14 March 2009

Caesar Was An Ambitious Man

“The Death of Caesar” by Vincenzo Camuccini (1771 - 1844)

Caesar: Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue shriller than all the music . Cry "Caesar!" Speak, Caesar is turn'd to hear.

Soothsayer: Beware the ides of March.

Caesar: What man is that?

Brutus: A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March.

Julius Caesar Act 1, scene 2, 15–19

The "ides" of March is the fifteenth; which day of the month the ides is depends on a complicated system Caesar himself established. The ides of January, for example, is the thirteenth; the ides of March, May, July and October is the fifteenth.

The importance of the ides of March for Caesar is that it is the day he will be assassinated by a group of conspirators, including Brutus who speaks above. Shakespeare lifted the details from Plutarch's Life of Julius Caesar, but being Shakespeare he had to dress it up changing the words from "take heed of the day of the Ides of March" to "Beware the Ides of March!"

Once Caesar has been assassinated by the Senate crowd, it leads to one of the great speeches in literature: Mark Antony's funeral speech where the word "honorable" becomes anything but.

Mark Antony:

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him;
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones,
So let it be with Caesar ... The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it ...
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest,
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral ...
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man….
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason…. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Julius Caesar
Act 3, Scene 2,

And a slightly different version: The Cowboy Shakespeare


carol g said...

OMG... I was born on the Ides of July!!

Please stop by my blog and pick up and award I created for you and 2 others who lifted me out of a black hole.

Travis said...

This is one of those speeches that can have so many different interpretations based on the way the actor chooses to play it. I've seen it done with irony, with arrogance, and with regret.

This Eclectic Life said...

Ides of March is not a good day around here, as it's the anniversary of a death in the family (not Caesar). I liked the cowboy version...sounds like folks I know, lol.

I noticed it was longer...that's 'cause it takes folks like us a little longer to articulate.

maryt/theteach said...

Marvelous post, Jamie! Ah, the Ides of March...it past me right up! Thanks for reminding me! :)