The senators were arriving at the Capitol. A crowd had gathered in the square to see them and to catch a glimpse of Caesar. Artemidorus had got himself to the front of the crowd, at the bottom of the stairs, and was waiting nervously.
There was a flourish of trumpets and Caesar entered the square, surrounded by some of the most prominent senators. Brutus and Cassius walked beside him, closely followed by Casca, Decius, Metellus, Trebonius, Cinna, Antony, Lepidus. Popilius and Publius. They made their way along the cleared space that the tribunes had created for them.
As the party got to the bottom of the stairs Caesar stopped. He had spotted the soothsayer who had warned him to beware the ides of March. He sneered. ‘The ides of March have come,’ he said.
‘Aye, but not gone,’ the old man said.
Artemidorus rushed forward and thrust his letter at Caesar. ‘Hail Caesar,’ he shouted. ‘Read this letter.’
There was tension among the senators. But Decius blocked the man and pulled a letter out of his own pocket.
‘Trebonius would like you to read this, his humble petition, at your leisure,’ he said.
Artimedorus tried to get round Decius, who continued to block him. He held the letter out. ‘Oh Caesar,’ he pleaded, ‘read mine first because it’s a suit that concerns Caesar directly and urgently. Read it great Caesar.’
Caesar reached out and took the letter and handed it to an aide. ‘What concerns us personally will be read last,’ he said.
‘Don’t wait,’ wailed Artimedorus. Read it now!’
Caesar looked sternly at him. ‘What?’ he said ‘Is the fellow mad?’.
Publius pushed Artimedorus and he went hurtling into the crowd. ‘Give way,’ he said.
Cassius also gave him a push. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ he said. ‘Urging your petitions in the street! Come to the Capitol.’
The party moved on, climbing the stairs and disappearing through the Capitol doors.
One of the senators approached Cassius in the foyer. ‘I hope the enterprise you’re embarking on today will be successful,’ he said.
Cassius froze. ‘What enterprise, Popilius?’
Popilius put his finger up to the side of his nose. ‘Goodbye,’ he said and walked away, smiling.
Brutus had been watching and he sidled up to Cassius. ‘What did Popilius Lena say?’
‘He wished us well in our enterprise.’ Cassius’ face had gone white. ‘I fear we’ve been found out.’
‘Look, he’s going up to Caesar,’ said Brutus. ‘Watch.’
Casca joined them. ‘Casca, be ready,’ said Cassius, not taking his eyes off Popilius. ‘I think we’ve been discovered. What are we going to do, Brutus? If he knows about it neither of us will leave. I’ll kill him and then myself.’
‘Be calm, Cassius,’ said Brutus. ‘He’s not talking about us. Look, he’s smiling, and Caesar’s expression hasn’t changed.’
As they entered the Senate hall Cassius whispered to Brutus: ‘Trebonius knows his time. Look, Brutus, he’s leading Antony out.’
Trebonius had put his arm across Antony’s shoulders and, talking urgently in his ear, was leading him back out of the hall.
The conspirators were gathering in a group. ‘Where’s Metellus Cimber?’ said Decius. ‘He should go now and present his suit to Caesar.’
‘He’s ready,’ said Brutus. Metellus Cimber was approaching Caesar. ‘Come closer to support him.’
Cinna took Casca’s arm. ‘Casca, you are the first to strike.’
Caesar held up his hand. ‘Are we all ready?’ he said. They all stopped talking and faced him. The conspirators were now at the front, close to Caesar. ‘What are the problems now, that Caesar and his senate must put right?’
Metellus Cimber stepped forward. ‘Most high, most mighty and most powerful Caesar. Metellus Cimber throws before your mightiness a humble heart.’ He went down on his knees.
Caesar gazed down haughtily at him. ‘I must stop you Cimber. This bowing and scraping might inflate the pride of ordinary men and reduce the rule of ancient law into something to be bypassed. Don’t be foolish enough to think that Caesar can be swayed by emotion and melted from his high principles in the way that fools can. By that I mean sweet, flattering words, knee bending courtsies, and base spaniel fawning. Your brother was legally banished by decree. If you bend and pray and fawn for him I will kick you out of my way like a dog. Know that Caesar does no wrong, nor will he be persuaded except with argument.’
Metellus remained on his knees. He looked round at the senators. ‘Is there no voice more worthy than my own that might sound more favourably in great Caesar’s ear to have my brother’s banishment repealed?’
Brutus stepped forward then also knelt and took Caesar’s hand. He raised it to his lips. ‘I kiss your hand, but not in flattery, Caesar: urging that Publius Cimber ‘s banishment be repealed.’
Caesar looked pained. ‘What? Brutus?’ he said.
Cassius came close. ‘Pardon Caesar: Caesar pardon,’ he said, and also fell to his knees. ‘I fall as low as to your foot to beg for the rehabilitation of Publius Cimber.’
Caesar gazed down scornfully at the three senators. ‘I could be easily moved if I were like you. If I were the kind of person who could beg someone to change his mind then I would be capable of changing mine too. But I am as constant as the northern star, which is so firm that it has no equal in the heavens. The skies are filled with uncountable sparks: they are all fire, and every one of them shines, but there’s only one that holds its place firmly. And so it is in the world – it’s full of men, and men are flesh and blood, and have reason. Yet in that number, I know only one that sticks to his course, unshaken by anything: and that I am he. Let me show you a small part of that, even in this – that I was constant that Cimber should be banished and remain constant to keep him banished.’
Cinna took a step forward. ‘Oh Caesar…’
‘Go!’ exclaimed Caesar. ‘Do you want to lift up Olympus?’
Decius flung himself to his knees. ‘Great Caesar…’
‘Isn’t even Brutus kneeling in vain?’ said Caesar.
Casca drew his dagger. ‘Speak hands for me!’ he shouted and thrust the dagger into Caesar’s neck. The others were on Caesar like a pack of hounds, each one stabbing once. Except Brutus. He stood up and stepped back a few paces, watching. Caesar winced and stooped. He was mortally wounded. There was blood pouring from him and the floor all around him was red. He looked up and saw Brutus, his face sad and his eyes filled with pity. Caesar reached towards him and everyone watched, transfixed, as he took an unsteady step. Then another. Brutus stretched out his hand and Caesar grasped it. Brutus pulled Caesar towards him and put an arm around him. Then with his other hand he stabbed him. Caesar looked startled. ‘Et tu Brute?’ he asked. There was silence. Caesar opened his eyes wide. ‘Then fall Caesar,’ he said. Brutus let go of him. He dropped and lay still.
The whole senate stood in shocked silence. Then Cinna shouted. ‘Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead. Run, go, announce it. Cry it out in the streets.’
Some of the senators ran out in terror. Cassius called after them. ‘Some of you go to the public platforms and cry out Liberty, Freedom and Democracy.’
Brutus also called after them. ‘People and senators, don’t be afraid, don’t run away. Stay. Caesar has paid the price for his ambition.’
‘Go to the public platform, Brutus,’ said Casca.
‘And you too, Cassius,’ said Decius.
‘Where’s Publius?’ said Brutus.
‘There he is,’ said Cinna. ‘He’s bewildered by this uproar.’
‘Let’s stand close together,’ said Metellus, ‘in case some friend of Caesar decides to…’
‘Don’t talk about standing on the defensive,’ said Brutus. ‘Publius, don’t worry. No harm is intended to you. Nor to any other Roman. Go and tell them that, Publius.’
‘And leave us now,’ said Cassius. ‘In case the people mob us and do your age some harm.’
‘Do that,’ said Brutus. ‘And let no man bear the consequences of this action except us, the doers.’
Trebonius joined them. ‘Where’s Antony?’ said Cassius.
‘Fled to his house, utterly astounded. Men, women and children are staring, shouting and running as though it were doomsday.’
‘We will soon know what fate has in store for us,’ said Brutus. ‘Every one dies eventually. We know that. It’s only the time and how long it takes that matter.’
Casca pulled a wry face. ‘Anyway, he who has twenty years of life cut off avoids twenty years of fearing death.’
‘Given that,’ said Brutus, ‘we are Caesar’s friends who have saved him his time of fearing death. Stoop, Romans, stoop, and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood, up to the elbows. And smear our swords. Then let’s walk out there, right to the market place, and waving our red weapons over our heads, let’s all cry out, “Peace, freedom and liberty!”’
‘Stoop then, and wash,’ said Casca. ‘For ages into the future this mighty deed will be acted out in theatres in states that are not yet born and languages not yet known.’
Brutus nodded. ‘How many times Caesar will bleed in plays, who now lies at the base of Pompey’s statue, nothing more than dust.’
As many times as that occurs, that many times will we be recognised as the men who gave their country liberty,’ said Cassius.
‘All right then,’ said Decius. ‘Shall we go?’
‘Yes, all of us,’ said Cassius. ‘Brutus will lead and we will grace his heels with the most noble, best hearts of Rome.’
By now everyone had left and only the conspirators remained. A young man entered cautiously and walked slowly toward them.
‘Wait,’ said Brutus. ‘Who’s this? It’s one of Antony’s servants.
The servant knelt down in front of Brutus. ‘My master told me to kneel like this,’ he said. ‘He told me to kneel down and once I was right down on my knees I was to tell you this. Brutus is noble, wise, brave and honest. Caesar was mighty, bold, royal and loving. Tell him I love Brutus and I respect him. Say I feared Caesar, honoured him, and loved him. If Brutus will gaurantee that I can come to him safely and be reassured why Caesar deserved to be killed Mark Antony won’t love the dead Caesar as much as he will love the living Brutus, and will follow him through this unknown state of things faithfully. That’s what my master, Antony, says.’
Brutus gestured to the servant to stand up. ‘Your master is a wise and brave Roman,’ he said. ‘I always thought that. Tell him if he would like to come here he will be reassured. And I promise you that he will leave untouched.’
‘I’ll get him immediately,’ said the servant.
‘I know that he will be a true friend,’ said Brutus.
‘I hope so,’ said Cassius. ‘But I still feel uncomfortable with it. I don’t trust this. And my misgivings are usually well founded.’
‘Well here he is,’ said Brutus.
Antony was coming towards them across the marble floor of the senate hall.
‘Welcome, Antony,’ said Brutus.
Antony ignored them all and approached Caesar’s body. He stood for a moment. A tear rolled down his cheek. ‘Oh mighty Caesar!’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Are you lying so low? Are all your conquests, glories, triumphs, successes, shrunk to this small size? Farewell.’
He turned slowly and faced the conspirators, who had been standing silently, watching him. ‘I don’t know, gentlemen, who else must be cured: who else is sick. If I am one of them, there is no time more fit as the hour of Caesar’s death, nor no weapon worth half of those swords that have been made rich with the most noble blood of this whole world. I beg of you, if you have a grudge against me, now, while your purpled hands are reeking and smoking, do it. If I could live a thousand years I would never find myself as ready as I am now to die. No place would please me more, nor no means of death, as here by Caesar and cut off by you, the greatest men of this age.’
‘Oh Antony, don’t beg us to kill you,’ said Brutus. ‘Although we must at this moment seem violent and cruel, judging from our bloody hands and this thing you know we’ve done, you’re only seeing our hands and the bloody business they’ve done. You’re not seeing our hearts: they’re full of pity – pity for the wrongs suffered by Rome. And pity for Rome has driven out pity for Caesar. As for you, our swords have points of lead for you, Mark Antony. Our arms in friendship and our hearts in brotherly love, accept you as one of us with all good will, good opinion, and respect.’
Cassius nodded. ‘Your voice will be as strong as ours in distributing new positions.’
‘Just be patient until we’ve appeased the people, who are beside themselves with fear, and then we’ll tell you why I, who loved Caesar when I struck him, have done that.’
‘I have no doubt about your wisdom,’ said Antony. ‘Let each man give me his blood smeared hand. First, Markus Brutus, I’ll shake yours.’ He took Brutus’ hand. ‘Next Caius Cassius, I take yours. Now, Decius Brutus yours: now yours Metellus. Yours, Cinna: and my brave Casca, yours. Last but not least, yours good Trebonius. Gentleman all – alas, what can I say? My reputation now stands on such slippery ground that you must be thinking of me in one of two ways – that I’m either a coward or a flatterer.’ He glanced at Caesar’s body. ‘It’s true that I loved you Caesar If your soul were looking down at us now, wouldn’t it be even sadder than your death to see your Antony making his peace, shaking the bloody fingers of your enemies in the presence of your corpse? If I had as many eyes as you have wounds, all crying as fast as your wounds pour out your blood, it would be more suitable to cry than to come to an agreement with your enemies.’ He went back to Caesar’s body and paused. Then: ‘Pardon me Julius. This is where you were hunted to your death, brave heart. This is where you fell: and here your hunters stand, bearing the marks of your slaughter on them, reddened in your death. Oh world, your were the forest to this hart and this world was your heart. And here you lie, killed by many princes.’
Cassius went and touched him on the shoulder. ‘Mark Antony,’ he said.
Antony turned. ‘Excuse me, Caius Cassius. Even Caesar’s enemies would say that. Coming from a friend it’s natural.’
‘I don’t blame you for praising Caesar,’ said Cassius. ‘But what deal do you want to make with us? Are you going to be with us or shall we go ahead without you?’
‘That’s why I took your hands,’ said Antony. ‘But I was distracted when I looked down at Caesar. I am your friend and I respect you all, on this condition: that you will give me reasons why, and in what, Caesar was dangerous.’
‘Otherwise this would be a savage sight,’ said Brutus. ‘Our reasons are so sound that even if you were Caesar’s son you would be satisfied.’
‘That’s all I asked for,’ said Antony. ‘And one more thing: I would like to ask that I may take his body to the market place and on the public platform, as suitable for a friend, that I should be one of the speakers in his funeral ceremony.’
‘You can, Antony,’ said Brutus.
Cassius whispered in Brutus’ ear: ‘Can I have a word with you?’ He took him aside. ‘You don’t know what you’re doing,’ he said. Don’t let Antony speak in his funeral. Don’t you know how much the people will be stirred up by the things he’ll say?’
‘With your permission,’ said Brutus, ‘I’ll go into the pulpit first and give the reasons for our Caesar’s death. I’ll tell them that whatever Antony says will be with our permission. I’ll assure them that Caesar will have the full rites and lawful ceremonies. It will do us more advantage than harm.’
‘I don’t know what will happen,’ said Cassius. ‘I don’t like it.’
‘Mark Antony,’ said Brutus. ‘You take Caesar’s body. In your funeral speech you may not criticise us. Say anything good you want to about Caesar and say you’re doing it with our permission. Otherwise you can’t play any role in his funeral And you’ll speak in the same pulpit that I’m going to, after my speech has ended.’
‘So be it,’ said Antony. ‘That’s all I ask.’
‘Prepare the body, then, and follow us,’ said Brutus.
They all followed Brutus and Antony was left alone with Caesar’s body.
Antony watched them go then he sat down beside the body. He sat for a few minutes, trying to control his emotions, then he addressed the still form of his friend.
‘Oh pardon me, you bleeding piece of earth,’ he said, ‘ that I am meek and gentle with these butchers. You are the ruins of the greatest man who ever lived. Curse the hand that shed this precious blood! Over your wounds I prophesy, as these wounds, like silent mouths, are begging me to use my voice. A curse will fall on the people: there will be such violence here in Rome – fierce civil war will cover all of Italy: blood and destruction will become so common, and terrible acts so familiar, that mothers will merely smile when they see their children mutilated at the hands of war. All pity will be choked by the frequency of foul deeds. And Caesar’s spirit, roaming about to seek revenge and Ate the goddess of destruction, straight from hell, walking at his side, here in Rome, with a powerful voice, will call for destruction and let loose the dogs of war. This foul deed will make the earth stink with corpses begging to be buried.’
A man came in and stood beside him. Antony looked up. ‘You work for Octavius Caesar, don’t you?’
‘I do, Mark Antony,’ said the servant.
‘Caesar wrote to him and told him to come to Rome.’
‘He received the letter and is on his way. And he told me to tell you personally…’ The servant looked down and saw Caesar lying there. He gasped. ‘Oh Caesar!’ he said.
‘I see your heart is swollen with grief,’ said Antony. ‘Go away and weep. I can see that grief is catching because my eyes, seeing your tears, begin to water. Is your master coming?’
‘He’s staying within seven leagues of Rome tonight.’
‘Hurry back and tell him what’s happened. This is a mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome, not yet safe for Octavius. Hurry there and tell him that. You mustn’t go back, though, till I have taken this corpse into the market place. That’s where I’ll test things with my speech: see how the people take the cruel act of these violent men. Then you will tell young Octavius what the situation is. Here, help me with Caesar’s body.’