ACT II – Scene.i
Set in the orchard of Brutus’ home, it is nighttime,
and we witness Brutus giving one of the most important soliloquies of the play. You should read this in carefully in full.
“It must be by his death. And for my part
I know no personal cause to spurn at him
But for the general. He would be crowned:
Now that might change his nature, there’s the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder
And that craves wary walking. Crown him that,
And then I grant we put a sting in him..
And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
(which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous)
And kill him in the shell.”
Brutus is fearful that if Caesar is crowned, he will change from being a
virtuous man to being a tyrant.
Lucius, Brutus’ servant, brings in a letter that was thrown through a
The other conspirators then join him and he agrees to join them in their
plot to overthrow Caesar.
Cassius suggests that they make an oath, but Brutus objects to this, saying
that they need no bond to tie them together, for they are all honorable men.
They suggest that Mark Antony should also be killed, but Brutus opposes this saying that they are not butchers. The conspirators depart and Portia, Brutus’ wife, enters. She is concerned by her husband’s strange behavior. She drops to her knees and pleads with Brutus to confide in her, because she is Cato’s daughter, and she has a quality of mind that raises her above ordinary women.
Brutus promises that he will confide in her.
We now witness the dilemma being faced by Brutus, and
how he thinks through the problem in his soliloquy. Again, Caesar is likened to a dangerous animal, this time a snake, that at present is harmless, but if given the power to rule, this will give the snake a
Brutus concludes that it is best to destroy the snake while it is still
inside the egg.
The final act of persuasion is the letter that he falsely thinks has come
from the people, but this is in fact from Cassius. This is his final act of persuasion.
His inclusion into the conspiracy brings an element of honor to the company
who have clearly taken an oath, which Brutus says is not necessary if their cause is just. Shakespeare’s whole motive for this scene is to make it clear that Brutus is honorable, whereas perhaps the other
conspirators are mere assassins.
Brutus suggests this too, by saying that it is regrettable that they meet
under cover of darkness “when evils are most free?”
It is also clear that Brutus exerts his authority right at the start, and he
will now dictate how the plot will advance.
This includes the sparing of Mark Antony’s life, and the reference to them being butchers if they were to let more than just Caesar’s blood. Shakespeare has cleverly used omens right from the start of the play, being firstly lightning, then visions of fire, and now blood enters the imagery. He is preparing the audience for the bloody death of Caesar.
When the conspirators leave, we have an interesting scene between Brutus and
his wife, Portia.
No doubt to please Queen Elizabeth I, Shakespeare makes a direct comparison between the monarch and Portia. Shakespeare is referring to Elizabeth I’s famous speech to inspire her forces, before confrontation with the Spanish Armada.
when Portia says, “I grant I am a woman, but withal
- “I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the
heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too.”
A woman that Lord Brutus took to wife.
I grant I am a woman, but withal
A woman well reputed, Cato’s daughter.
Think you I am no stronger than my sex,
Being so fathered and husbanded?
Tell me your counsels, I will not disclose them.”
Portia makes her plea on bended knee, and he is impressed with her eloquence and agrees to confide in
her. Portia is the representation of Roman womanhood.
During her speech, she mentions that she would rather wound herself in her thigh than suffer dishonor. This has a direct reference to Greek mythology where the goddess Athena associated with war and wisdom was born out of the thigh of Zeus. This indicates that Portia suspects that there will be some bloodletting and if she is to suffer dishonor, she should at least be made aware of what was going on.