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Ant. You will compel me, then, to read the will? Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar, And let me shew you him that made the will. Shall I descend? and will you give me leave?"
They invite him to come down, calling out—
-' Room for Antony; most noble Antony;"
and he once more addresses them, standing over the mangled corpse of his friend, and exhibiting his cloak.
"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now. You all do know this mantle; I remember The first time Caesar ever put it on; 'Twas on a summer's evening, in his tent; That day he overcame the Nervii. Look in this place, ran Cassius' dagger through: See what a rent the envious Casca made: Through this, the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd; And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away, Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it; As making out of doors, to be resolv'd If Brutus so unkindly knock'd, or no; For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel: Judge, O ye gods, how dearly Cresar lov'd him! This was the most unkindest cut of all: For when the noble Caesar saw him stab, Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms, Quite vanquish'd him; then burst his mighty heart; And in his mantle muffling up his face,
E'en at the base of Pompey's statue,
The people begin to cry, "O piteous spectacle !"—
And soon the subtle poison works.
"We will be revenged: revenge; about, seek, —burn,—fire,—kill,—slay,—let not a traitor live."
Antony pretends to attempt to pacify them.
"Ant. Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable;
What private griefs they have, alas! I know not,
That made them do it; they are wise, and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reason answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts,
I am no orator, as Brutus is:
But as you know me all, a plain, blunt man,
That love my friend, and that they know full well,
That gave me public leave to speak of him.
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
And bid them speak for me. But were I Brutus,
It may well be supposed that this artful harangue is followed by a general cry for mutiny; but Antony takes care to add fresh fuel to the flame which he had raised; he now reads the will, by which Caesar has left seventy-four drachms to every Roman citizen, and all his gardens as a public walk: and he dismisses the infuriated mob, in the mind to do mischief;—
"We'll burn his body in the holy place,
And with the brands fire all the traitors' houses."
Antony's speeches, and the whole of this scene,* are, in my opinion, equal to the very best efforts of Shakspeare's genius; indeed, I know few passages of equal merit.
We had heard in the third act of the arrival of Octavius at Rome; and the fourth act brings * Act iii. Sc. 2.
us to the meeting of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, the self-appointed triumvirs, in a small island near Mutina.*
Caesar was slain in March 707, and this meeting of leaders occurred in 709. In the interval there had been violent dissensions between the friend of Julius Caesar and his nephew. Their quarrels had reference to Caesar's property, to which (subject to the bequest to the Roman people,) Octavius was heir; as well as to questions of political power. Cicero, the advocate of republican principles, had taken part against Antony.-f- At the point of time selected by Shakspeare for renewing the narrative, Antony and Octavius were acting together as friends, having associated with them Lepidus, who had the command of an army in Gaul, and had sided with Antony. An extensive and bloody proscription followed, with which the scene opens. I do not know why Antony is represented as objecting to Lepidus,—
"This is a slight unmeritable man,
* Such is the heading of the scene, but Shakspeare appears to have placed the conference at Rome, f North's Antony, p. 760.
Octav. You may do your will,
But he's a tried and valiant soldier.
Ant. So is my horse, Octavius; and for that,
I do appoint him store of provender.
It is a creature that I teach to fight,
To wind, to stop, to run directly on;
His corporal motion govern'd by my spirit."
By this time Brutus and Cassius were in arms against Antony and his associates; and we have now the most celebrated scene in the play, the quarrel and reconciliation of the two conspirators. It is founded upon Plutarch;—*
"Men reputed Cassius to be very skilful in wars, but otherwise marvellous cholerick and cruel, who sought to rule men by fear, rather than with lenity; and on the other side he was too familiar with his friends, and would jest too broadly with them. But Brutus, in contrary manner, for his virtue and valiantness, was well beloved of the people and his own; esteemed of noblemen, and hated of no man; not so much as of his enemies, because he was a marvellous lowly and gentle person, noble-minded, and would never be in any rage, nor carried away with pleasure and covetousness, but had ever an upright mind with him, and would never yield to any wrong or injustice, the which was the chiefest cause of his fame, of his rising, and of the good-will that every man bore