With a flourish of trumpets, Caesar, Antony, the conspirators, the soothsayer, senators, and petitioners enter. Caesar observes that “the ides of March are come,” and the soothsayer replies that, nevertheless, they are not yet gone. Artemidorus urges Caesar to read his letter first, but Caesar says that a suit concerning himself should be read last. Cassius urges Caesar to enter the Capitol rather than receiving petitions in the street.
The chaos outside the Capital continues to build tension. Caesar’s words sound triumphant, as if the soothsayer has been proven wrong, but the soothsayer gives a more ambiguous response, suggesting that Fate might yet prevail. Ironically, Caesar’s seemingly noble refusal to prioritize his own welfare over that of others helps seal his fate.
Popilius wishes Cassius well in his “enterprise,” prompting fears that the conspirators have been found out. Brutus urges Cassius to stay calm. Trebonius pulls Mark Antony out of the way, and Decius and Metellus Cimber press close to Caesar. Cinna tells Casca to prepare to strike first.
The various conspirators get into position. The several moving parts, as well as the possibility that the plot has been discovered and could yet be undermined, adds to the dramatic tension and suggests that human action might be an even more important factor than fate.
Caesar asks what business he and the Senate must address. Metellus Cimber kneels before Caesar to present the case of his banished brother, Publius Cimber. Caesar tells him that “base spaniel fawning” will do nothing to change his mind about the situation. Then, Brutus and Cassius kneel, too. Caesar tells them all that he is “constant as the North Star,” and Cimber will remain banished.
Caesar presents himself as immoveable, which brings out his arrogance, but also sets up a sharp contrast with his imminent removal. It also contrasts with Brutus’s belief that Caesar is changeable and bound to become tyrannical, which was his entire justification for killing Caesar.
The rest of the conspirators kneel, and Casca strikes first, stabbing Caesar. As the rest of the conspirators stab him, too, Caesar addresses Brutus—“Et tu, Bruté?”—and dies.
The conspirators proclaim liberty from tyranny as the Capitol descends into a panic. They send Publius to reassure the people that no harm will befall anyone else. Brutus suggests that the conspirators bathe their hands and weapons in Caesar’s blood and walk through the marketplace proclaiming “peace, freedom, liberty!” As they wash themselves with blood, Cassius remarks that this “lofty scene” will be replayed many times in the future.
The killers’ proclamations of “liberty” are ironically unpersuasive, as it’s not made clear from what, exactly, they’ve liberated the people. The literal bloodbath also contrasts grimly with the celebratory tone of Caesar’s last public appearance. Cassius’s words show that the conspirators conceive of their act as having great historical significance (as well as being an ironic reference to the play itself).
Antony’s servant enters with a passionately-worded appeal, saying that Antony will support Brutus if he is allowed to safely approach and be given a satisfactory explanation for Caesar’s death. Brutus readily grants this, although Cassius doesn’t entirely trust Antony.
Even before Antony appears, the contrast between his more passionate rhetoric and Brutus’s cooler logic is evident. Antony’s ability to persuade Brutus even without being present foreshadows his further manipulation of Brutus as the play goes on.
Antony enters and is moved by the sight of Caesar’s body. He tells the conspirators that if they intend his death as well, there’s no better moment than now, at the site of Caesar’s death. Brutus replies that they desire no such thing, and that if Antony could see their hearts, he’d know that they’ve acted out of pity for Rome in general and that they receive him with love. He adds that they will explain their reasoning to Antony after they have appeased the fearful crowds.
Antony’s flair for the dramatic comes through in his passionate appeal to the conspirators. Brutus remains confident that a logical explanation will smooth over lingering mistrust and establish unity. He doesn’t account for the possibility that Antony will succeed in swaying the people in a different direction.
Antony shakes hands with the conspirators, while apologizing to Caesar’s spirit for making peace with his murderers. Cassius interjects to ask whether they can rely on Antony as a friend. Antony assures them that they can, if indeed they can convince him that Caesar was dangerous and thus that his death was justified. Moreover, he asks if he might speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus grants this request immediately.
Ever more suspicious than Brutus, Cassius questions Antony’s loyalty in light of his continued outspoken devotion to Caesar. By contrast, Brutus readily grants Antony a public platform. Because he’s so logic-driven, Brutus doesn’t consider other’s more emotional motives. He therefore doesn’t recognize the potential risks of this move, or indeed that a mere explanation of his reasoning will truly suffice to satisfy Antony.
Cassius takes Brutus aside, warning him that he doesn’t know what he’s doing—the people will be moved against them by Antony’s funeral speech. Brutus replies that, by speaking first, he’ll explain the reason for Caesar’s death and also that Antony only speaks by permission—thus Antony’s speech will turn out to the conspirators’ advantage after all. Cassius doesn’t like this plan, but when Brutus tells Antony that he must only praise Caesar and not blame the conspirators, Antony agrees.
Cassius, adept at using speech to manipulate others (as he did with Brutus), is more perceptive regarding the persuasive power of Antony’s passionate rhetoric. Brutus, on the other hand, is naïve—he thinks that cold logic will suffice to win the people, and he underestimates the emotional power Antony’s words will have.
After the others leave, Antony speaks over Caesar’s corpse, prophesying that brutal civil war will break out across Italy, urged on by Caesar’s vengeful spirit. Then a servant of Octavius Caesar enters, telling Antony that Octavius is on his way to Rome. Antony tells the servant that after his funeral speech, they’ll have a better sense of the people’s reaction, and then the servant can tell Octavius whether he can safely enter Rome or not. They carry out Caesar’s body.