Stoop, Romans, stoop, and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood

From Julius Caesar (3.1).

CASSIUS
Where is Antony?
TREBONIUS
Fled to his house amazed:
Men, wives and children stare, cry out and run
As it were doomsday.
BRUTUS
Fates, we will know your pleasures:
That we shall die, we know; ’tis but the time
And drawing days out, that men stand upon.
CASSIUS
Why, he that cuts off twenty years of life
Cuts off so many years of fearing death.
BRUTUS
Grant that, and then is death a benefit:
So are we Caesar’s friends, that have abridged
His time of fearing death. Stoop, Romans, stoop,
And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood
Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords:
Then walk we forth, even to the market-place,
And, waving our red weapons o’er our heads,
Let’s all cry ‘Peace, freedom and liberty!’
CASSIUS
Stoop, then, and wash. How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
BRUTUS
How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport,
That now on Pompey’s basis lies along
No worthier than the dust!

I find this scene one of the most terrifying miniatures in all Shakespeare’s psychological portraiture. A single line pushes Brutus from a predictable – from the classical rhetoric perspective – over-reasoned justification (‘So are we Caesar’s friends, that have abridged / His time of fearing death’) to a surreal dissociative break (Stoop, Romans, stoop, / And let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood … waving our red weapons o’er our heads, / Let’s all cry ‘Peace, freedom and liberty!’). Cassius’ attempted realigning of the ‘lofty scene’ as future exemplar flops out as Brutus picks up the performative-iterative element only to ritualise the slaughter over the exemplar – “How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport.” Any possible value of the action is here submerged in the character’s inability to focus on anything but the blood. The bathing in blood is not in Plutarch or any other source.

One thought on “Stoop, Romans, stoop, and let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood

  1. Brutus reveled in the death of his older friend. He knew all the assanins would taste death soon enough. But hwanted them all to bathe in Ceasar’s blood. They all felt free at last. They knew how fleeting this joy would last.

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