Caesar in his Nightgown (2.2)
Boldness and Vulnerability
The 129 lines of 2.2. constitute the play's longest continuous focus on Caesar. We already saw his authority, like that of Jesus, in 1.2 (see Christ and Caesar). It is recognized by all, and Caesar seems to wear it like a comfortable garment. Thus, his statements of supreme confidence or arrogance, from our perspective, are merely indicia of his sense of invulnerability and historical significance. In 2.2, however, we are introduced into the contradictions of Caesar: his vulnerability and invulnerability; his perceptiveness and blindness; his fear and fearlessness; his self-centeredness and deference to his wife Calphurnia. The scene ends with words that may be read Christologically--Caesar invites the "friends," who are his betrayers, to spend a last meal with him ("taste some wine"--2.2.126).
Caesar's Vacillating Resolution
The "exhalations whizzing" (2.1.44) in the night air have also affected Calphurnia. She cries out in her sleep, "Help, ho! they murther Caesar (2.2.4)." Caesar sends for the augurers (who were not ancient drillers!) to read the entrails of the birds, even though he later says that "death, a necessary end,/ Will come when it will come (2.2.37)." He is both supersititious and philosophically accepting of his fate. Despite Calphurnia's hesitations Caesar says three times that he will "go forth" (2.2.9,28,48). His resolve is stiffened by a brief observation about danger:
"Danger knows full well/ that Caesar is more dangerous than he./ We are two lions litter'd in one day,/ And I the elder and more terrible (2.2.44-47)."
All this resolve, these bold statements of invulnerability, are uttered when Caesar is clad only in his most vulnerable garb: his nightgown.
But then, abruptly, he decides to stay home. Calphurnia's supplication (2.2.48-54) was honored by Caesar more than Portia's was by Brutus in 2.1. He will not go to the Senate house because it is his "will" that he not go (2.2.71). It is as simple as that. Caesar, the ever-decisive one (who will call himself "constant as the northern star" in 3.1.60) changes his mind and now, decisively, will not go.
Flattery and Shame
One sign of Caesar's sense of invulnerability is that he reveals too much personal information to Decius Brutus, one of the conspirators. 'After all,' thinks Caesar, 'I am invulnerable.' So he tells Decius that his reason for not attending the Senate is a bloody dream of his wife, to the effect that people would be bathing themselves in Caesar's blood (2.2.71-82). Decius begs to differ with her interpretation of the dream: instead of Caesar's blood-spouting statue suggesting a portent of "evils imminent," it means that "great Rome shall suck/ Reviving blood" from Caesar (2.2.87-88).
But it is not simply this reinterpretation that convinces Caesar to reverse himself again; Decius' ability to stoke Caesar's envy and shame does the trick. In this regard, Decius' statement in 2.1.202ff, that he would win Caesar over by flattery, seems not to be true. Here, in 2.2, Decius says to Caesar that unless he comes to the Senate today, the Senators may be inclined to take back the offer of the crown (it is, we might say, a 'limited-time' offer). But, more telling, he now uses Caesar's volunteered information about the dream to threaten him. Decius would tell the Senate of the dream, which in the bright light of day looks so ridiculous, and perhaps the Senate's response would be to "mock" and say, "break up the Senate till another time,/ When Caesar's wife shall meet with better dreams (2.2.98-100)." Mock a man through his wife's vulnerabilities. That, in fact, is what Decius was doing.
Shamed, Caesar resolves to go to the Senate house. With his vision now clouded because of his desire to avoid one of the most debilitating feelings, humiliation, he invites the friends into the house to sup with him. Despite his ability to "read character" earlier in the play (1.2.200), he is completely blind now. Shakespeare never says it is the fear of shame that makes him blind; in any case, he invites the conspirators to his table, twice calling them "friends (2.2.126,127)."
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long