Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
The armies meet at Philippi and the leaders snipe at each other, Cassius calling Octavius and Antony “A peevish schoolboy … / Join’d with a masker and a reveller!” (V.i.61-62). (And he’s right, as will be proven in Antony and Cleopatra.) Brutus is on the defensive: ironic since these guys have headed a reign of terror. After the macho posturing, they part and prepare for battle.
Cassius notes to Messala that it’s his birthday and that even he, of Epicurean bent (and so not a reader of divine signs), is now also worried by omens, in this case Hitchcockian: ravens, crows, and kites hanging around where there used to be eagles. The formerly “calculating manipulator” is now “sentimental and despondent” (Carey 122). Brutus is rather defeatist too, and he and Cassius bid each other a potential farewell that seems quite honorable.
In a few lines, Brutus commands Messala to bring orders to the other legions: Octavius’ army is lacking spirit so both he and Cassius should attack immediately. (Brutus’ premature attack will leave Cassius’ flank exposed.)
Brutus’ men are scavenging the battlefield after driving back Octavius’ army, so Cassius’ forces are in peril from Antony’s men. Cassius sends Titinius to see whose men are milling about his own tents. Pindarus climbs a hill and reports to Cassius what he sees: Titinius being surrounded and then down from his horse, and the surrounding soldiers cheering. Cassius interprets this as capture by the enemy, sees some poetic logic in his birthday being his death day, and has Pindarus stab him with the same sword he used on Caesar. So the theme of false words and misinterpretation continues to the ludicrous end for Cassius in this one last fatal misreading of signs.
Titinius and Messala enter with good news about Brutus’ troops beating back Octavius’. Titinius had been greeted by some of Brutus’ men, not enemies. Titinius’ declaration, “Alas, thou hast misconstrued everything,” “is in a way a fitting epigraph for this entire play” (Garber 416). They find the dead Cassius and, when Messala goes to tell Brutus of this, Titinius kills himself with Cassius’ sword too. Then Brutus, Messala, and others arrive and see the corpses. Brutus blames the spirit of Caesar: “O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet! / Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords / In our own proper entrails” (V.iii.94-96). Brutus eulogizes over Cassius:
The last of all the Romans, fare thee well!
It is impossible that ever Rome
Should breed thy fellow. Friends, I owe moe tears
To this dead man than you shall see me pay.
I shall find time, Cassius; I shall find time.
But, no time to cry now: back to work. Brutus’ quick eulogy reminds one of his speech about Caesar and his reaction to Portia’s suicide: a demonstration of rhetoric about emotion instead of emotion itself. His praise of Cassius “is a gross exaggeration…. Cassius had shown little real ability” (Asimov 314).
Cato the younger is killed. Lucilius is captured, declaring he is Brutus. Antony is notified, but discovers this is a fake Brutus. Lucilius is to remain a valued prisoner.
An exhausted Brutus and a small band of his men are left. Brutus asks one, then another, to kill him. He says he has been visited by the ghost of Caesar again and knows it is time to die.
My heart doth joy that yet in all my life
I found no man but he was true to me.
I shall have glory by this losing day
More than Octavius and Mark Antony
By this vile conquest shall attain unto.
The others flee, and Brutus has Strato remain with him to hold his sword, which Brutus runs onto, killing himself, with the final words, “Caesar, now be still, / I kill’d not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.50-51).
Noise offstage indicates the capture of Brutus’ army. Antony, Octavius, Messala, Lucilius, and others arrive. Strato announces Brutus’ “freedom”: “For Brutus only overcame himself, / And no man else hath honor by his death” (V.v.56-57). “But it is easier in this play’s world to die by honor than to live by it” (Garber 412). Octavius will absorb Brutus’ army into his own.
“With the death of Brutus, Shakespeare now seems to inhabit the character of Antony, whose own tragedy will be the theme of the sequel to come” (Farina 188). Antony delivers a eulogy for Brutus in which he states, “This was the noblest Roman of them all” (V.v.68) — even now he’s a better orator than Brutus was over Cassius’ death! “His life was gentle, and the elements / So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up / And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!'” (V.v.73-75). Well, yes, he was one. Cheesy Octavius ruins the deep ending by announcing we’ll all have a funeral and some fun on “this happy day” (V.v.81).
The final two acts are a drag after the intensity and dramatic happenings of Act III. Killing Caesar off “at the exact center of the play” (Bloom 104) that bears his name is a bit daring, and disturbing in the same way as killing off Janet Leigh halfway through the film Psycho. But it is Brutus’ story really, or tragedy — rather a problem since trying to be “noble” doesn’t really make for terrific drama when you’re not as effective an orator as Antony.
Also, although it sacrifices theatricality, Shakespeare’s experimental strategy here may be to have audience members leaving the theater at the end feeling, appropriately, that, gee, it was really good during that Caesar part, but after they killed him off it was really disappointing — yeah, Brutus was a big let-down. Well see?
As for Brutus, Asimov thinks he operates entirely out of a sense of vanity (e.g., 264, 289). Or, “Despite his upright personal virtue and high-minded political views, Brutus in the end is too impractical and idealistic” (Farina 184). “There are those who consider him one of the most noble and lovable figures the poet ever created. Others cannot conceal their scorn for him. He was a fool, they say, an egotist, an unconscionable prig. If this be true, it is a bit odd that almost everyone in the play seems to think highly of him” (Goddard, I 310). I think this comment could be useful for de Vere studies. So too: “I suspect that there is a curious gap in Julius Caesar; we want and need to know more about the Caesar-Brutus relationship than Shakespeare seems willing to tell us…. As things stand, the mysterious special relationship between Caesar and Brutus makes it seem as though Brutus and not Octavius is the authentic heir to Caesar” (Bloom 115-116).