Julius Caesar Act 2 Scene 1 Summary

Instructor: Tommi Waters

TK Waters has been an adjunct professor of religion at Western Kentucky University for six years. They have a master's degree in religious studies from Western Kentucky University and a bachelor's degree in English literature and religious studies from Western Kentucky University.

In this lesson, we will discuss Act 2, Scene 1 of ''Julius Caesar,'' in which we see Brutus deciding to join the conspiracy against Caesar, but being conflicted about the ethics of killing Caesar.

Ethical Dilemmas

If you had the opportunity to keep someone from harming numerous people, would you stop him or her? What if it required killing the person before they committed any crimes? This is the ethical dilemma Brutus, a politician and friend of Caesar's, grapples with at the beginning of Act 2 of Julius Caesar. As the scene opens, we see Brutus pacing and nervous, contemplating what course to take to keep Caesar from becoming a dictator over Rome. He does not know if Caesar's power will definitely corrupt him, but believes it will. He concludes, ''It must be by his death: and for my part, / I know no personal cause to spurn at him, / But for the general.'' He, personally, likes Caesar, but feels he must be killed to ensure the ''general,'' or the people of Rome, are not harmed by his possible actions.

Brutus, though uncomfortable about having to kill Caesar, recognizes it must be done. He compares Caesar to a snake, saying, ''And therefore think him as a serpent's egg / Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous, / And kill him in the shell.'' He recognizes that because Caesar will easily be corrupted by power, he must kill him ''in the shell'' or before he even comes into this power. As Brutus is pondering this, his servant Lucius enters the scene to hand him one of the letters Cinna had placed. Brutus takes this to mean that there is more support for Caesar's assassination, and decides to join the conspiracy against Caesar.

Bust of Brutus
Bust of Brutus

The Conspiracy Forms

The conspirators that are gathering, including Cassius, Cinna, and Casca, meet Brutus at his house. Cassius speaks to Brutus quietly to the side while the rest of the men are talking. When they rejoin, Cassius asks everyone to make an oath, but Brutus dissuades him by saying their cause and resolve is strong and no oath is necessary. Cassius recommends they ask Cicero to join their conspiracy, but Brutus again dissuades him, suggesting Cicero will not follow anyone else's orders. Cassius finally urges that they kill Antony in addition to Caesar, but Brutus replies, ''Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off and then hack the limbs, / Like wrath in death and envy afterwards; / For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.'' Although Cassius is afraid of Antony's reaction after Caesar's death, Brutus reassures him that Antony is ''but a limb of Caesar'' and will not be a problem after Caesar's death.

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