asked.

“Before he fell down, when he perceived that the common herd was glad that he refused the crown, he opened his jacket and offered them his throat to cut. If I had been a common laborer, I wish I would go to Hell among the rogues if I had not taken him at his word. If I had been a common laborer, I would have cut his throat. Caesar fell then. When he came to himself again, he said that if he had done or said anything amiss, he wanted the crowd of people to think it was because of his infirmity. Three or four young women who were standing near me cried, ‘Alas, good soul!’ and forgave him with all their hearts, but we do not need to pay any attention to them. If Caesar had stabbed their mothers, they would have done the same thing.”

“And after that, he went away, sad and serious?” Brutus asked.

“Yes.”

“Did Cicero say anything?” Cassius asked.

“Yes, he spoke Greek.”

“To what purpose? What was the content of what he said?”

“I don’t know. If I could tell you that, I would never look you again in the face; however, those who understood Greek smiled at one another and shook their heads. As for myself, it was Greek to me and I did not understand it. But I can tell you some news: Marullus and Flavius, because they pulled decorations off the statues of Caesar, have been deprived of their positions as Tribunes who speak for the people — they have been silenced. Farewell. There was more foolery, if I could remember it.”

“Will you eat with me tonight, Casca?” Cassius asked.

“No, I have promised to eat with someone else.”

“Will you dine with me tomorrow?”

“Yes, if I am still alive and you haven’t changed your mind and your dinner is worth eating.”

“Good. I will expect you tomorrow.”

“Do so. Farewell, both of you.”

He left.

“What a blunt fellow has Casca grown to be!” Brutus said. “He had a quick mind when he was going to school.”

“He still has a quick mind when it comes to taking action in any bold or noble enterprise,” Cassius said. “However, he pretends to be insensitive and careless. This rudeness of his is a sauce to his good intelligence; it gives men the stomach to digest his words with better appetite.”

“You know him well,” Brutus said. “At this time I will leave you. Tomorrow, if you want to speak with me, I will go to your house, or, if you prefer, you can come to my house. I will stay there until you come.”

“I will come to your house tomorrow,” Cassius said. “Until then, think of the state of the world.”

Brutus left.

Cassius said to himself, “Well, Brutus, you are noble, yet I see that your honorable metal and mettle may be bent into a new shape. Because such a thing can happen, it is fitting that noble minds keep company always with other noble minds because who is so firm and incorruptible that he cannot be seduced and corrupted? Caesar has a grudge against me and barely tolerates my presence, but he loves and respects Brutus. If I were Brutus and he were Cassius, he would not be able to manipulate me. I will this night throw through his windows several letters, written in different kinds of handwriting so that they look like they have come from several citizens. The letters will testify to the great opinion that Roman citizens hold of you, Brutus, and your name. They will also hint at the ambition of Caesar. Soon, Caesar had better brace himself because we will shake him and undermine him or suffer the consequences of failure. If we do not stop Julius Caesar from becoming King, worse days will follow.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

David Bruce’s Smashwords Bookstore

David Bruce’s Apple iBookstore

David Bruce’s Barnes and Noble Books

David Bruce’s Kobo Books

davidbruceblog #1

davidbruceblog #2

davidbruceblog #3

This entry was posted in Shakespeare and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s