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Julius Caesar, ACT II - a short summary

Last night I (finally) managed to put up my summary of Act I of Julius Caesar. Today, we're on to Act II. As with yesterday's post, I'll italicize the names of new characters as they are first introduced.

Act II
In which (in the words of George Villiers, 2d Duke of Buckingham) the plot thickens very much upon us.

Scene I

*In Brutus's orchard*

[KRF: In case you're wondering, all these outside locations were purposefully chosen so that props could be few and far between. No need to decorate a room if you can have your conversation outside.]

Brutus: "I cannot, by the progress of the stars,/Give guess how near to day." (Note how while he means he's not sure what time it is, he is also referencing "the stars" because there was an active belief in and practice of astrology back then - it manages to echo all those omens and portents we saw in Act I involving soothsayers and portents.)

Brutus calls Lucius to ask for a candle.

Brutus: *Makes a long soliloquy about social climbers who turn their backs on their origins and references to snakes*

I'd like to point out this line of Brutus's, for it's similarity with a line by everyone's favorite tormented Dane, Hamlet, a version of which play is believed to have existed prior to Julius Caesar, and the "final" version of which was written at or about the same time as Julius Caesar. I have to wonder whether the "borrowing" was on purpose, to firmly establish Brutus as our brooding antihero by association with the Dane, or whether Shakespeare knew not what he did. I rather suspect the former. Here's Brutus's line about Caesar:


"How that might change his nature, there's the question."

Uncanny, no? It echoes one of the most famous lines ever, does it not? Moving on . . .

*Enter Lucius, with a note*
Lucius: Hey, there's a candle inside. And I found this note while I was there.

Brutus: "Is not to-morrow, boy, THE IDES OF MARCH?"

*Lucius nips off to check the calendar of doom*

Brutus: There's so much lightning out here that I can read this random note from persons unknown.

'Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake, and see thyself.
Shall Rome, & c. Speak, strike, redress!
Brutus, thou sleep'st: awake!'

*puzzles over the meaning of "et cetera", and over the meaning of "speak, strike, redress", but not over "thou sleep'st: awake!", which is in there twice and probably doesn't refer to him being in bed. Silly Brutus*

*Lucius nips back in to say that 14 days have already passed in March, then pops back out to get the door*

Brutus:
Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar,
I have not slept.
Between the acting of a dreadful thing
And the first motion, all the interim is
Like a phantasma, or a hideous dream:
The Genius and the mortal instruments
Are then in council; and the state of man,
Like to a little kingdom, suffers then
The nature of an insurrection.

[KRF: If you've got time for inspiration and learning, check out Elizabeth Gilbert's TED speech, which explains the ancient notion of the genius as being a separate entity residing outside of the human world while being extremely motivational.]

*Enter Lucius*
Lucius: Cassius is here with a bunch of disreputable looking guys trying to hide their identities.

Brutus: "Let 'em enter."

*Lucius leaves to bring in the treasoners*

Brutus: The conspiracy is here, hiding itself under cover of night.

*Enter Cassius, Casca, Descia Brutus, Cinna, Metellus Cimber, and Trebonius*

Cassius: Hail, hail, the gang's all here. *performs introductions for the sake of the audience*

Negotiations are undertaken: Cassius wants Cicero to be included in the conspiracy, and wants to kill Antony as well as Caesar. Brutus says no on both counts*

Cassius: I fear Antony, because of his love for Caesar.

Brutus: Pish.

Cassius: I worry that Caesar won't turn up in the Capitol later today. He's especially superstitious lately, and what with soothsayers and auguries and portents . . .

Decius Brutus:
Never fear that: if he be so resolved,
I can o'ersway him; for he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betray'd with trees,
And bears with glasses, elephants with holes,
Lions with toils and men with flatterers;
But when I tell him he hates flatterers,
He says he does, being then most flattered.

Cassius: Nah, we'll all go get him at 8 a.m.

*The conpirators choose another possible member and depart*

Brutus talks to his wife, Portia, who wants to know what he's up to, but they're interrupted by Ligarius, who has arrived to join the conspiracy despite having a bad cold.


Scene 2

*at Caesar's house - still night, still thundering and lightning*

Caesar: *in his nightgown*
Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace to-night:
Thrice hath Calpurnia in her sleep cried out,
'Help, ho! they murder Caesar!' Who's within?

*sends a servant to have the priests perform a sacrifice*

Calpurnia: You're not going out! Are you out of your mind? You ought to stay home. Have you heard the stories of what's been going on? A lioness has whelped in the streets, the dead walk again, ghosts are everywhere, armies battled in the sky and rained blood down on the capitol . . . And to sum up, I'm afraid.

Caesar:
What can be avoided
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth; for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar.

Calpurnia
When beggars die, there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.

Caesar
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 most strange that men should fear;
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Again, echoes of Hamlet here, no? I'm thinking of Hamlet's "we defy augury" speech in Act V, scene ii, where he says "Not a whit, we defy augury: there's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he leaves, what is't to leave betimes?" But I digress.

Caesar: "What say the augurers?"

Upon being told that the omens all say he should stay at home, Caesar defies augury and says he'll go out. So there. Whereupon Portia says "pretty please?" and Caesar decides to stay home.

*Enter Decius Brutus with a pack of lies*

Decius Brutus: Portia's dream is actually a good one, and people will think you're a sissy if you stay home and will decide not to give you the crown. Come to the capitol. All the cool kids are doing it. You'll be pop-u-lar!

Caesar: Let me get my wrap. And lookie here! All the conspirators good men in Rome are come to fetch me! *Calls roll*

Caesar: *in a foreshadowing sort of tone* You guys all stand really close to me today, okay?
"Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me;
And we, like friends, will straightway go together."

Trombonius Trebonius: *in an aside* Your actual friends will wish I'd stood farther away!

Brutus: I'm a bit mopey and unhappy. Also, "like" friends and actual friends aren't the same thing.


Scene 3

*a street near the Capitol*

Artemidorus: *reads a note* Dear Caesar: Beware of Cassius. Don't trust Casca. Or Trombonius. Or any of the other conspirators. XO, Artemidorus

Right. I'll just stand here and slip him this note when he walks by. If he reads it, he'll live; if not, then the Fates are on the side of the conspirators.


Scene 4

*the street outside Brutus's house*

Portia: You, boy, run to the Senate and back.

Lucius: And then??

Portia: Go to the Senate.

Lucius: And then??

Portia: Come back. Oh. And tell me how Brutus looks. And who's hanging out near Caesar. Do you hear that noise?

Lucius: WTF?

Portia: There's a rumour around the Capitol. *ponders singing "Have You Heard?" from Anastasia, but opts out

Lucius: Nope. Heard nothing. "Sooth."

*speak of the devil and he will appear*

Soothsayer: You rang? I'm worried that Caesar may come to hard. IDES OF MARCH! Soothsayer OUT!

*Soothsayer heads off to see if he can have a word with Caesar, Portia goes inside to faint*

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Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
writerjenn
Jun. 16th, 2010 12:29 am (UTC)
"What can be avoided
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth; for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar."

Or in other words, "When it's your time to go, it's your time to go."

His philosophy here seems mighty laid-back compared to how power-hungry and controlling he is painted elsewhere.
kellyrfineman
Jun. 16th, 2010 01:32 am (UTC)
On the one hand, the conspirators paint him as superstitious, which I believe he was supposed to be, but he willfully ignored all portents here. And the portion of the quote you pulled out was his way of saying that the portents mean that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and don't apply to him.
jamarattigan
Jun. 20th, 2010 11:32 am (UTC)
"Let me get my wrap" :D
kellyrfineman
Jun. 20th, 2010 08:01 pm (UTC)
Heh.
p_sunshine
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:29 pm (UTC)
"A lioness has whelped in the streets, the dead walk again, ghosts are everywhere, armies battled in the sky and rained blood down on the capitol . . . And to sum up, I'm afraid."
You'd think that if Caesar was as superstitious as he was made out to be, he would have paid attention to any of this. Oh, right, it's just his wife saying this (and the soothsayer, but everyone ignores him anyway). The cool kids know better.
kellyrfineman
Jun. 22nd, 2010 05:25 pm (UTC)
Agreed. If he's so darned superstitious, why on earth is he insisting on going out at all? I think that stubborn male desire to not listen to his wife won out. Maybe.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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