|Theme Notes and Practice Questions for Act 4/5 Quiz
Part A: Themes in Acts 4/5
Rhetoric as a weapon: Octavius accuses Brutus of preferring talking to fighting. Brutus replies that good words are better than bad fighting. In Brutus’ mind, his rhetorical skills allow him to communicate that he did not kill Caesar out of a desire for power, but a wish to keep Rome a republic.
Fate vs. Free Will: While travelling to the battle at Philippi, two eagles follow Brutus and Cassius’ contingent. However, by the time they arrived the eagles have been replaced by crows and kite birds, birds who eat the flesh of dead animals. Cassius believe this to be a bad sign. Is it a bad omen of the death to come, or does the sight of the birds simply scare Cassius so much that he ends up sabotaging himself?
Obsession with Honour: Brutus is constantly thinking about his honour and is always quick to remind people that he killed Caesar for the good of Rome, not because he was hungry for power. However, his honour also prevents him from taking actions that would help him win the battle against Antony and Octavius. He won’t take money from the plebeians to pay for his army but expects Cassius to do so instead. At the end of Act Five, Antony and Octavius praise Brutus’ honour, but because Brutus was not successful in winning the battle it is uncertain if his honour was all that helpful.
Lack of Communication: It is possible that if Brutus had told Portia about the conspiracy and trusted her intelligence, she may have been able to help him see problems in his plan. As well, lack of communication becomes a problem on the battlefield when Pindarus thinks he saw Titinius being murdered, leading Cassius to kill himself. Had Cassius known that Titinius was coming to tell him that Brutus had defeated Octavius, he might have been able to fight back against Antony.
Caesar’s Power Endures: Even though Caesar is dead, his power continues to live on. He haunts Brutus at the end of Act Four, and Antony begins to call Octavius “Caesar”, a sign that Octavius has become Caesar’s replacement. As well, Cassius symbolically kills himself with the same sword used to stab Caesar, a sign of the power Caesar still holds over him.
Sample Quiz Questions:
1. How does Brutus die?
A) Antony kills him in a fight.
B) The ghost of Caesar frightened him to death.
C) He kills himself with his sword.
D) He is taken prisoner and one of the soldiers accidentally kills him.
2. Why does Cassius kill himself?
His army lost the battle.
He saw Caesar’s ghost.
He thought his friend Titinius had been killed.
He refuses to allow Antony and Octavius to capture him.
3. How do Antony and Octavius respond to the discovery of Brutus’ body?
A) They are triumphant and abandon it to be eaten by birds.
B) They honour it and give a proper burial.
C) They parade it through the streets of Rome.
D) They bury it on the battlefield.
What was Brutus’ emotional reaction to the death of Portia?
What did the four leaders of the armies do when they met on the battlefield at Philippi?
How does the relationship dynamic between Octavius and Antony change during Act 5?
Mini Essay Question:
2. Who do you think makes a better leader, a practical, political person like Cassius or a man of principle such as Brutus? Can a leader ever be both? Support your conclusions with specific references to the events of the play.