A bit of background to clarify the opening of the play: Julius Caesar, one of greatest military generals in Roman history, has just defeated his rival Pompey in a civil war that had lasted for five years. He has returned triumphantly to Rome, where the people celebrate him and plan to crown him emperor of Rome. This would be the first time in almost 500 years that Rome would have a king.
Acts I and II:
- Why are Flavius and Merellus scolding the “mechanicals” in the opening scene of the play?
- Much of this play focuses on signs, how they should be interpreted, and the ways in which the are misinterpreted. Try to find as many examples of you can in the first two acts of attempts at reading faces, portents, words, nature, sounds, dreams, even entrails!!
- What is Cassius’s complaint about Caesar (as expressed to Brutus)? Why doesn’t he want him to be crowned king?
- In trying to persuade Brutus to his cause, Cassius reminds him that he has another ancestor with the same name who was important to Roman history. Who was that “Brutus,” and why does Cassius bring him up?
- Look carefully at Caesar’s speech to Antony at 1.2.212-15. How is he contradicting himself here? What other examples do you seen in these opening acts that suggest Caesar is weak or fickle?
- In 1.3, Cassius blames whom for Caesar’s rise to power?
- “So every bondman in his own hand bears / The Power to cancel his captivity” (1.3.100-1). What does Casca mean by this?
- Portia tells Brutus something odd at 2.1.299-300. What made her harm herself in this way?
- What or who makes Caesar, at first, resolve to stay at home on the “Ides of March”? How is he finally convinced to go out?
Acts III and IV:
- When Caesar arrives at the Capitol, he finds the conspirators there to petition him for the return of Metellus’s brother from exile. What does each one do as he addresses him?
- Note the comparison Caesar draws in 3.1.60-73. How do you think these similes/metaphors characterize him?
- After the deed, Cassius proclaims “How many ages hence / Shall this our lofty scene be acted over, / In states unborn and accents yet unknown” (3.1.112-14). What do you think he is referring to in these lines?
- Return briefly to the argument between Cassius and Brutus at 2.1.155 ff. What are they debating? How does Brutus prevail? How does this issue arise again in 3.1?
- Take special notice of Antony’s prophecy at 3.1.260, culminating in the famous line, “Cry ‘havoc’! and let slip the dogs of war…” How are his predictions fulfilled even before this act ends?
- How does the crowd respond to Brutus’s oration? In what way is their response ironic?!
- Antony uses three props as part of his oration. How do these persuade his audience?
- What do we hear has happened to Cassius and Brutus following Antony’s speech?
- We hear twice of Portia’s death in 4.2 (we will talk about this oddity in class!). How did she die?
- Who (or what) appears to Brutus in his tent during the night?
- Note Cassius’s statement at 5.1.77: “Now I change my mind, / And partly credit things that do presage.” In what way is this a remarkable turn around from his views earlier in the play? What other evidence do you see in this act that suggests Cassius has started seeing “the fault…in our stars”?
- When Caesar’s ghost appears again to Brutus in act five, how does he interpret its arrival?
- What does Brutus mean by his speech at 5.1.100? What does he find “cowardly and vile”? Does he stick to this philosophy at the end of the play?
- “Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything,” Titinius says to the dead Cassius. What does he mean by this?
- Why is Brutus the only conspirator praised by Antony at the conclusion of the play?