Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus have formed a triumvirate — actually during the year and a half following the assassination (Asimov 300) — and are listing people to be killed, including Lepidus’ brother and Antony’s nephew. Antony sends Lepidus out to retrieve Caesar’s will; he plans to chisel away some of the bequests. When he leaves, Antony tells Octavius how little he thinks of Lepidus. Octavius defends Lepidus as a soldier, but Antony claims his horse is as worthy. In any case, they need to battle the army Brutus and Cassius are raising.
So the New Order is already crumbling, tending towards a tyrannical autocracy. And we know from pop history that Antony and Octavius will end up mortal enemies. Anyhow, I guess that whole “kill Caesar to avoid a tyrannical rule” thing didn’t quite work out.
Brutus hears from Titinius and Pindarus at his camp that Cassius is on the way. Brutus has been offended somehow and asks about Cassius’ demeanor, which has been courteous but not as friendly as in the past. Brutus identifies this as the behavior of “A hot friend cooling…. / When love begins to sicken and decay / It useth an enforced ceremony. / There are no tricks in plain and simple faith” (IV.ii.19-22). Cassius arrives and has been offended by Brutus somehow. Instead of out in front of the armies, they will argue in private. (So some debates should be handled privately instead of as public spectacles? Hmm.)
In Brutus’ tent, the two squabble. The elder Ogburns detect Brutus/Oxford in relation to Cassius/Burghley in this “testy” encounter (Ogburn and Ogburn 913, 964; cf. Sonnet 77). Brutus, on his high horse and insisting on his honorability, accuses Cassius of the contamination of “an itching palm” (IV.iii.10) — of taking bribes, or selling offices. There is no Plutarchan source for this episode, so the Ogburns are reminded both of Burghley’s covetousness and, soon, of his withholding of funds during Oxford’s travels (Ogburn and Ogburn 475-477). Brutus feels that such behavior is sullying the sanctity of their butchery. Cassius is especially upset by this falling out, but Brutus remains haughty and nasty. The tensions seem to be building towards violence, and Brutus claims,
There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats;
For I am arm’d so strong in honesty
That they pass by me as the idle wind,
Which I respect not.
“It is the perfect echo of an earlier speech in the play. The arrogation of moral infallibility is but a step below the affectation of divinity. Brutus has become like Caesar!” (Goddard, I 324). Brutus also gripes about Cassius refusing to send the money Brutus requested for payment of troops (and how is Cassius supposed to raise this money?). Brutus “In other words … cannot steal but he is willing to have Cassius steal, share in the proceeds, and then scorn Cassius as a robber” (Asimov 304). After pinpointing some miscommunication and some emoting by Cassius, the two are reconciled.
Brutus admits to being “sick of many griefs” (IV.iii.144), whereupon Cassius says, “Of your philosophy you make no use, / If you give place to accidental griefs” (IV.iii.145-146), by which he means Brutus’ Stoicism. Brutus explains that Portia is dead; she “swallow’d fire” (IV.iii.156) — that is, she swallowed hot coals. “Is it possible that this is a distortion of a much more likely death — that she allowed a charcoal fire to burn in a poorly ventilated room and died of carbon monoxide poisoning?” (Asimov 305). According to Brutus, she was impatient for Brutus’ return and worried about the armies raised by Antony and Octavius; but Brutus is probably unable to admit the real reason. Cassius is sympathetic. In general, Cassius is seeming much more likable now, and Brutus just as blind as ever.
Titinius and Messala enter and report that the enemy armies are headed towards Philippi, having killed scads of senators. The death of Portia is reported again and, unless one of the passages about this was supposed to be cut in a revision of the text, Brutus pretends not to have known about it and he gets immediately back to work. It may be that we are seeing him put on a Stoical demeanor in front of his soldiers (Asimov 306). If he is acting here, then “The unnatural restraint he puts himself under in this personal matter may have more than a little to do with the rash plan of battle we find him advocating a few minutes later” (Goddard, I 326). Brutus wants to meet the armies down at Philippi while Cassius wants to wait for the enemies to come to them where they are safer and will be rested. But Cassius again gives in to Brutus, since news of Portia’s death leaves him “in no mood to cross Brutus again” (Goddard, I 326).
Oxfordians point out:
Just as Portia was the daughter of the esteemed Cato the Younger, Anne was the daughter of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, the queen’s chief minister and de Vere’s guardian, among other things. Anne died in June 1588, shortly before the invasion of the Spanish Armada in July, and it appears that de Vere was not present at her death or funeral, possibly making his own preparations for the immanent invasion. This would be similar to Brutus, who learns of Portia’s death while on campaign…. (Farina 187)
When the others have left, Brutus commands two men to sleep in his tent in case he has messages to deliver later (or he may be afraid to be alone), and he has Lucius sing. But the boy falls asleep, and Brutus “is all tenderness. This man who could kill Caesar cannot ask a tired child to watch one hour more” (Goddard, I 327). Brutus starts to read a book, and a reference to the “leaf turned down” is another anachronism, “since the codex book with turning pages had not yet been invented in Roman times” (Garber 434). The ghost of Caesar appears, claiming to be “Thy evil spirit” (IV.iii.282). He will meet Brutus again at Philippi. So they’ll meet again? At Philippi. Ah, at Philippi then. Yeah, Philippi.
Brutus calls to the two men and to Lucius, who murmurs, “The strings, my lord, are false” (IV.iii.291). “The child is dreaming, and out of some divine confusion in his mind between his instrument and the trouble he has read on his master’s brow his unconsciousness frames this inspired answer…. On the lips of a child, from out of that borderland between sleeping and waking where it so often resides, the truth speaks” (Goddard, I 328). Goddard takes the utterance as Shakespeare’s supreme comment on the play itself: the strings are false = “Brutus is out of tune” (Goddard, I 328).
Brutus accuses Lucius and the two men of having nightmares and calling out in their sleep, but they insist they experienced nothing. When Shakespeare wants a ghost to be a ghost, he eliminates ambiguity (as in the first act of Hamlet. Here we are more apt to take the apparition to be a manifestation of Brutus’ guilt — his self-repressive Stoical philosophy makes him a good candidate for it). The Philippi strategy is a poor one and so to stick to it, after the ghost promises to meet him there, seems like a death-wish.