NCERT English Literature – Julius Cesar — Explanation
1a. Difference between ‘killing’, ‘murder’ and ‘assassination’.
Killing …It means an act of causing death, especially deliberately.
a. The killing of large number of cows became necessary after Mad Cow Disease spread in the area.
b. Killing of Maoists will not be very effective to curb their menace. Some innovative political approach would perhaps be more fruitful.
Murder .. It means the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
a. The murder of the lonely couple caused heightened anxiety in the entire hill town.
b. Rigging an election is nothing but murder of democracy.
Assassination …It means the murder of an important person for political or religious reasons.
a. The assassination of President Kennedy had plunged the entire America in grief. b. The ring of armed guards could not prevent the assassination of the prime minister.
2. List of assassinated leaders. Rajiv Gandhi, Benajeer Bhuto, Benigno Aquino of Philippines
3. Why they were assassinated .. Rajiv Gandhi .. He was shot in point blank range by a LTTE supporter. It was an act of revenge by the Sri Lanka-based insurgency organization for India’s armed intervention against it. Benajeer Bhutto. .. She was assassinated by un-known groups. Taliban was suspected to be involved in the act because she had taken firm stand against it. Benigno Aquino …
Introductory note… Julius Caesar (100BC – 44BC)
Caesar was a politician and general of the late Roman republic, who, through his daring conquests, extended the borders of the Roman Empire greatly. His meteoritic rise and the public adulation helped him to seize power and make himself dictator of Rome. This paved the way for the imperial system.
Julius Caesar was born in Rome on 12 or 13 July 100 BC into the prestigious Julian clan. His family had close connections with the Marian faction in Roman politics. Caesar himself progressed within the Roman political system, becoming in succession quaestor (69 BC), aedile (65 BC) and praetor (62BC). In 61-60 BC he was appointed governor of the Roman province of Spain. After a triumphant return to Rome in 60 BC, Caesar made a pact with Pompey and Crassus, who helped him to get elected as consul for 59 BC. The following year he was given the assignment of governor of Roman Gaul. He discharged this responsibility for eight years, annexing the whole of modern France and Belgium to the Roman empire. This effectively preempted Gallic invasions against Rome, thus, ensuring safety for its citizens. He made two expeditions to Britain, in 55 BC and 54 BC. Caesar then returned to Italy without the consent of the senate. In a show of defiance and hubris, he crossed the Rubicon river without disbanding his army. His defiance brought him in direct conflict with the republican forces. Caesar defeated them. Pompey, their leader, fled to Egypt where he was assassinated. Caesar followed him to Egypt where he met the queen Cleopatra. He fell in love with her. Caesar was now the supreme ruler of Rome, the master of its destiny. He became the dictator. This gave him the opportunity to show his noble vision and administrative skills in peacetime. He leveraged his power to carry out much-needed reforms. The poor were given respite from chronic indebtness. The senate was enlarged to make it more representative. The calendar was revised. Dictatorship was always regarded a temporary position for Julius Caesar. But in 44 BC, Caesar took it for life. This caused much disquiet to the people around him. His success and ambition alarmed the republican senators. A group of these, led by Cassius and Brutus, assassinated Caesar on the Ides (15 BC) of March 44 BC. Cesar’s demise triggered the final round of civil wars that ended the Republic and brought about the elevation of Caesar’s great nephew and designated heir, Octavian, as Augustus, the first emperor.
Explanation of text [Act II, Scene II]
1. Julius Caesar has got up a bit late. He paces up and down the palace verandah in his night gown immersed in some disturbing thought. His wife Calipurnia had cried out in her sleep, ‘Help, ho! They murder Caesar’. Caesar knew it portended something awful.
2. Caesar summons a servant and asks him to rush to a soothsayer, and ask him to do a suitable sacrifice to make some good omen appear. The bad omen tormenting Calipurnia had to be dispelled.
3. Calphurnia has left her bed. With the dreadful dreams still lingering in her mind, she beseeches her husband not to venture out of the palace that day. She appears unusually firm in her demand. The boastful Caesar declines to heed her request. In his usual air of defiance and hubris, he says that danger can’t look him in the eyes.
4. Calphurnia is insistent. She wants to keep her husband out of harm’s way – at any cost. She’s not a superstitious lady, but she’s seen some very ghastly dreams. She saw lions walking around, the dead rising from their graves, and warriors in the sky, and the Capitol drenched in blood. Angst sweeps her mind.
5. Caesar wants to have his ways. He reasons with her distressed wife saying what is ordained by God must happen. Here he delivers the famous line, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the Valiant never taste of death, but once.” He sees quite unbecoming for a valiant warrior like him to fear death, since death spares no one born in this world.
6. News of the soothsayer’s efforts to get some good omen to appear has gone awry. The beast that was killed for the sacrifice had no heart! Caesar, in his obsessively proud and confident manner discounts the incident as something irrelevant. He concludes that he would have no heart (or courage) if he stayed home today. It is a wishful distortion by Caesar that feeds his ego. He then claims he’s more dangerous than danger itself.
7. Calphurnia is the least convinced. She pleads with Caesar to stay home. For those who cared to know the reason behind his absence, he could take the alibi that he stayed home not out of his own volition, but at his wife’s behest. She goes down on her knees to make her husband accede to her request. He doesn’t agree until she’s gotten down on her knees. He decides to humor her and says that his friend Antony will say that Ceaser is ill.
8. It is morning. As planned earlier, Decius turns up to Caesar Caesar to the Capitol. Calphurnia asks Decius to tell the Senate that Caesar is sick. Decius has ulterior motives. He tries to deceive her by saying that Caesar had conquered nations and need not be worried about some old insignificant senators knowing why he has to stay back in the palace.
9. Caesar tells Decius to just tell the Senate he won’t come. This much should suffice. He does not owe anyone any explanation as to why he has not come. In a huge blunder, Caesar wants to confide in the devil Decius, whose true motive is still under wraps. Caesar is unsuspecting of Decius and loves him. Caesar decides to tell Decius why he is not going.
10. He tells Decius that Calphurnia had an awful dream in which Caesar’s statue spewed blood from a hundred spouts, like a fountain. Rejoicing Romans washed their hand in the blood with great glee.
11. Decius is a master manipulator. He knows he has to take Cesar to the Capitol so that the plot to kill him can come to fruition. Quite deftly, he starts his attempt misinterpret the dream. He says surely Caesar had blood spilled all over his applauding Romans. Decius claims the dream means Rome will be resurrected by Caesar’s blood, and everybody will want a little token of that wonderful sacrificial act. Decius engages in double-talk here. What he really has in mind is that Rome will be saved with the demise of Caesar, but twists his words to give it a positive spin.
12. Decius proceeds to use his master stroke. He says that the adoring Senate is planning to crown Caesar the King. Cesar must seize the moment and go and be crowned. A delay now might make the Senate change its minds. Cesar feels his wife’s dreams must not stand on the way to go forward. Not going will diminish his stature as the invincible hero par. Quite innocently, the crooked Decius avers that he does not want his beloved friend to be subject to any ridicule by not showing up.
13. In a move that would cost Caesar his life, he fails to see through Decius’s platitudes and wicked mis-representation of Calipurnia’s dreams. He ignores the fervent appeals of his dear wife and steps forward to the Capitol. It was a fatal error which was a consequence of Caesar’s vain pride and self-confidence.
14. It’s 8 in the morning. All other conspirators have gathered, each trying to pretend that it is business as usual.
15. Caesar is all grace as he always is while in the midst of Senators. He offers them a welcome drink. Brutus reflects on the fact that Caesar is hosting his assassins. The thought disturbs him.
16. Artemidorius, a soothsayer, reads aloud to himself a note of caution for Caesar. In the note, he lists all the would be perpetrators who are out to fell him. He warns Caesar to shun them, and gives a detail account of their plot. Artemidorius plans to pass this note to Caesar as he walks to the Capitol. He hopes Caesar will read it and will save himself. It was an move to preempt the assassination.
17. Portia, Brutus’s wife, is disoriented and confused. She tells her servant Lucius to make a dash to the Capitol. She is delirious as she shouts at her servant for not having left, although she is yet to brief him.
18. Portia is worried and confused. She can’t decide what Lucius has to do when he reaches there. Brutus appeared unwell and lost when he left for the Senate that morning. She wants Lucius to be at her husband’s side. She instructs Lucius to keep an eye on Caesar and the people standing by his side. Though not privy to the murder plan, she senses something dreadful is going to happen.
19. Acutely apprehensive of a catastrophe about to happen, Portia hears imaginary sounds in her imagination. Lucius claims he heard nothing.
20. A soothsayer arrives at Brutus’s house to tell Portia that Caesar hasn’t come to the Capitol yet. The soothsayer hopes to accost him on the way so that he pass on the warning note to him.
21. This only worsens Portia’s fearful thoughts. She wants to know if some plot is being hatched to imperil Caesar. The soothsayer feigns ignorance, but says some earthshaking event is going to happen.
22. The soothsayer sets out with the hope to get a vantage point along the way where he can approach Caesar elbowing his way through the crowd.
23. Portia’s nerves are frayed at the turn of events. She prays to ensure that Brutus emerge from the turmoil unharmed. She terms the plot an ‘enterprise’. Lucius happened to be within a earshot of Portia when the latter made this prayer. This makes her worry if her servant overheard this. She makes a silly attempt to cover it up. She says that the ‘enterprise’ pertains to a small request her husband had made to Caesar, which, in any case, is not going to be granted. She undoubtedly is in the know of the deadly plot, but she holds the secret close to her chest.
24. Portia tries to regain her composure. She asks Lucius to tell Brutus that she is “merry”. She wants her servant to bring back news of Brutus. She is actually very perturbed and apprehensive.
25. The crowd of the scheming senators and a few onlookers surround Julius Caesar just in the perimeter of the Capitol. Decius, one of the masterminds of the plot, proffers a “suit” or a request from Trebonius to Caesar.
26. Artemidorius, the soothsayer with the message, gets to meet Caesar, and urges him to read his ‘suit’ (letter) first, as it is very important to his adored leader Caesar. Caesar, good-naturedly, avers that Rome’s affairs are more important to him than his own. He says he will read the note later. the picture of humility, says that, because he puts the affairs of Rome before his own, he’ll read Artemidorius’s suit last. Artemidorius presses him unsuccessfully, as Caesar dismisses him saying “What, is the fellow mad?”
27. Caesar is oblivious of the fact that he has committed a fatal error of judgment. He is ushered in to the Capitol by Cassius. Cassius advises Caesar not to waste time in meeting the commoners in the streets of Rome, but hurry to the Capitol.
28. As Caesar enters the Capitol, Senator Popilius wishes Cassius good luck in “today’s enterprise.” It is a cynical and wicked statement.
29. Popilius, apparently aware of the plot, is busy in small talk with Caesar. Brutus, remains cool and composed despite the knowledge of the imminent calamity. He tries to instill a feeling of normalcy in those who appeared to be a bit edgy. Popilius exchanges smiles with Caesar. Obviously, even a whiff of the murder plot has not reached his mind.
30. Meanwhile, Trebonius does his part. He tries to make Caesar walk into the trap. The plot is proceeding as planned. Metellus will soon cozy up to Caesar, pretending to make a request. The wolve-senators would soon pounce upon Caesar from vantage positions. Cinna says Casca will strike first.
31. Metellus approaches bending forward reverentially. Caesar disapproves of such show of subservience. Referring to himself in third person, Caesar says lesser men may get flattered by extreme loyalty, but he has no place for such docile behavior in his mind. Caesar turns down Metellus’s request for revocatrion of the banishment order on his son. Giving vent to his exaggerated sense of pride and vanity, Caesar chides those who stoop to get their requests granted. He says such conduct is demeaning and akin to those of beggars. Such statements do not go down well with the audience. Caesar’s boasts jar their minds.
32.As Metellus makes his appeal for his brother Publius, Brutus steps forward to kiss Caesar’s hands. The bemused Caesar frown upon such display of loyalty and reverence from his dear friend. At this point, Cassius falls to Caesar’s feet.
33. Caesar has the conspirators surrounding him in deferential manner in order not to arouse his doubt. Intoxicated with the adulation showered on him, Caesar further jades everyone saying he won’t change the law to accommodate Publius. In a statement that reveals his vainglorious mood, Caesar declares himself to be “as constant as the northern star.” Caesar wants to make a point here about his stubborn adherence to his principles and decisions, his invincibility and indestructibility. He wants to drive home the point that he is not going to accede to any request even if it is made by a close friend.
34. The conspirators keep trying to prevail upon Caesar to accept their request, but Caesar asks them to move away. He says their protestations are of no avail. It is like trying to lift Olympus, the mountain of the gods.
35. Caesar is shocked when Brutus decides to kneel. Suddenly Casca impels his dagger into Caesar. Brutus is quick to stab him too.
36. Caesar utters the last words of his life. In a tone chocked with anguish and surprise, he moans, “Et tu, Brute? [You too, Brutus?] – Then fall, Caesar!” Brutus dagger caused Caesar much more pain than that of all others. After all, Brutus was Cesar’s wise and most trustworthy friend. Brutus’s knife breaks Cesar’s mind more than it breaks his body. Resigned to being betrayed by Brutus decides to give up. He decides to fall. Quite ironically, this momentous moment comes close on the heels of the Cesar’s defiant speech, ‘I am the North Star…..!”
37. Soon after Caesar falls in a pool of blood, Cinna declares triumphantly, “Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!” and tells everybody to spread the ‘liberating’ news among the masses.
38. Brutus senses the mood of shock and revulsion in the minds of the people who witnessed the ghastly act. He asks them to reconcile to Caesar’s demise with circumspection and equanimity. “Ambition’s debt is paid,” Brutus wants his fellow citizens to believe. He wants them to understand that Caesar’s unbridled ambition brought about his downfall. eaning Caesar’s death is the cost and consequence of Caesar’s ambition.
39. Casca signals Brutus and Cassius to step on the pulpit apparently to clear the air about Cesar’s assassination so as to preempt any confusion and violent backlash. Brutus could mollify the crowd with a formal address. At this point, Brutus notices he can’t find Publius. Cinna points out that Publius is still struck by the gruesome murder. He is on an edge trying to fathom the repercussions of the mutinous senators’ act. Metellus urges the conspirators to close their ranks and brace for a possible confrontation with the angry Caesar loyalists standing near the Capitol.
40. Brutus then sternly urges everyone to remain calm and reflect. He wants to cool the nerves of the tense crowd there. Sensing a violent storm gathering, he wants to make everyone reconcile to whatever has happened. The realization has dawned in Brutus that the expected applaud might soon turn to anger and retribution.
41. Trebonius enters to break the dreadful news. Antony has fled to the safety of his house. There are angry crowds in the streets. Clearly, Caesar’s murder has roiled them. A sense of gloom and doom has gripped the people. They are crying out for vengeance.
42. Brutus lapses into a retrospective mood. He says death is inevitable for all. The journey to the grave starts the day one is born. Life is the time one needs to spend between birth and death. Brutus knows the crowd will soon turn on the masterminds of the conspirators and he will meet his death.
43. Quite intriguingly, Brutus calls upon the perpetrators to smear their hands up to their elbows in Caesar’s blood and to drench their swords with it, so they can walk out into the streets and the marketplace boldly declaring the ushering in of peace, freedom, and liberty in the land. This is so disturbingly akin to Calphurnia’s dream.
44. Cassius professes that history will treat this assassination kindly, and even hail it as a noble one. He suggests that Brutus should lead the debriefing mission to the streets to explain to the agitated crowd why they did such an act.
45. Just then, Antony’s servant enters, disrupting the proceedings.
46. Antony is distraught. He has sent his servant as emissary to convey his deep regard to Brutus for his wisdom, valour, honesty and foresight. The servant tells Antony that his master adores Caesar as much as he adores Brutus. Antony implores Brutus to tell him if it is safe enough to venture out. He wants to hear, first hand, how Brutus justifies the assassination. he can get some assurance that it’s safe to come around for a visit sometime and hear the story of why Brutus thought it was OK to kill their leader. Regardless, he’ll be faithful to Brutus from now on.
47. Brutus assures Antony’s servant that he sees no danger for his master to come to the Capitol. Brutus is elated because he will soon be among his friends in this hour of crisis.
48. Misgivings about Antony still plague Cassius’s mind. Being the chief architect of the plot, he is distrustful of everyone around him. Antony, too, attracts Cassius’s suspicion.
49. Antony comes to the spot where Caesar’s body lies. He is devastated almost to the point of being delirious. He breaks down and tears roll down his eyes. In a voice shaking with rage, he says the murderous conspirators could soon target others.
50. With a gush of hurtful sentiments overpowering him, Antony pleads with the conspirators to fell him right there if they want him annihilated. He avers dying with the sword still dripping with Caesar’s blood would be the most honourable death ever.
51. Brutus starts to mollify Antony. He wants to douse the rage in his friend’s mind. He says that, the conspirators’ hands are bloody, but their hearts are filled with remorse and pity. After all, someone had to eliminate Caesar to save Rome’s republican character. The assassination is vile, but the intentions are noble. There was no way to protect Rome from dictatorial rule except by getting rid of the dictator. Brutus assures Antony that the public would laud the assassins.
52. Brutus promises not to waste any more time to explain the compulsions behind the murder. Right now, though, they’ve got to venture out and confront the enraged public with cold logic. The public’s wrath against those with Caesar’s blood in their hands must be countered with dispassionate reasoning.
53. Antony, out of deep regard for Brutus’s character and wisdom, begins to feel that there was indeed some compelling reason to kill Caesar. Antony shakes the bloody hands of the conspirators all around. He then looks on Caesar’s corpse and begins a long-winded speech eulogizing Caesar. He repentantly admits that by siding with the conspirators, he has betrayed his idol, Caesar.
54. Cassius senses danger here. He is very upset with Antony taking the high moral ground on the issue. He interrupts this dramatic public speech of Antony and asks him if he shares or opposes their stand.
55. Antony’s mind is caught in a dilemma. He says he sides with the conspirators. In the next moment, he takes a pitiful look at Caesar’s dead body lying so miserably on the ground. His mind wavers. He feels the murder of Caesar does not stand moral scrutiny. Annihilating a leader who had done so much for Rome can only be the handiwork of people who are mean. He steps back from endorsing the assassination. Still, Antony feels he can support the assassination if the perpetrators can come up with sound reasons for it. They have to prove that Caesar was too dangerous for Rome to be left alive occupying the throne.
56. Antony now makes another request that appears too innocent to be turned down. He wants to be permitted to take the body to the marketplace and to address the congregation at Caesar’s funeral.
57. Brutus accedes to the request as Antony has done little to belie his trust. Cassius is suspicious. He is not comfortable with the idea of Antony speaking to the audience. He wants to alert Brutus and pulls Brutus aside.
58. Cassius had a premonition Brutus might speak disparagingly about the perpetrators inflame the passions of the already volatile citizens further. He urges Brutus to stop Antony from speaking at the funeral.
59. Brutus decides on a middle path. He proposes to climb to the pulpit ahead of other speakers and with calm well-reasoned logic, explain to the agitated crowd why they killed Caesar. This decision is, no doubt, a huge error of judgment. The crowd boiling in anger, has little patience for cold reason. They are crying for retribution. Brutus plans to explain that the conspirators have authorised Antony to speak implying that he is not an adversary. Brutus is to declare Caesar will have all the befitting burial ceremonies. Brutus is so naïve here. He foolishly assumes that this gesture will go down well with the audience, dousing their rage.
60. To preempt Antony making any critical comment, Brutus made Antony promise not to say anything to add to surcharged atmosphere at Caesar’s funeral. He was told not to castigate the killers, and describe Cesar’s contribution to Rome.
61. Antony is now alone. He bends over Caesar’s body and speaks aloud the thoughts that rage in his heart. He says he will expose the conspirators to the angry crowd, so that they turn on the vile perpetrators of the murder. Antony can see the retribution and the bloodshed that would ensue as the crowd run amuck to avenge the death of their Hero. The scale of the mayhem and massacre will be so massive that Caesar would rise from the Hell with the Goddess of Discord by his side, and mothers smile to see their babies being mutilated in their presence. Antony’s intentions are clear. He wants a torrent of fire to rain down on the perpetrators.
62. Just around this time, a servant comes in to break the news that Octavius, the adopted son of Caesar is on his way to Rome. Earlier, Caesar had sent words for him to come to Rome.
63. Octavious is then a short distance away from Rome. Antony asks the servant to somehow persuade Octavius not to proceed further as the situation in the capital was too volatile. Antony wants Octavius to arrive only after he (Antony) finishes his address to the restive crowd laying bare the wicked plot that led to the murder of his father. The crowd will then be primed to pounce upon the murder plotters. Octavius’s presence would add fuel to the fire then.
64. The servant helps Antony to move Caesar’s body out of the Capitol.
65. Brutus and Cassius are in the streets virtually mobbed by inquisitive onlookers. They simply want to get an account of why, how and by whom Caesar has been killed.
66. Cassius takes a section of the crowd away to explain the factors leading up to the assassination of Cesar. Some others from the crowd stay behind to listen to what Brutus has to say.
67. Brutus ascends to the stage to begin his speech. Instantly, the commotion stops and people become silent to hear him. Brutus avoids rhetoric. Instead, he gives a short, solemn account of what had transpired.
68. Brutus reaffirms his great love and regard for the fallen Hero. He asks the crowd if there was anyone among them who loves Caesar more than him. No one comes forward.
69. Brutus says he loves Caesar in credibly, but his love for Rome overrides his love for the dead leader. Cesar had become autocratic. Romans simply can not live under a ruler who reduces them to the level of slaves. To preempt such a misfortune overpowering the common Romans, he and his fellow senators had to take this extreme step to eliminate Caesar.
70. Brutus challenges the listeners to say they didn’t love Rome and freedom. Obviously, no one from the crowd raises a voice. ‘This was the motivation to kill Caesar,’ avers Brutus.
71. Brutus appears to be swaying the angry crowd to his side of the story. But, at that point of time, Antony arrives with the dead body of Cesar. Brutus is about to close his speech by introducing Antony. As his parting words, he reiterates his stand that Caesar had to be killed for Rome’s shake. In an empty bravado, he says that he will kill himself if ever he is proved to have lied.
72. Brutus seems to have carried the day with his eloquent declaration. The crowd is so thrilled that they want to make him the next Caesar and erect a statue in his honour. The lofty principle of democracy in choosing the supreme leader appears to be forgotten in the frenzy of adulation for Brutus.
73. Brutus ushers in Antony asking him to address the crowd.
74. Shouts of derision against Caesar rent the air as the volatile crowd begin to adore Brutus for his patriotic act!
75. Antony begins his address saying, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones; so let it be with Caesar.”
76. With astute selection of words, Antony proceeds to make his point. He showers his praise on Brutus putting the crowd at ease. Then, he begins to demolish the claim of loyalty to Rome made by the perpetrators. He says, Ceasar brought humungous wealth and fame to Rome. He had thrice declined to be named the supreme leader and the lure of autocratic power had never influenced his action. He was a friend of the poor and the unquestionable king of all Romans’ hearts. The people who plotted to kill him had ulterior motives. They committed the egregious sin of assassinating such a great son of Rome out of jealousy. ‘Caesar’s murder was an act of vile scheming,’ asserted Antony.
77. To bolster his argument, Antony proceeded to read the will of Caesar, simultaneously declaring that he was making public the private document with great reluctance.
78. Almost at the same instant, the crowd that had lionized Brutus only moments before, begin to mourn the death of their leader.
79. Exhibiting astute diplomatic skill, Antony states that Brutus is indeed a man of honour and unquestionable integrity. However, he delivers his fatal blow by pointing out to the wound inflicted by Brutus on Caesar’s body. He repeats his assertion over and over again to drive home the point that Brutus and his men had resorted to heinous treachery in stabbing their leader to death. Antony’s intention was to incite the crowd against Brutus and his henchmen to a point of no return.
80.The crowd erupts with deadly frenzy. As they pause before unleashing their anger, Antony urges them to wait a while to hear out Antony’s will.
81. As per the will, each citizen is to get a nice garden and 75 drachmas. This part of the will was the last nail in the coffin of the conspirators. The crowd decides to cremate Caesar in the holy place, and then torch the conspirators’ assets with the same flame. It was a very emotional outburst.
82.Antony is elated to see the crowd setting out to wreck their vengeance on the conspirators. Mayhem and murder stat in a mammoth scale.
83. Antony gets the news that Octavius has reached the palace with his friend Lepidus. The duo is waiting to see him.
84. Antony, Octavius and Lepidus become the triumvirate to rule Rome.
85. Brutus and Cassius flee for their lives leaving Rome for good.