David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR: A Retelling in Prose

 — 3.1 —

In front of the Capitol, Julius Caesar and many others were standing. Among them were Artemidorus and the soothsayer, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Decius Brutus, Metellus Cimber, Trebonius, Cinna, Mark Antony, Lepidus, PopiliusLena, Publius, and others.

Caesar said to the soothsayer, “The Ides of March have come.”

“Yes, Caesar, but they have not yet gone,” the soothsayer replied.

“Hail, Caesar!” Artemidorus said. “Read my petition.”

Eager to deflect Caesar’s attention from Artemidorus, Decius Brutus, one of the conspirators, said to Caesar, “Trebonius asks you to read this humble petition at your leisure.”

“Caesar, read my petition first,” Artemidorus said. “My petition concerns you personally. Read it, great Caesar.”

“What concerns myself, I will read last,” Caesar said.

“Please do not wait,” Artemidorus said. “Read it now.”

“What, is the fellow insane?” Caesar said.

Publius said to Artemidorus, “Fellow, get out of the way.”

Cassius said to Artemidorus, “Why are you urging Caesar to read your petition in the street? Go to the Capitol with your petition.”

Caesar and several other people went to the Senate House.

Popilius Lena, a Roman Senator, said to Cassius, who had stayed behind, “I hope that your enterprise today thrives.”

“What enterprise, Popilius?”

“Fare you well,” Popilius Lena said and then followed Caesar.

Brutus asked Cassius, “What did Popilius Lena say to you?”

“He said that he hopes our enterprise may thrive. I fear that our plot has been discovered.”

“Popilius is going up to Caesar,” Brutus said. “Let’s see what happens.”

Cassius said, “Casca, be quick of action. We fear that our plot has been revealed.”

He said to Brutus, “What shall we do? If our plot is known, either Cassius or Caesar will die. If we fail to kill Caesar, I will kill myself.”

“Cassius, be steady and Lena is not telling Caesar about our plot. Look, be steady and resolute,” Brutus replied. “Popilius is smiling, and Caesar’s expression has not changed.”

Cassius said, “Trebonius knows the right time to play his part in this plot. Look, Brutus, he is drawing Mark Antony out of the way.”

Trebonius and Mark Antony left.

Decius Brutus asked, “Where is Metellus Cimber? He needs to go and immediately make his petition to Caesar.”

“He is ready,” Brutus said. “Crowd near Metellus Cimber and second his petition.”

Cinna said, “Casca, you will be the first to raise your hand and stab Caesar.”

“Are we all ready?” Caesar asked. “What is now amiss that Caesar and his Senate must set to rights?”

Metellus Cimber said, “Most high, most mighty, and most powerful Caesar, Metellus Cimber kneels before you with a humble heart —”

He knelt, but Caesar said, “I must stop you, Metellus Cimber. This stooping and bowing might thrill the blood of ordinary men and influence them to turn aside ancient customs and laws and change them like the whims of children making up rules for a game. Do not be so foolish as to think that Caesar’s spirit can rebel against its true nature because of these things that influence fools. I refer to sweet words, knee-bending bows, and cringing like a cocker spaniel. Your brother, Publius Cimber, has been banished from Rome by my decree. If you bow and pray and fawn for him, I will kick you out of my way as if you were a cur. Know that Caesar is not doing the wrong thing by keeping your brother in exile, and without good cause and reasons he will not be convinced to allow your brother to return from exile.”

Metellus Cimber replied, “Is there no voice more worthy than my own to speak more sweetly in great Caesar’s ear and urge the return of my banished brother?”

Brutus knelt and kissed Caesar’s hand and said, “I kiss your hand, but not in flattery, Caesar. I urge that Publius Cimber may immediately be recalled from exile.”

An impartial observer could think that Brutus was kissing Caesar’s hand in betrayal.

“What are you saying, Brutus!” Caesar said.

“Grant your pardon, Caesar,” Cassius said, falling to Caesar’s feet. “Caesar, grant your pardon. I, Cassius, fall to your feet and beg that Publius Cimber be allowed to return to Rome and to have all Roman rights restored to him.”

“If I were like you, I could be persuaded to change my mind,” Caesar said. “But I am as constant as the Northern star, the pole star that sailors use to navigate their ships. The Northern star’s fixed and permanent position has no equal in the Heavens. The skies are painted with innumerable sparks of stars. They are all fire and each of them shines, but of all the stars only one continually keeps his position. It is the same with people in the world. Many men live on Earth, and men are flesh and blood, and capable of understanding, yet in all the numbers of men I know of only one who — unassailable — keeps the same position, undisturbed by the motion of other men, and that man is me. Let me demonstrate this, here and now. I banished Publius Cimber, and I continue to banish him.”

Cinna said, “Caesar —”

Caesar said, “Stop! Would you try to lift Mount Olympus, the abode of the gods?”

Decius Brutus said, “Great Caesar —”

Caesar said, “Why are you pleading with me when even my good friend Brutus is kneeling before me and not swaying me?”

Casca said, “Speak, hands, for me!”

Casca would not speak with words, but with his sword.

Casca stabbed Caesar first, and then all of the other conspirators stabbed Caesar.

When Brutus stabbed Julius Caesar, Caesar looked him directly in the eyes and said, “Et tu, Brute!You, too, Brutus? Then let Caesar fall and die!”

He fell before a statue of Pompey.

Over Caesar’s dead body, Cinna shouted, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead! Run around, proclaim Caesar’s death, cry it about the streets.”

Brutus said to the non-conspirators present, “People and Senators, do not be frightened. Don’t run away. Stay here. Ambition’s debt is paid. Caesar was ambitious, and he has died for it.”

“Go to the speakers’ platform, Brutus, and speak,” Casca said.

Decius Brutus said, “Cassius should also speak from one of the speakers’ platforms.”

“Where is old Publius?” Brutus asked.

“He is here, stunned by this mutiny,” Cinna said.

“Let us stand close together in case some friend of Caesar’s should happen —” Metellus Cimber began to say.

“We have no need of defending ourselves,” Brutus said.

He added, “Publius, be of good cheer — don’t worry. We mean you no harm. We will not hurt you or any other Roman. Tell the other Romans that, Publius.”

“And leave us now, Publius,” Cassius said, “lest the people, rushing here, should hurt an elderly man such as you.”

“Do as Cassius tells you, Publius,” Brutus said. “No one should suffer from the consequences of this deed except we who committed it.”

Trebonius walked up to the conspirators.

“Where is Mark Antony?” Cassius asked.

“He has fled to his house, stupefied,” Trebonius replied. “Men, wives, and children stare, cry out, and run in the streets as if it were Doomsday — the Day of Judgment.”

“Fates, we will know your pleasures — we will know what you have in store for us,” Brutus said. “That we shall die, we know, but men are concerned about the time of their death and how to prolong their lives.”

“Why, he who cuts off twenty years of life cuts off so many years of fearing death,” Cassius said.

“If that is true, then death is a benefit,” Brutus said. “We are Caesar’s friends because we have shortened the time that he will fear death. Stoop, Romans, stoop, and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood up to the elbows and smear our swords with his blood. Then we will walk forth, all the way to the Forum, and, waving our red and bloody weapons over our heads, let us all cry, ‘Peace, freedom, and liberty!’”

“Stoop, then, and wash your hands in Caesar’s blood,” Cassius said.

The conspirators bloodied their hands and swords with Caesar’s blood.

“For many ages hereafter, this our lofty scene will be acted in celebration in countries that do not yet exist and with languages not yet known!” Cassius said.

Brutus said, “How many times shall Caesar bleed again in plays, although he now lies — worthless as dust — at the base of this statue of Pompey!”

“As often as the plays are given,” Cassius said, “that often shall we conspirators be called the men who gave their country liberty!”

An impartial observer who knew future history would think that no, the conspirators’ attempt to keep Rome a republic would fail. Octavius Caesar would become Caesar Augustus, the first Roman Emperor.Now, he is better known as Caesar Augustusthan as Octavius.

“Shall we leave now?” Decius Brutus asked.

“Yes,” Cassius said. “Let all of us go now. Brutus shall lead, and we will follow his heels with the very boldest and best hearts of Rome.”

A servant came toward the group of conspirators.

Brutus said, “Wait! Who is coming here? It is a friend of Mark Antony’s.”

The servant knelt and said, “Brutus, thus did my master order me to kneel before you. Thus Mark Antony ordered me to fall down; and, with me kneeling before you, he ordered me to say this to you: ‘Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honorable. Caesar was mighty, bold, royal, and loving. Say that I feared Caesar, honored him, and loved him. If Brutus will swear that Antony may safely come to him, and be convinced that Caesar deserved to die, then Mark Antony shall not love the dead Caesar as well as he loves the living Brutus. With all true faith, he will follow the fortunes and affairs of noble Brutus through the hazards of this unfamiliar state of affairs.’ So says my master Antony.”

“Your master is a wise and valiant Roman,” Brutus said. “I have never thought any less of him. Tell him that if it will please him to come here, we will explain everything to his satisfaction. I swear that he will depart from us untouched and unharmed.”

“I will bring him here immediately,” the servant said, and then exited.

“I know that Mark Antony will be a good friend to us,” Brutus said.

“I hope that he will,” Cassius said, “but yet I greatly fear him. My suspicions always are accurate.”

“Here comes Antony,” Brutus said.

Mark Antony went to the group of conspirators.

Brutus said, “Welcome, Mark Antony.”

Looking at Caesar’s bloody corpse, Mark Antony said, “Oh, mighty Caesar! Do you lie so low? Are all your conquests, glories, triumphs, and spoils shrunk to this little measure of ground that your body lies on? Farewell.”

Mark Antony then said to the conspirators, “I do not know, gentlemen, what you intend, who else must bleed and die, who else you consider to be rank. If you intend to kill me, this is the hour to kill me and these are the weapons to use to kill me: There is no hour as fit as the hour of Caesar’s death, nor no instruments of death half as worthy as your swords, made rich with the most noble blood of all this world. I do beg of you, if you have a grudge against me, now, while your reddened hands do reek and smoke with hot blood, to kill me and feel your pleasure. Even if I were to live a thousand years, I shall not find myself as ready to die as I am now. No place to die will please me as much as this place, no way to die will please me as much as here by Caesar to be cut down by you — the choice and master spirits of this age.”

“Antony, do not beg us to kill you,” Brutus said. “Though now we must appear bloody and cruel, as, by the blood on our hands and by the blood on the corpse of Caesar you see we do, yet all you can see is only our hands and this bleeding business they have done. You cannot see our hearts, which are full of pity for Caesar and full of a greater pity for the wrongs that Caesar committed against Rome. As fire drives out fire, so pity drives out pity. Our greater pity drove out our lesser pity, and we killed Caesar. As for you, do not be afraid — for you, Mark Antony, our swords are blunted. Our arms, which have the power to harm, and our hearts, which are filled with brotherly love, embrace you with kind love, good thoughts, and respect.”

“Your voice and your opinion shall be as strong as any man’s when it comes to deciding how to distribute new political offices and awards,” Cassius said.

“Be patient until we have appeased and soothed the multitude of people, who are beside themselves with fear, and then we will explain to you the reasons why I, who loved Caesar when I struck him, have killed him,” Brutus said.

“I do not doubt your wisdom,” Mark Antony said.

He proceeded to shake the conspirators’ hands, saying, “Let each man give me his bloody hand to shake. First, Marcus Brutus, I will shake hands with you. Next, Caius Cassius, do I take your hand and shake it. Now, Decius Brutus, yours. Now yours, Metellus. Yours, Cinna; and, my valiant Casca, yours. Though I shake your hand last, you are not last in my respect, good Trebonius.”

He added, “Gentlemen — what shall I say? My reputation now stands on such slippery ground that you must consider me in one of two bad ways. You must consider me to be either a coward or a flatterer.”

He looked at the corpse of Caesar and said, “That I did love you, Caesar, is true. If your spirit looks upon us now, shall it not grieve you more than your death, to see your Antony making his peace, shaking the bloody fingers of your foes — your most noble foes — in the presence of your corpse? Had I as many eyes as you have wounds, weeping as fast as your wounds stream forth your blood, it would become me better than to close in terms of friendship with your enemies. It is much better that I cry than shake hands with your enemies. Pardon me, Julius! Here were you hunted down like a deer, brave heart. Here you fell, and here your hunters stand, marked by your slaughter and reddened by your life stream of blood. The world was the forest of this deer, and you were the dear of this world. The world was Caesar’s territory, and Caesar was the life stream of the world. How like a deer, struck by many princes, do you lie here!”

“Mark Antony —” Cassius began to say.

“Pardon me, Caius Cassius,” Mark Antony said, “Even the enemies of Caesar shall say what I just said. So then, when a friend of Caesar says it, it is a cool and moderate assessment.”

“I do not blame you for praising Caesar in that way,” Cassius said, “but what agreement do you mean to have with us? Will you be one of our friends, or shall we proceed and not depend on you?”

“I shook your hands in friendship just now, but I was, indeed, distracted when I looked down at the corpse of Caesar. I am friends with you all and I respect you all, with the hope that you shall give me reasons why and in what way was Caesar dangerous.”

“If we cannot do that, then this corpse here would be a savage spectacle,” Brutus said. “Our reasons are so full of serious consideration that, Antony, even if you were the son of Caesar, you would be persuaded that we had justly killed Caesar.”

“That is all I seek,” Mark Antony said, “and I ask that I be allowed to take Caesar’s corpse to the Forum, and I ask that on the speakers’ platform, as becomes a friend, I be allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral.”

“You shall, Mark Antony,” Brutus said.

Cassius said, “Brutus, may I have a word with you?”

Brutus and Cassius went a short distance away from Mark Antony, and Cassius said, “You do not know what you are doing. Do not allow Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Don’t you realize how much the people may be moved by Antony’s speech?”

“I beg your pardon,” Brutus said. “I myself will speak first, and I will explain the reasons why Caesar had to die. Before Antony speaks, I will say that he speaks by our leave and with our permission, and that we want Caesar to have all the proper funeral rites and lawful ceremonies. This shall do us more good than harm.”

“I am afraid of what may happen,” Cassius said. “I am against Antony’s speaking at Caesar’s funeral.”

Brutus said, “Mark Antony, here, take Caesar’s body. You shall not in your funeral speech blame us. Instead, speak all the good you can of Caesar, and say you do it with our permission, or else you shall not have any hand at all in his funeral. You shall speak on the same speakers’ platform where I am going now, and you shall speak after I have finished my speech.”

“So be it,” Mark Antony said. “I desire no more than that.”

“Prepare the body then, and follow us.”

Everyone, except for Mark Antony, left.

Kneeling by the corpse of Caesar, Mark Antony said, “Pardon me, you bleeding piece of earth, that I am meek and gentle with these butchers! You are the ruins of the noblest man who ever lived in the tide of times — the ebb and flow of history. Woe to the hands that shed this valuable blood! I now prophesy over your wounds, which, like speechless mouths, open their ruby lips, to ask my tongue to speak. I prophesythat a curse shall light upon the bodies of men. Domestic fury and fierce civil strife shall paralyze all the parts of Italy. Blood and destruction shall be so common and dreadful objects shall be so familiar that mothers shall only smile when they see their infants cut to pieces by the hands of war. All pity will disappear because people are so accustomed to witnessing deadly deeds. Caesar’s spirit, searching for revenge, with Ate — the Roman goddess of vengeance coming hot from Hell — by his side, shall in these territories with a monarch’s voice cry ‘Havoc,’ and let loose the dogs of war. This foul deed shall result in men becoming stinking carrion above the earth, groaning for burial.”

A servant came toward Mark Antony.

“You serve Octavius Caesar, don’t you?” Mark Antony asked.

Octavius Caesar was the grand-nephew and adopted heir of Julius Caesar, to whom Calpurnia had given no children.

“I do, Mark Antony.”

“Julius Caesar wrote for him to come to Rome.”

“Octavius Caesar received his letters, and he is coming. He told me to say to you by word of mouth —”

The servant saw the corpse of Julius Caesar and exclaimed, “Oh, Caesar!”

“Your heart is big,” Mark Antony said. “Go away a short distance and cry. Sorrow, I see, is catching. My eyes, seeing those tears of sorrow in your eyes, have started to cry. Is your master coming?”

“He will sleep tonight within 21 miles of Rome.”

“Go back to him quickly,” Mark Antony said, “and tell him what has happened. Here is a mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome, not a Rome of safety for Octavius yet. Hurry now, and tell him. But wait. Stay here for a while. You shall not return to Octavius until I have carried this corpse into the Forum. In my speech, I shall see how the people take the assassination of Caesar by these bloody men. You shall report back to Octavius what happens.

“Now help me to carry Caesar’s body.”

The two men carried Caesar’s body to the Forum where the funeral orations would be given.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved






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