Tell Me, Good Brutus, Can You See Your Face?

Currently I am watching / reading Shakespeare’s play JULIUS CAESAR. It’s strange how I came to be doing so just now, as it was a combination of a quote about sleep in a Ted Talk on why we sleep (“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber”) which I wanted to use in connection with a metaphor on BEES in the aftermath of my main character-couple’s first sex scene, sleeping, spending the night together. And also deciding to check out the whole play because my main character Shungyosai is into military history, specifically how technology figures into shaping the history of the world and its civilizations.

The line about sleep being heavy with honey-dew comes in Act 2 Scene 1 when Brutus finds his young son asleep, while he is mulling over the issues of the state that so concern him, namely the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar. But he looks in at the boy and speaks:

“Boy! Lucius!—Fast asleep? It is no matter.

Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.

Thou hast no figures nor no fantasies,

Which busy care draws in the brains of men.

Therefore thou sleep’st so sound.”

He remarks on the child’s innocence of care and burdens, even while noting that such cares may be ‘figures or fancies’. This leads me to, though I am only halfway through a serious watch of this play, to contemplate what it may be ‘about.’ Which is, I believe, the burden of decision. What it means to ‘rule’, to be -in charge-, even to kill for the justice of a state.

Heady stuff.

The play opens with some revelers in carousal through the streets of Rome, coming up upon some respectable elite types, and having a bit of a row. Though it is veiled in the clever Shakespearean language, which serves to downplay perhaps the nature of the rabble’s indignity’s to the tastes of the more genteel they face, they have a bit of a confrontation.

Clearly, Caesar is having an effect on the citizenry, whether it is from his repeated victories in conquest or in his style of leadership, he is arousing something in the baser sorts. A lower class man, when asked his profession, and why he is not wearing the mark of it on him which is apparently expected unless it is a holiday, replys with an odd back and forth, insinuating he is both out to ‘mend soles/souls’ and perhaps in the market to commit acts of violence upon other men.

COBBLER

Truly, sir, in respect of a fine workman, I am
but, as you would say, a cobbler.

MARULLUS

But what trade art thou? Answer me directly.

COBBLER

A trade, sir, that I hope I may use with a safe
conscience, which is indeed, sir, a mender of bad
soles.

FLAVIUS

What trade, thou knave? Thou naughty knave, what
trade?

COBBLER

Nay, I beseech you, sir, be not out with me.
Yet if you be out, sir, I can mend you.

MARULLUS

What mean’st thou by that? Mend me, thou saucy
fellow?

COBBLER

Why, sir, cobble you.

FLAVIUS

Thou art a cobbler, art thou?

COBBLER

Truly, sir, all that I live by is with the
awl. I meddle with no tradesman’s matters nor
women’s matters, but withal I am indeed, sir, a
surgeon to old shoes: when they are in great danger,
I recover them. As proper men as ever trod upon
neat’s leather have gone upon my handiwork.

The implication being if he is ‘out with him’ (looking for quarrel with their revelry) he will ‘cobble’ him, or give him something to complain about. It’s insubordination, which causes the officials to balk, decide to go around covering up statues of Caesar to attempt to calm the crowds exhuberance, and speak thus to this immediate fellow:

Run to your houses, fall upon your knees, 

Pray to the gods to intermit

the plague That needs must light on this ingratitude.

The irony being that the gods who do intermit the plague of such a populist character on his way to kingship, is a group of elite citizenry who conspire to overthrow Caesar.

Cassius is the prevailing driving force, the instigator, who needs to convince Brutus in order to have a respectable face on the endeavor. He does so by lingering around the brooding Brutus [text quoted below] while others follow Caesar in his triumphant return to the city. The crowd cheers and watches Julius make play of NOT accepting a crown, thrice offered by Anthony, though Caesar fell ill when he realized the crowd was cheering for his dramatic gesture of refusal of being crowned, for he most wanted to be made King.

Halfway through reading, and the deed is already done! He has been assassinated already, suprisingly. There is another hour and a half or so of the play which follows the assassination and the ensuing civil war. It shall turn out perhaps that Brutus viewed the deed more idealistically than those who did so much to convince him of its instigation. The co-conspirators forged documents signed by citizenry and sent them to Brutus home in the evenings before after all, to sway him that he was doing right by the crowd.

Again, I think this is a study in what makes a decision. Whether wise because it is anchored in its weight or, as the actors Cassius and Casca’s response to the portentious storm with strange omens the night before the Ides of March versus the interpretation of Caesar in that same tempest — how one bends and sways in the forces of terrible insight, assigning their reasons to one’s own causes. Or, naming one’s fate by one’s own stubborn brand – ignoring all signs and stepping forth when all signs tell you NO. And, incidentally, having been better off taking the warnings.

But it had served Caesar so well to that point. To be the man who stomps hardest, fights longest, denies the pull of the stars in such headstrong pathforging always. He was very lucky all his life, until he was not.

CASCA

Who ever knew the heavens menace so?

CASSIUS

Those that have known the earth so full of faults.
For my part, I have walked about the streets,
Submitting me unto the perilous night,
And thus unbracèd, Casca, as you see,
Have bared my bosom to the thunder-stone;
And when the cross blue lightning seemed to open
The breast of heaven, I did present myself
Even in the aim and very flash of it.

CASCA

But wherefore did you so much tempt the heavens?
It is the part of men to fear and tremble
When the most mighty gods by tokens send
Such dreadful heralds to astonish us.

CASSIUS

You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life
That should be in a Roman you do want,
Or else you use not. You look pale, and gaze,
And put on fear, and cast yourself in wonder,
To see the strange impatience of the heavens.
But if you would consider the true cause
Why all these fires, why all these gliding ghosts,
Why birds and beasts from quality and kind,
Why old men, fools, and children calculate,
Why all these things change from their ordinance,
Their natures, and preformèd faculties,
To monstrous quality—why, you shall find
That heaven hath infused them with these spirits
To make them instruments of fear and warning
Unto some monstrous state.
Now could I, Casca, name to thee a man
Most like this dreadful night,

That thunders, lightens, opens graves, and roars
As doth the lion in the Capitol;
A man no mightier than thyself or me
In personal action, yet prodigious grown,
And fearful, as these strange eruptions are.

Thunder and lightning. Enter Julius Caesar in his nightgown.

CAESAR

Nor heaven nor earth have been at peace tonight.
Thrice hath Calphurnia in her sleep cried out
“Help ho, they murder Caesar!”—Who’s within?

Enter a Servant.

SERVANT

My lord


CAESAR

Go bid the priests do present sacrifice,
And bring me their opinions of success.

SERVANT

I will, my lord.

He exits.

Enter Calphurnia.

CALPHURNIA

What mean you, Caesar? Think you to walk forth?
You shall not stir out of your house today.

CAESAR

Caesar shall forth. The things that threatened me
Ne’er looked but on my back. When they shall see
The face of Caesar, they are vanishèd.

CALPHURNIA

Caesar, I never stood on ceremonies,
Yet now they fright me. There is one within,
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelpèd in the streets,
And graves have yawned and yielded up their dead.
Fierce fiery warriors upon the clouds
In ranks and squadrons and right form of war,
Which drizzled blood upon the Capitol.
The noise of battle hurtled in the air,
Horses neigh, and dying men did groan,
And ghosts did shriek and squeal about the streets.
O Caesar, these things are beyond all use,
And I do fear them.

CAESAR

What can be avoided
Whose end is purposed by the mighty gods?
Yet Caesar shall go forth, for these predictions
Are to the world in general as to Caesar.

CALPHURNIA

When beggars die there are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of
princes.

CAESAR

Cowards die many times before their deaths;
The valiant never taste of death but once.

Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,
It seems to me most strange that men should fear,
Seeing that death, a necessary end,
Will come when it will come.

Enter a Servant.

What say the
augurers?

SERVANT

They would not have you to stir forth today.
Plucking the entrails of an offering forth,
They could not find a heart within the beast.

CAESAR

The gods do this in shame of cowardice.
Caesar should be a beast without a heart
If he should stay at home today for fear.
No, Caesar shall not. Danger knows full well
That Caesar is more dangerous than he.
We two lions littered in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible.
And Caesar shall go forth.

Although the play is titled JULIUS CAESAR, it is BRUTUS who has four times the lines of this character. I’m looking forward to the rest of this play, and seeing what MY character might learn from these dealings here. I see Shakespeare as a kind of God-Writer whose words may as well be holy-writ, stone bound for all time. I really do, there’s no question he immaculately records truth and human character in his works.

Interesting to watch such a charged play both from a personal perspective and through the eyes of a character I’m creating. (Adolai Shungyosai).

It’s fun to ‘get it wrong’ by proposing in my mind to view the situation from some imagined whole-some perspective.

I, in my own life and history view Caesar, the would be tyrant naturally as the enemy of the tale. He is aspirant to power, control, overwheening and through hindsight of reality doomed to fail. Shakespeare found him interesting precisely because his story is complex and the CIRCUMSTANCE surrounding him made his story compelling, his character AND his elemental environment interacting. Rome was expanding beyond a city state. Caesar had conquered huge swaths of territory. Rome was at the cusp of becoming an empire, but still held the value of its republican government. They were facing complex times and it’s not correct to say that Caesar was a monster or simply power mad.

But in the starry eyes of my young ambitious character who wants to conquer the world like a Caesar or a Napolean on the back of his horse, what Hegel admired as the world spirit riding out, he is perhaps a role model.

One way to dream of getting things right. If only he had not, in actuality, got them wrong.

So I look at these two clips from the perspective of my young lad who wants to be the conqueror, and he sees two perspectives, but of the same thing, ambition, a call to glory.

A call given from two stations in life, mainly contrasting Cassius the instigator and Julius Caesar, a different brand of ‘instigator’ – Two stations, that of a lowly citizen and a god emperor. And both added together equal to perspective of a possible triumph. And not, as I view them in my own lens, contrasted voices that in their equanimity equal the full story. Balancing each other. A fuller circumstance giving the situation its due complexity from more vantage than the limits of one’s.

Or perhaps I simply, personally, identify more with the man out in the storm, against the comforts of surety. And again, see this man’s image… and cause, in his message to the tyrant caesar, and take up his argument with him against the hubris to rule over others in absolute surety. That the plot, the myth of democracy, is one I latch onto.

And still further, the tale isn’t done. Civil war will begin with the death of Caesar. I am but halfway now. Mark Anthony we have not considered barely, the second of mighty Caesar. He will call ‘Friends, Roman, Countrymen’ and use impassioned floral language to incite a new view of the so reasonable deed. And Brutus, where will your reason take you when the world is torn apart?

If the battle is to be of calm, cool, collected faith, versus fervent action, wherefore does Brutus measure his choice so carefully to throw in his lot with conspirators who persuaded him with false antagonisms? Brutus will you regret what you did, as you said to pre-vent a harm?

And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg,
Which, hatched, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

How well does that hold when the world catches fire from a crack sparked in the unborn menace’s shell?

(I have to note that I am writing this on the night after Easter Sunday and so I have eggs on my mind for other reasons. There were several plastic eggs strewn randomly around my neighborhood as I walked home from my Sister’s house where we had a family get together. It was strange.)

CASSIUS

Will you go see the order of the course?

BRUTUS

Not I.


CASSIUS

I pray you, do.

BRUTUS

I am not gamesome. I do lack some part
Of that quick spirit that is in Antony.
Let me not hinder, Cassius, your desires.

I’ll leave you.

CASSIUS

Brutus, I do observe you now of late.
I have not from your eyes that gentleness
And show of love as I was wont to have.
You bear too stubborn and too strange a hand
Over your friend that loves you.

BRUTUS

Cassius,
Be not deceived. If I have veiled my look,
I turn the trouble of my countenance
Merely upon myself. Vexèd I am
Of late with passions of some difference,
Conceptions only proper to myself,
Which give some soil, perhaps, to my behaviors.
But let not therefore my good friends be grieved
(Among which number, Cassius, be you one)
Nor construe any further my neglect
Than that poor Brutus, with himself at war,
Forgets the shows of love to other men.

CASSIUS

Then, Brutus, I have much mistook your passion,
By means whereof this breast of mine hath buried
Thoughts of great value, worthy cogitations.
Tell me, good Brutus, can you see your face?

BRUTUS

No, Cassius, for the eye sees not itself
But by reflection, by some other things.

CASSIUS

’Tis just.
And it is very much lamented, Brutus,
That you have no such mirrors as will turn
Your hidden worthiness into your eye,
That you might see your shadow. I have heard
Where many of the best respect in Rome,
Except immortal Caesar, speaking of Brutus
And groaning underneath this age’s yoke,
Have wished that noble Brutus had his eyes.

BRUTUS

Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek into myself
For that which is not in me?

CASSIUS

Therefore, good Brutus, be prepared to hear.
And since you know you cannot see yourself
So well as by reflection, I, your glass,
Will modestly discover to yourself
That of yourself which you yet know not of.
And be not jealous on me, gentle Brutus.
Were I a common laughter, or did use
To stale with ordinary oaths my love
To every new protester; if you know
That I do fawn on men and hug them hard
And after scandal them, or if you know
That I profess myself in banqueting
To all the rout, then hold me dangerous.

Flourish and shout.

BRUTUS

What means this shouting? I do fear the people
Choose Caesar for their king.

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