ACT V – Scene.i
This is set on the plain of Philippi, where the forces
of Antony and Octavius await the approach of Brutus and Cassius’ forces.
Brutus and Cassius and their followers enter, perhaps to negotiate, but the
four protagonists hurl insults at one another.
Brutus: “Words before blows; is it so, countrymen?”
Octavius: “Not that we love words better, as you do.”
Brutus: “Good words are better than bad strokes, Octavius.”
Antony: “In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words.
Witness the hole you made in Caesar’s heart,
Crying, long live, hail, Caesar!”
Cassius: “The posture of your blows are yet unknown;
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees
And leave them honeyless.” (Hybla – a Sicilian mountain famous for honey)
Antony: “Not stingless too?”
Brutus: “O yes, and soundless too,
For you have stolen their buzzing, Antony,
And very wisely threat before you sting.”
Antony: “Villains! You did not so when your vile daggers
Hacked one another in the sides of Caesar.
You showed your teeth like apes and fawned like hounds.”
Antony goes on to accuse Brutus of being a traitor, and Cassius calls
Octavius a “peevish schoolboy” and Antony a “masker and reveler”. Octavius and Antony exit with their armies. Cassius now has serious misgivings about the forthcoming battle and he parts from Brutus
fearing that he will not see him again.
Normally in Shakespearean plays the battles take place
offstage, so Shakespeare uses this verbal battle as a preemptive conflict in order to give the audience an insight as to the outcome of the fighting. The verbal contest is clearly won by Antony and
Octavius. He leaves the violence of the actual battle to the audience’s imagination.
In Elizabethan England, language is the real power, not force of arms, and Shakespeare wishes to emphasize that the pen, or written word, is mightier than the sword.
There is a sad parting between Cassius and Brutus at the end of the scene,
for they suspect that they will not see each other again.
Note again the use of animals as a form of describing people and their
behavior. This time the two main conspirators are likened to apes and hounds, whilst Antony’s silken tongue is associated with honey and bees.