David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 2-4

— 2.2 —

Julius Caesar was alone in a room in his house. Outside, the storm continued to thunder and lightning.

Caesar said to himself, “Neither Heaven nor Earth has been at peace tonight. Three times my wife, Calpurnia, has in her sleep cried out, ‘Help! They are murdering Caesar!’”

He heard a noise and asked, “Who is there?”

A servant entered the room and said, “My lord?”

Caesar ordered, “Go and tell the priests to perform a sacrifice immediately. After they are done, return and tell me what they have learned from the sacrifice.”

“I will, my lord.”

The servant departed, and Calpurnia entered the room.

She said to her husband, “What do you mean to do today, Caesar? Are you thinking of going to the Capitol? Today, you will not leave this house.”

“Caesar shall go forth today. The things that have threatened me have never looked anywhere but at my back. Whenever they see the face of Caesar, they vanish.”

“Caesar, I have never paid attention to omens, yet now they frighten me. Someone in our house — besides the things that we have heard and seen — has told me the most horrid sights that the watchman has seen. A lioness has given birth in the streets. Graves have yawned and yielded up their dead. Fierce fiery warriors have fought upon the clouds in ranks and squadrons and square formations — these soldiers drizzled blood upon the Capitol, and the noise of battle hurtled in the air. Horses neighed, and dying men groaned, and ghosts shrieked and squealed in the streets. Caesar! These things are unnatural, and I fear them.”

“How it is possible to avoid something that the mighty gods have decreed? Today Caesar shall go forth. These predictions and omens apply to the world in general as well as to Caesar.”

“When beggars die, no comets are seen. The Heavens themselves blaze to announce the death of princes,” Calpurnia replied.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once. Of all the wonders that I yet have heard, it seems to me the very strangest that men should fear death because death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.”

The servant returned, and Caesar asked him, “What do the augurers — the tellers of futures — say?”

“They would not have you go out of the house today,” the servant said. “Plucking the entrails of a sacrificial offering, they could not find a heart within the beast.”

“The gods do this to shame cowards — they dislike cowards,” Caesar said. “Caesar would be a beast without a heart, if he would stay at home today for fear. No, Caesar shall not stay home. Danger knows full well that Caesar is more dangerous than he is. We are two lions that littered in the same day. I am the elder and more terrible of us two, and Caesar shall go forth today.”

“Your wisdom is eaten up by overconfidence,” Calpurnia said. “Do not go forth today. Say that it is my fear that keeps you in the house, and you yourself are not afraid. We will send Mark Antony to the Senate, and he shall say you are not well today.”

She knelt and said, “Let me, upon my knee, prevail in this. Do what I want you to do. Stay at home today.”

Caesar raised her to her feet and said, “Mark Antony shall say I am not well, and, because you want me to, I will stay at home.”

Decius Brutus entered the room.

Caesar said, “Here’s Decius Brutus — he shall tell the Senators the news.”

“Caesar, all hail!” Decius Brutus said. “Good morning, worthy Caesar. I have come to walk with you to the Senate House.”

“You have come at a good time,” Caesar said. “You can carry my greeting to the Senators and tell them that I will not come today. To say that I cannot come is false, and to say that I dare not come is falser. I will not come today. Tell the Senators that, Decius.”

“Say that he is sick,” Calpurnia said.

Julius Caesar immediately decided not to have this said about him, although he had just told Calpurnia that Mark Antony would tell the Senators that he — Caesar — was not well. He disliked appearing weak.

“Shall Caesar send a lie?” Julius Caesar said. “I have made extensive conquests in war — should I be afraid to tell gray-bearded Senators the truth? Decius, go tell them that Caesar will not come.”

“Most mighty Caesar, let me know the reason why you are not coming, lest I be laughed at when I tell them you are not coming.”

“The cause is in my will: I will not come,” Caesar said. “That is enough to satisfy the Senators. But for your private satisfaction, because I respect you, I will let you know my reason. Calpurnia here, my wife, wants me to stay at home. She dreamt this night that she saw my statue, like a fountain with a hundred spouts, running with pure blood. Many vigorous Romans came smiling, and bathed their hands in the blood. This she interprets as a warning and a portent. She believes that evils are imminent, and on her knee she has begged me to stay at home today.”

“This dream has been misinterpreted,” Decius Brutus said. “The vision is fair and fortunate — it foretells good fortune. Your statue spouting blood through many holes, blood in which so many smiling Romans bathed, signifies that from you great Rome shall suck reviving blood, and that great men shall strive to get honors from you and souvenirs to venerate, and that they will be your servants. This is the true meaning of Calpurnia’s dream.”

“You have well interpreted the dream,” Caesar said.

“Yes, I have, as you shall know when you have heard what I have to tell you now,” Decius Brutus said. “The Senators have decided to give this day a crown to mighty Caesar. If you send them word that you will not come to the Senate today, they may change their minds. Besides, if you do not come to the Senate today, someone is likely to joke, ‘We should adjourn the Senate until after Caesar’s wife has had better dreams.’ If Caesar stays at home, won’t the Senators and people whisper, ‘Caesar is afraid’? Pardon me, Caesar, but my high hopes for your advancement make me tell you this, and my respect for you has outweighed my manners.”

“How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia!” Caesar said. “I am ashamed I yielded to them. Give me my cloak, for I will go.”

Publius, an old Senator, entered the room.

Caesar said, “Look, Publius has come to fetch me.”

“Good morning, Caesar,” Publius said.

“Welcome, Publius,” Caesar said.

Brutus, Ligarius, Metellus, Casca, Trebonius, and Cinna entered the room.

“What, Brutus, are you up so early, too?” Caesar said, adding, “Good morning, Casca.”

Caesar then said, “Caius Ligarius, Caesar was never so much your enemy as that illness that has made you lean.”

Ligarius had supported Pompey in the civil war, but Caesar had pardoned him.

Caesar asked, “What time is it?”

“Caesar, the clock has struck eight o’clock,” Brutus answered.

“I thank you for your trouble and courtesy in coming here to accompany me to the Senate House,” Caesar said.

Mark Antony entered the room.

“Look! Even Antony, who revels long into the nights, is up,” Caesar said. “Good morning to you, Antony.”

“And to you, most noble Caesar,” Antony replied.

Caesar ordered a servant, “Set out some wine.”

He said to his guests, “I am to blame for making you wait. Cinna, Metellus, and Trebonius, I want to talk with you for an hour today. Remember to talk to me later today. Stay near me so that I will remember.”

“Caesar, I will,” Trebonius said. He thought, I will be so near to you that your best friends shall wish I had been further away.

“Good friends, let us go in this other room, and you can drink some wine with me, and then we, like the friends we are, will leave together.”

Brutus thought, We are now only like friends — we are not really friends. Caesar, this makes my heart ache.

 — 2.3 —

On a Roman street on which Caesar would soon walk, Artemidorus read a letter that he had written:

“Caesar, beware of Brutus; take heed of Cassius; do not go near Casca; keep an eye on Cinna; do not trust Trebonius; pay attention to Metellus Cimber; Decius Brutus does not like you; you have wronged Caius Ligarius. All of these men are of the same mind, and that mind is opposed to Caesar. Unless you are immortal, watch out for yourself. Your overconfidence gives conspiracy an opportunity. May the mighty gods defend you! Your good friend, Artemidorus.”

Artemidorus said to himself, “I will wait here until Caesar passes by, and I will give him this letter as if it were a petition — a request that a wrong be righted. My heart laments that good men cannot live safely out of the way of the teeth of jealous rivals. If you read this, Caesar, you may live. If you do not read this, the Fates are on the side of traitors.”

 — 2.4 —

On a Roman street, Portia ordered Lucius, “Boy, run to the Senate House. Do not stay — go now! Why are you still here?”

“I need to know what errand you want me to do, madam,” Lucius said.

“If I could, I would have had you there and back again before I could tell you what you should do there,” Portia said.

She said to herself, “Firmness of mind, come to me and support me! Set a huge mountain — a barrier — in between my heart and my tongue! I have a man’s mind, but a woman’s might. How hard it is for women to keep secrets!”

She said to Lucius, “Are you still here?”

“Madam, what do you want to do? Run to the Capitol, and nothing else? And then return to you, and nothing else?”

“Yes, run there and back, boy. Tell me if Brutus looks well. When he left here, he looked ill. Also, see what Caesar is doing. See which petitioners crowd against him.”

She thought that she heard a noise and said, “Listen, boy! What is that noise?”

“I don’t hear anything, madam.”

“Please, listen carefully. I heard a sound like a fight or a battle, and the wind brought it from the Capitol.”

“Madam, I hear nothing.”

The soothsayer walked up to Portia and Lucius.

Portia said to him, “Come here, fellow. From which way have you come?”

“I have come from my own house, good lady,” the soothsayer replied.

“What time is it?”

“About nine o’clock, lady.”

“Has Caesar gone to the Capitol?”

“Madam, not yet. I am going to find a spot to stand to see him pass on his way to the Capitol.”

“You have some request to make to Caesar, haven’t you?”

“That I have, lady,” the soothsayer replied. “If it will please Caesar to be so good to Caesar as to hear me, I shall beg him to befriend himself.”

“Why, do you know of any harm that is intended towards him?”

“None that I know will happen, but much that I fear may happen,” the soothsayer replied. “Good morning to you. I must go. Here the street is narrow, and the throng of people who follow Caesar at the heels — Senators, Praetors, common people — will crowd a feeble man almost to death. I’ll go to a place with more room, and there I will speak to great Caesar as he comes along.”

Portia said, “I must go inside. How weak a thing is the heart of a woman! Brutus, may the Heavens help you in your enterprise!”

She had said that aloud. Afraid, she thought, The boy Lucius must have heard me.

She said out loud so that Lucius would hear her, “Brutus has a petition that Caesar will not grant.”

She added, “I am growing faint. Run, Lucius, and commend me to my lord. Say that I am cheerful, then return to me and tell me what he says to you.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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