These lines form the centre piece of this scene, the meeting and pledging of the conspirators. The first nearly twenty lines apparently do little to advance the plot, consisting of mere greetings, and then a discourse or description of the imminent daybreak. However, this part does establish the identities of the conspirators, and the description of daybreak might be equated with their “dark deed” coming out into the light. This sidelight, so to speak, is also necessary so that Cassius can have a private word with Brutus, presumably for Cassius to confirm that Brutus is one of their number, or for Brutus to resolve any doubts he himself might have. (Who knows what went on in that unspoken conversation? Not even Shakespeare himself!) All that settled Brutus moves forward and by his actions demonstrates his resolve to be a part of the conspiracy: “Give me your hands all over, one by one.” Moreover, Brutus rejects (at some length, 114-140) the notion of swearing an oath on the sound basis that such a thing is an essentially empty gesture: they have real causes that are sufficient–“the sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse.” Oaths are mere outward show, as it were, and are undertaken by “priests and cowards and men cautelous [deceitful], / Old feeble carrions . . .” Then follows a short discussion about whether Cicero should be asked to join them, a notion that all but Brutus are in favour of. Brutus clearly knows his man better than the others (and the audience might also think back to 1.3 and deduce that Brutus is undoubtedly correct). Another debate ensues, and one that will prove crucial in the development of events–namely, shall they kill just Julius Caesar, or should others (Mark Antony in particular) also be their target. Here Cassius reveals his shrewdness, arguing for Mark Antony’s death because Mark Antony is “a shrewd contriver.” Brutus rejects the notion as “too bloody,” and viewing Mark Antony as “but a limb of Caesar. / Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers.” Brutus also believes this course will be approved by “the common eyes,” making “our purpose necessary, and not envious.” The remainder of this sub-scene is concerned largely with the practical matters surrounding the actual act of assassination, although it does emerge that Caesar “is superstitious grown of late,” a hint to be elaborated upon later in the play. Brutus leaves the conspirators with a final injunction, and one that introduces a metatheatrical dimension to the scene: “Let not our looks put on our purposes, / But bear it as our Roman actors do, / With untired spirits and formal constancy.” Perhaps this might also be tied with the earlier anachronistic striking of a clock in the background. Both raise an audiences awareness of the theatrical event, and yet the whole play is, of course, concerned with a factual, historical event.
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