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Brutus and Cassius witness the triumphal march of Cæsar with jealous, vengeful and dagger hearts, and Cassius, the old, desperate soldier, first hints at blood conspiracy.
"What is it that you would impart to me?
If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honor in one eye, and death in the other,
And I will look on both indifferently."
Fine talk! Brutus is not the only political murderer that talks of "honor" through the centuries, a cloak for devils in human shape to work a personal purpose and not "the general good."
Cassius delivers this eloquent indictment against Cæsar, the grandest of its kind in all history:
"Well, Honor is the subject of my story-
I cannot tell what you and other men
Think of this life; but, for my single self
I had as lief not to be, as live to be
In awe of such a thing as I, myself.
I was born free as Cæsar; so were you.
We both have fed as well; and we can both
Endure the winter's cold as well as he.
For once, upon a raw and gusty day,
The troubled Tiber chafing with her shores,
Cæsar said to me, 'Dar'st thou, Cassius, now
Leap in with me into this angry flood
And swim to yonder point?' Upon the word,
Accoutered as I was, I plunged in
And bade him follow; so, indeed, he did.
The torrent roared and we did buffet it
With lusty sinews; throwing it aside
And stemming it with hearts of controversy.
But ere we could arrive at the point proposed,
Cæsar cried, 'Help me, Cassius, or I sink!"
I, as Aeneas, our great ancestor,
Did from the flames of Troy upon his shoulders
The old Anchisas bear, so, from the waves of
Did I the tired Cæsar; and this man
Is now become a god, and Cassius is
A wretched creature, and must bend his body,
If Cæsar carelessly but nod on him.
He had a fever, when he was in Spain,
And when the fit was on him, I did mark
How he did shake; 'tis true, this god did shake,
His coward lips did from their color fly;
And that same eye, whose bend doth awe the world
Did lose his lustre; I did hear him groan;
Ay, and that tongue of his, that bade the Romans
Mark him, and write his speeches in their books;
Alas! it cried, 'Give me some drink, Titinius,'
As a sick girl. Ye gods, it doth amaze me,
A man of such a feeble temper should
So get the start of the majestic world
And bear the palm alone!
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Brutus and Cæsar; what should be in that Cæsar?
Why should that name be sounded more than yours?
Write them together, yours is as fair a name;
Sound them, it doth become the mouth as well;
Weigh them, it is as heavy; conjure with them
Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Cæsar.
Now in the name of all the gods at once,
Upon what meat doth this our Cæsar feed
That he is grown so great?"
Unanimous applause followed this cunning conspiracy speech, and Jonson, Lodge and Drayton gave loud exclamations of approval.
Cæsar, with his staff, returning from the games in his honor, sees Cassius and remarks to Antonius:
"Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep of nights;
Yonder Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much; such men are dangerous;
And are never at heart's ease
Whiles they behold a greater than themselves!"
Casca, one of the senatorial conspirators, tells Cassius that Cæsar is to be crowned king, and he replies thus, contemplating suicide:
"I know where I will wear this dagger then;
Cassius from bondage will deliver Cassius;
Therein, ye gods, you make the weak most strong;
Therein, ye gods, you tyrants do defeat;
Nor stony tower, nor walls of beaten brass,
Nor airless dungeon, nor strong links of iron
Can be retentive to the strength of spirit;
But life being weary of these worldly bars,
Never lacks power to dismiss itself;
That part of tyranny that I do bear
I can shake off at pleasure!"
Brutus, contemplating assassination, says in soliloquy:
"To speak the truth of Cæsar,
I have not known when his affections swayed
More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend!"
This ingratitude of the great to the people is often recompensed by defeat and death.
After the senatorial conspirators decided that Cæsar should die, Cassius insisted wisely that Marcus Antonius should not outlive the great Julius, and said:
"Let Antony and Cæsar fall together!"
But Brutus would not consent to the death of 'Antony, believing that he was not dangerous to their future, yet insisting that "Cæsar must bleed for it."
"Let's kill him bodily, but not wrathfully;
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds;
And let our hearts as subtle masters do,
Stir up their servants to an act of rage,
And after seem to chide them!"
And yet this is the sweet-scented assassin who prates of "honor," and is sometimes known as "the noblest Roman of them all!"
Portia, the wife of Brutus, felt a strange alarm at his recent conduct, and Calphurnia, the wife of Cæsar, implored him not to attend the session of the senate, reminding him of the soothsayer's warning "Beware the ides of March."
Yet, Cæsar threw off all fear and suspicion and said:
"What can be avoided,
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Cæsar shall go forth, for these predictions
Are to the world in general, not to Cæsar!
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once!"
The hour of assassination has arrived, and Cæsar, seated in the chair of state, says:
"What is now amiss
That Cæsar and his senate must redress?”
Senator Metellus, one of the chief conspirators, throws himself at the feet of Cæsar and implores pardon for his traitor brother.
"Be not fond,
To think that Cæsar bears such rebel blood,
That will be thawed from the true quality,
With that which meeteth fools; I mean, sweet