Lucius: Brutus’ servant
Decius: conspirator who plans to flatter Caesar and bring him to the Senate House
Metellus Cimber and Trebonius: conspirators against Caesar
Portia: wife of Brutus
Caius Ligarius: ill friend of Brutus; the last to join the conspiracy
The setting for the scene is before three o’clock in the morning of the ides of March, and Brutus is alone in his garden. He is unable to sleep. His mind is still disturbed as he wrestles with what to do about Caesar. In a soliloquy, Brutus considers the possibilities. He has no personal feelings against Caesar, yet he must consider the good of Rome. Caesar has not yet acted irresponsibly, but once he is crowned and has power, he could change and do harm to Rome. Brutus compares Caesar to a poisonous snake. Because Caesar may be corrupted by power, Brutus decides he must be prevented from gaining power. He says, “And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg, / Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous, / And kill him in the shell.” (33–35) Lucius, Brutus’ servant, brings him some letters he has found. They all urge Brutus to act against Caesar.
Cassius, Casca, Cinna, Decius, Metellus Cimber, and Trebonius arrive to put more pressure on Brutus. Brutus announces his intention to join them, taking charge. First he convinces the others that they don’t need Cicero in the conspiracy, and then he convinces them that Antony should not be killed with Caesar. Brutus tells Metellus to send Caius Ligarius, who has a grudge against Caesar, to see him so that Brutus may bring him into the plot. Decius says that he will use flattery to get Caesar out of his house if he decides to remain home. They leave with plans to arrive at Caesar’s house at eight o’clock to escort him to the Capitol.
After they are gone, Portia, Brutus’ wife, appears and begs him to confide in her what is going on. She convinces him that although she is a woman, she is strong and capable of keeping his secrets. But just as Brutus is about to tell Portia everything, an ill Ligarius arrives. Because he has such regard for Brutus, Ligarius agrees to “discard [his] sickness” (347) and follow Brutus. Brutus leads Ligarius towards Caesar’s house, revealing the details of their plans as they go.
For a month Brutus has been wrestling with his thoughts, unable to eat or sleep. Lucius, in contrast, has no difficulty falling asleep. In Shakespeare’s world, sleep is reserved only for the innocent, those with untroubled minds.
While pacing in his garden Brutus decides that Caesar must be killed, not for what Caesar is, but for what he may become. His decision to kill Caesar has nothing to do with a desire for personal gain or power. Brutus is driven purely by concern for the good of Rome. He regards Caesar, his friend, as a potential threat to the well-being of the Republic. He compares Caesar to a poisonous snake that is dangerous only after it is hatched. To prevent danger, it must be killed in the shell. So Caesar must be killed before he abuses his power. The letters presented by Lucius, left by Cinna at the direction of Cassius, only reaffirm what Brutus has already decided.
When the other conspirators arrive, Brutus joins them with a handshake and commits himself to their plan to kill Caesar. Immediately he becomes their new leader, replacing Cassius. Ironically, the man who does not want power takes over, making decisions for these men throughout the rest of the play. He convinces them that they need not swear an oath to their cause, because what they are about to do is noble and important enough to bind them together.
When Metellus and the others want Cicero in the conspiracy to “purchase us a good opinion / And buy men’s voices to commend our deeds,” (157–58) Brutus persuades them that Cicero is unnecessary, “For he will never follow anything / That other men begin.” (163–64)
When the question of killing Antony is brought up by the practical Cassius, Brutus again prevails. He says that they are “sac¬rificers, but not butchers,” (179) and convinces them that if they kill Antony, their “course will seem too bloody.” (175) It would be like cutting off Caesar’s head and afterwards hacking off his arms and legs.
Cassius’ desire to kill Antony, however, is based on sound political considerations. Antony, a friend of Caesar, might later cause trouble for the conspirators. Cassius rightly concludes that Antony should be killed with Caesar. The idealistic Brutus is moved by what he perceives to be right, and to him killing Antony would be wrong. His speech in lines 175–196 convinces them to let Antony live. This error, and other errors in judgment made by Brutus in Act III, will later prove disastrous.
The matter of Caesar’s superstition arises when Cassius questions whether Caesar will even leave his house while so many strange phenomena are occurring. Decius says he will take advantage of Caesar’s vulnerability to flattery to persuade Caesar to come to the Capitol.
As the conspirators leave, determined to meet at Caesar’s house by eight o’clock, Portia enters. She begs Brutus to share his problems with her as his true wife. She kneels, telling him that even though she is a woman, she is strong enough to keep his secrets. To prove this she even gives herself a voluntary wound in the thigh without crying out. Brutus is so moved by Portia’s display that he says he is not worthy of such a wife. The only thing that prevents him from telling her everything is the arrival of Caius Ligarius. In a very brief exchange with Ligarius, the esteem in which Brutus is held by his peers is revealed. The ill Ligarius ignores his own sickness because Brutus needs him for some undisclosed enterprise. It is a testimonial to the high opinion Ligarius and Rome have of Brutus.
Note Shakespeare’s use of anachronisms (an object or event from the wrong time period) in this scene. Shakespeare was not concerned about the historical accuracy of certain details, and he mixed events from his era with those from Roman times. Sometimes these anachronisms were convenient methods to move the play along. How would the conspirators account for the time if the clock didn’t strike three? (Clocks did not exist in Caesar’s time.) Lucius tells Brutus that he does not recognize the men at the gate because they are wearing hats and cloaks. Neither hats nor cloaks were part of the Roman dress, but were in the 1600s. In addition, kerchiefs were worn by sick men and women in Shakespeare’s England. Look for other anachronisms in the course of the play.