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

— 2.1 —

Brutus was alone in his garden. He called for his young servant to come to him, “Lucius!”

He said to himself, “Tonight is stormy, so I cannot, by looking at the progress of the stars, tell how close to dawn it is.”

Again he called, “Lucius, I say!”

He said to himself, “I wish that I were able to sleep as soundly as he does.”

Again he called, “When are you coming, Lucius, when? Wake up, I say! Lucius!”

A sleepy Lucius went to Brutus and asked, “Did you call, my lord?”

“Get me a candle for my study, Lucius. When you have lit it, let me know.”

“I will, my lord.”

Lucius departed.

Brutus considered the reasons for assassinating Julius Caesar: “He will have to be killed. As for myself, I have no personal reason to kill him. I would kill him only for the general good. Caesar wants to be crowned as King. How that might change his nature, there’s the question. Adders come out of hiding and sun themselves on a sunny day — and then you must be careful where you walk. Crown him as King? If we do that, we give him power — we give him a sting that he may use to hurt people at his discretion. Power is abused when the powerful lack compassion. To speak the truth about Caesar, I have never known him to be swayed by his emotions more than by his reason. But it is well known that people change after they acquire power. When a man starts to climb and acquire power, he starts low on the ladder. When he reaches the top of the ladder, he turns his back on those who are lower than himself. He looks at the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend. Caesar may become like such men. To prevent that, we can kill him. We cannot justify killing him because of what he is now. We can justify killing him only because of what he may become later. Caesar, if he were given increased power, would begin to perform excesses of tyranny. We should think about Caesar the way we think about a serpent’s egg. After the serpent is hatched, it will become dangerous, as is its nature. Therefore, it is best to kill the serpent while it is still in the eggshell.”

Lucius came back and said, “The candle is burning in your study, sir. Searching the window for a flint to light the candle with, I found this letter, thus sealed up. I am sure that it did not lie there when I went to bed.”

Lucius handed Brutus the letter.

“Go back to bed. It is not yet day. Isn’t tomorrow, boy, the Ides of March — March 15?”

“I don’t know, sir.”

“Look at the calendar, and tell me the date.”

“I will, sir.”

Lucius left to consult the calendar.

Brutus said to himself, “The meteors whizzing in the air give off so much light that I may read by them.”

He opened the letter and read out loud, “Brutus, you are sleeping. Wake up and see yourself. Shall Rome, et cetera. Speak, strike, and correct political abuses!”

He repeated some words from the letter: “Brutus, you are sleeping. Wake up!”

He said, “Such calls to action have been often dropped where I have picked them up. I must try to understand what is meant by ‘Shall Rome, et cetera.’ I need to fill in the gaps. Shall Rome submit to the power of one man? What, Rome? My ancestors did from the streets of Rome drive the last King of Rome out. ‘Speak, strike, and correct political abuses!’ Am I being entreated to speak and to strike? Rome, I make you a promise: If the correction of political wrongs will follow the speaking and the striking, Brutus will do everything that is asked of him here.”

Lucius came back and said, “Sir, tomorrow is the Ides of March.”

Brutus said, “Good.”

Knocks sounded on the gate.

Brutus said, “Go to the gate; somebody is knocking.”

Lucius left to go to the gate and see who was knocking.

Brutus said to himself, “Since Cassius first did incite me to oppose Caesar, I have not slept. Between the acting of a dreadful thing and the first thought of doing it, the entire interim is like a hallucination or a hideous dream. The person is conflicted and debates within himself, and he is like a little Kingdom that suffers from civil war.”

Lucius came back and said, “Sir, your brother-in-law Cassius is at the gate, and he wants to see you.”

“Is he alone?”

“No, sir. Some men are with him.”

“Do you know them?”

“No, sir. Their hats are pulled down about their ears, and half of each man’s face is buried in his cloak, and so I was not able to recognize any of the men.”

“Let them in.”

Lucius left to let the men in to see Brutus.

Brutus said to himself, “They are the faction of conspirators. Conspiracy, are you ashamed to show your dangerous brow by night, when evils are most common and free to roam about? By day, where will you find a cavern dark enough to hide your monstrous face? You need not seek a cave, conspiracy. You can hide your monstrous faces behind smiles and friendliness. If you were to go on your way with your monstrous face revealed, not even the darkness of Erebus, a part of the Underworld, could hide you enough to keep your plot from being detected and stopped.”

The conspirators entered the garden: Cassius, Casca, Decius Brutus, Cinna, Metellus Cimber, and Trebonius.

Cassius said, “I am afraid that we have come too early and disturbed your rest. Good morning, Brutus. Do we trouble you?”

“I have been up for an hour; I have been awake all night,” Brutus said. “Do I know these men who have come along with you?”

“Yes, you know all of them,” Cassius said. “Every man here respects you, and everyone wishes that you had that opinion of yourself that every noble Roman has of you.”

Cassius began to name the men who had come with him: “This is Trebonius.”

“He is welcome here,” Brutus said.

“This is Decius Brutus.”

“He is welcome, too.”

“This is Casca, this is Cinna, and this is Metellus Cimber.”

“They are all welcome,” Brutus said. “What cares have kept you awake all night?”

Cassius replied, “Can I speak to you privately?”

Cassius and Brutus moved away a little and whispered to each other.

Decius Brutus said to the conspirators with him, “This way lies the East. Isn’t this the point where the Sun rises?”

“No,” Casca said.

“Pardon me,” Cinna said, “but the Sun does rise there. The gray lines that streak the clouds show that the Sun is rising there.”

“You shall confess that you are both deceived,” Casca said. “Here, where I am pointing my sword, the Sun rises. It is further to the South because we are still so early in the year. Two months from now, the Sun will rise at a point further North. Due East is here, where the Capitol stands.”

An impartial observer might think that if the conspirators did not even know where the Sun rose that this might be an ominous omen of their future.

Brutus and Cassius had finished their private conversation.

Brutus said to the conspirators, “Let me shake your hands, each of you.”

“And let us swear our commitment,” Cassius said.

“No, let us not swear an oath,” Brutus said. “We do not need to. We have the sad looks on citizens’ faces, the suffering of our own souls, and the evil abuses of our times. If these are weak motives for what we are planning to do, then let us stop now and every man go home to his bed of idleness. If these are weak motives for what we are planning to do, then let the tyranny that looks down on us from a great height continue its reign until each man of us drops like men chosen to be punished at a tyrant’s whim. But if we have good motives, as I am sure that we do, motives that bear enough fire to kindle cowards and to steel with valor the melting spirits of women, then, countrymen, what else do we need to spur us to action? We have good motives that lead us to correct the errors of our times. What other bond do we need than that of Romans who are capable of keeping secrets and have given their word and will not back down from what they have said that they will do? What other oath do we need than that of one honest man to another that we will do what we promised to do or die while trying to do it? Let priests swear and cowards and men who are overly cautious and old and feeble carcass-like men and such suffering souls as welcome wrongs. Let untrustworthy men swear oaths for bad causes. We ought not to stain the impartial virtue of our enterprise or our indomitable will with the belief that either our cause or our actions require an oath. All of us know that every drop of blood that a noble Roman has would be guilty of an act of baseness if the Roman would break the smallest particle of any promise that he had made.”

“What about Cicero?” Cassius said. “Shall we talk to him and see if he wants to join our conspiracy? I think he will stand very strong with us.”

“Let us not leave Cicero out,” Casca said.

“No, by no means,” Cinna said.

“Let us have him as a member of our conspiracy,” Metellus Cimber said, “for his silver hairs will buy for us a good reputation and persuade people to commend our deeds. People will say that he came up with the conspiracy and we followed his lead. Our youth and wildness shall in no way be mentioned; people will instead talk about Cicero’s maturity.”

“Don’t mention Cicero,” Brutus said. “Let us not tell him about our plot because he will never follow anything that other men begin.”

Brutus had much influence with the other conspirators.

“Then we will leave him out of our conspiracy,” Cassius said.

“Indeed, he is not fit to be in our conspiracy,” Casca said.

“Shall only Caesar be killed?” Decius Brutus asked.

“Decius, that is an important question,” Cassius said. “I don’t think it is wise to allow Mark Antony, who is so well beloved by Caesar, to outlive Caesar. We shall find that Antony is a dangerous plotter. He has resources, and if he adds to them, they may be great enough to hurt all of us. To prevent Antony from becoming a great enemy to us, we should kill both Caesar and Antony.”

“If we do that, our actions will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,” Brutus said. “To cut the head off and then hack the limbs will make it seem like we killed at first with anger and subsequently killed with envy. Antony is but a limb of Caesar. Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius. We all stand up against the spirit of Caesar. His spirit is tyrannous. In the spirit of men there is no blood, and I wish that we could kill Caesar’s spirit without dismembering Caesar’s body! Unfortunately, Caesar’s body must bleed! Gentle friends, let us kill Caesar’s body boldly, but not wrathfully. When we kill, it ought to be like we are making a sacrifice to the gods, not like we are butchering an animal and throwing pieces of meat to the dogs. Let’s carve Caesar as a sacrificial dish fit for the gods, not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds. And let our hearts, our subtle masters, stir up our limbs to an act of rage, and afterward be seen to chide them. This shall make our purpose appear to be necessary — and not envious. If the commoners understand that, we shall be called purgers of an evil, not murderers of a man. As for Mark Antony, let us not worry about him because he can do no more than Caesar’s arm can do after Caesar’s head is cut off.”

“Still, I fear him,” Cassius said. “For in the deeply rooted love that Antony bears to Caesar —”

“Good Cassius, do not worry about Antony,” Brutus said. “If he loves Caesar, all that he can do is what he can do to himself. He can mourn Caesar and commit suicide. Even that is too much to ask him to do because he spends his time enjoying entertainments, wild pleasures, and too much company.”

“We need not fear Antony,” Trebonius said, “so we need not kill him. Let Antony live, and later he will laugh at what we do.”

A clock struck.

“Quiet!” Brutus said. “Count the number of times the clock strikes.”

They listened.

“The clock struck three times,” Cassius said.

“It is time to go,” Trebonius said.

“It is not certain whether Caesar will go to the Capitol today or not,” Cassius said, “because he has grown superstitious lately. His opinion now is much different from what he formerly and strongly believed about visions, dreams, and omens. It may be the case that these apparent omens of disaster, the unusual terror of this night, and the persuasion of his fortune tellers may keep him from going to the Capitol today.”

“Don’t worry about that,” Decius Brutus said. “If he decides not to go to the Capitol, I can persuade him to go. He loves to hear about tales of traps — how unicorns can be trapped by charging at a man who moves aside and lets the unicorn’s horn deeply penetrate a tree, how bears can be trapped by being fascinated with a mirror, how elephants can be trapped when they fall into holes, how lions can be trapped in nets, and how men can be trapped by flatterers. But when I tell Caesar that he hates flatterers, he agrees with me, and he is then most flattered. Let me work on him. I can persuade him to act the way we want him to act, and I will bring him with me to the Capitol.”

“No, not you alone,” Cassius said. “All of us will be there to bring him to the Capitol.”

“By eight o’clock?” Brutus said. “Is that the hour we decided on?”

“That is the hour,” Cinna said. “Do not fail to be there by then.”

“Caius Ligarius bears a grudge against Caesar because Caesar berated him for speaking well of Pompey,” Metellus Cimber said. “I am surprised that none of you has thought of inviting him to join our conspiracy.”

“Metellus Cimber, go and visit him,” Brutus said. “He respects me, and I have done favors for him. Send him to visit me, and I will persuade him to join our conspiracy.”

“Morning is coming,” Cassius said. “We will leave now, Brutus. Friends, scatter yourselves; do not walk in a group. Everyone, remember what you have promised to do, and show yourselves true Romans.”

“Good gentlemen, look fresh and merry,” Brutus said. “Don’t let your faces reveal our plot. Instead, act as our Roman actors act. Act with unflagging spirits and your usual dignified behavior. Good night to each of you.”

The conspirators departed, leaving Brutus alone in his garden.

Brutus called, “Boy! Lucius! Fast asleep? It does not matter. Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber. You have no problems or fantasies of the imagination that worry the brains of men under stress and therefore you are able to sleep so soundly.”

Portia, Brutus’ wife, now walked up to him.

“Brutus, my lord!”

“Portia, is something wrong? Why are you up now? It is not good for your health to expose yourself to the raw and cold morning.”

“It is not good for your health, either,” Portia said. “You are acting strangely and ignoring me. You abruptly got out of our bed, Brutus, and yesterday, at supper, you suddenly arose, and walked about, musing and sighing, with your arms folded across your chest, and when I asked you what the matter was, you stared at me rudely. I asked you again, and then you scratched your head and very impatiently stamped your foot. Again I asked you, yet you would not answer my question. Instead, with an angry wave of your hand, you gave me a sign to leave you, and so I did. I was afraid to strengthen your impatience and anger that already seemed too much enflamed, and I hoped that you were simply in a bad mood, which sometimes happens to every man. But your bad mood will not let you eat, talk, or sleep. If your bad mood could change your face and body as much as it has changed your personality, I would not be able to recognize you, Brutus. My dear husband, tell me what is bothering you.”

“I am ill. That is all,” Brutus said.

“Brutus, you are wise, and if you were suffering from ill health, you would do something to restore yourself to good health.”

“Why, so I do,” Brutus said. “Good Portia, go to bed.”

“Is my Brutus sick? Is it healthy to walk around uncovered and breathe the unhealthy vapors of a dank morning? What, is my Brutus sick, and therefore he steals out of his wholesome bed to dare the vile contagion of the night and give the diseased and unpurified-by-the-Sun air a chance to add to his sickness? No, my Brutus. You do not normally act like that. You have some sickness inside your mind, which, by the right and virtue of my position as your wife, I ought to know about.”

Portia knelt before her husband and said, “Upon my knees, I urge you, by my once-commended beauty, by all your vows of love and that great vow that married us and made us one, that you tell me, who is yourself and your half, why you are burdened by trouble. I also urge you to tell me about the men tonight who came to talk to you — the some six or seven men who kept their faces hidden even from darkness.”

“Do not kneel before me, gentle Portia,” Brutus said.

“I would have no reason to kneel before you,” Portia, still kneeling, said, “if you still acted like the gentle Brutus whom I married. Tell me, Brutus, why aren’t you telling me your secrets? Shouldn’t a wife know them, or is there some exception to a marriage contract? Am I made one with you only partially — only when it comes to eating meals with you, to be a comfort to you in bed and sleep with you, and to talk to you sometimes? Do I dwell only in the suburbs of your good pleasure? The Roman suburbs are where the whorehouses are, and if I dwell only in the suburbs of your good pleasure, then I, Portia, am only Brutus’ harlot and not his wife.”

“You are my true and honorable wife, and you are as dear to me as are the ruddy drops of blood that visit my sad heart.”

“If what you are saying is true, then I ought to know your secrets. I grant I am a woman; but I am a woman whom Lord Brutus took to be his wife. I grant I am a woman, but I am a woman who is well reputed — I am the daughter of Marcus Porcius Cato, who fought for Pompey in the civil war and who chose to commit suicide rather than be captured by Julius Caesar. Can you think that I am no stronger than other women when I have such a father and such a husband? Tell me your secrets; I will not reveal them. I have done something to prove my trustworthiness — I have given myself a voluntary wound here in my thigh. Can I bear that pain with patience, and yet not be able to keep my husband’s secrets?”

“Oh, you gods, make me worthy of this noble wife!”

Knocks sounded on the gate.

Brutus said, “Listen! Someone is knocking! Portia, go inside for a while. Soon, I will tell you the secrets of my heart. Everything that I have promised to do I will tell you. I will tell you everything that has been affecting the way I look and act. For now, quickly leave me.”

Brutus asked, “Lucius, who was knocking?”

Lucius and Caius Ligarius, who held a handkerchief against his nose and mouth, walked up to Brutus.

Lucius said, “Here is a sick man who would speak with you.”

Brutus said, “He is Caius Ligarius, whom Metellus Cimber spoke about.”

He told Lucius, “Boy, go back inside.”

Then he said, “Caius Ligarius! How are you?”

“Please accept my ‘good morning’ from my feeble and ill tongue,” he replied.

“What a time have you chosen to be ill, brave Caius, and use a handkerchief as a protection against drafts!” Brutus said. “I wish that you were not sick!”

“I am not sick, if Brutus has in mind an exploit that is worthy of the name of honor.”

“Such an exploit have I in mind, Ligarius, if you have a healthy ear to hear it.”

“By all the gods that Romans bow before, I here discard my sickness!” Ligarius said. “Soul of Rome! Brave son, derived from honorable loins! You, like an exorcist, have raised my deadened spirit. Tell me what to do, and I will try to do impossible things — and I will do them, too. What needs to be done?”

“A piece of work that will make sick men whole.”

“But are not some men whole whom we must make sick?”

“That must we also do,” Brutus said. “What must be done, Caius Ligarius, I shall tell you as we are walking to the person to whom it must be done.”

“Start walking,” Ligarius said, “and with a heart newly fired, I will follow you. I don’t know yet what needs to be done, but I am happy nevertheless because it is Brutus who is leading me.”

“Follow me, then,” Brutus said.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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