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Fic (ish): At Philippi

So, about a month ago, I found myself in the somewhat surprising position of being expected to write a short play featuring the ghost of Caesar. However, despite being very low in ambition in the department of writing plays, I am considerably higher in ambition in the department of Cassius the subject matter; thus, after much cudgeling of brains and bullying of words, I find myself in possession of a play thing. Which, by the way, despite referencing Shakespeare, assumes that Philippi is in fact two battles, instead of Shakespeare's one conflated battle.

Many many thanks, as ever, to gignocum for very useful brainstorming when I stalled out about three-quarters of the way through; for the original (and, in some cases, final) text of certain passages; for sundry other points of advice; for assurances that I am not, in fact, an incompetent author; etc., etc. Further thanks to my friends P, L and C (as well as gig) for reading through two drafts of this and providing helpful ideas for how to make it not suck.

Also . . . if anyone happens to be in the Boston, MA, area around the Nones of March, you could come see this play performed (by self, gig, the aforementioned P, L and C, and additional talent G) at the Democracy Center in Cambridge on March 8th at 8PM. /shameless promotion

Title: At Philippi
Characters: Brutus, Caesar, Cassius, Portia, others
Summary: That night in Sardis, the ghost of Caesar had appeared to Brutus to schedule (rather insistently) a future meeting. This probably isn't what either of them expected when they marked their respective appointment books for Philippi.
Word Count: about 1900

DRAMATIS PERSONAE
----
MARCUS BRUTUS, a Roman politician and general; assassin of Julius Caesar
Ghost of JULIUS CAESAR, a Roman general and dictator
Ghost of POLYBIUS, a historian of the previous century
Ghost of POMPEY THE GREAT, a general and a rival of Caesar
Ghost of CAIUS CASSIUS, with Brutus, an assassin of Caesar
Ghost of PORTIA, wife of Brutus

BRUTUS is in his tent in his camp at Philippi, late at night. He is reading a book, but occasionally looks up from it and glances about him, as if expecting someone. Enter CAESAR, with the gravitas of a ghost going about Serious Ghost Business.

BRUTUS
Ah, there you are.

CAESAR
As I foretold, so have I come once more to see thee, Brutus, ere the morrow's battle.

BRUTUS
And so you have. But what are you actually here for, this time? You've only appeared to me once before, and that was just to say that you would show up again---here.

CAESAR
The forms, formalities, and rules all must be heeded. Thou wast once my trusted friend, and almost as a son to me, yet thou didst join with Cassius and those other villains to kill me in the Capitol.---

BRUTUS
That I killed my friend, I grieve, and I would change much that came after---

CAESAR
But thou dost not repent the deed. And that is why I come to thee, as I pursue all those who murdered me. In death, just as in life, the Fortune of Caesar serves him still.

Enter POLYBIUS.

POLYBIUS
(To Caesar.) Which reminds me of another thing: what was with writing your military commentaries in the third person? (Caesar is too stunned to reply.) But anyway, that's not exactly how I think Fortune works. While Fortune does have a retributive function---especially in the punishment of wickedness or amelioration for former calamity---she does not attach herself to any single man and follow his concerns. In fact,---

BRUTUS
Who are you?

POLYBIUS
Have you never seen a portrait of me?

BRUTUS
Not to recognize you by, surely.

POLYBIUS
I'm Polybius! You were writing a summary of my texts on history before the last big battle you fought.

BRUTUS
You mean---

Enter POMPEY.

POMPEY
---the last battle I fought against Caesar.

CAESAR
(Unfreezing.) Pompey!

POMPEY
Pompey the Great, here to show a bit of support to a man (Indicating Brutus.) who did the right thing and chose the course against Caesar.

BRUTUS
It certainly wasn't because of you. You killed my father when I was a child.

POMPEY
Fortunes of war, lad. Fortunes of war.

POLYBIUS
Which brings us back to my point. You see, between the two of you---and Pompey as well---we have a very interesting cycle from Pompey's defeat by Caesar, through his murder arranged by Theodotus---

POMPEY
(With great disgust.) Oh, Theodotus. I can tell this story. (Composing himself.) Once upon a time---

POLYBIUS
That's not how you tell a history.

POMPEY
(Ignoring him.) ---when I was seeking succor after my battle against Caesar, I chanced to come to Egypt. At the time, the Pharaoh, who was little more than a child, was advised by three men: a eunuch, a general, and a rhetorician.

POLYBIUS
Theodotus was the rhetorician.

POMPEY
Yes, just so. And so of course he managed to convince the others to go along with his plan. They greeted me with a show of false friendship, and then they killed me.

POLYBIUS
So, since Caesar here had the eunuch and the general killed, and you, Brutus (having killed Caesar), later put Theodotus to death---

Enter CASSIUS.

CASSIUS
I thought that was me.

Enter PORTIA.

PORTIA
You came here to say that?

CASSIUS
We needed an invitation, didn't we?

PORTIA
I'm Brutus' wife; you were one of his closest friends. I think we could have found something a bit more graceful.

CASSIUS
This way worked.

CASSIUS and PORTIA look around to see who else is present. CASSIUS and CAESAR meet eyes.

CAESAR
Lean and hungry as ever, I see.

CASSIUS
I haven't exactly eaten in three weeks, you know. Of course, I've also been dead three weeks, so that oughtn't make a difference really. But back to Theodotus---I thought I was the one who killed him. After all, I was, well, not in Egypt itself, but right next door, while Brutus here was running around in Greece.

PORTIA
You got us in, Cassius; there's no need to pick a fight with everyone before we even greet our host. (To Brutus.) Well met, good husband.

BRUTUS
Portia---and Cassius---I'm glad you both are keeping . . . well? But, Portia, if even Cassius is here, couldn't you have come sooner?

PORTIA
I did consider it, but it's no easy matter to arrange a haunting; I began instead by seeking out others I knew who were already ghosts. Eventually I came across Cassius, and of late we've been looking up old acquaintances together.

BRUTUS
Yes, Cassius, why---how---are you here? The last time you and I discussed ghosts, you said you didn't believe in them.

CASSIUS
Well, I'm dead now, aren't I?

BRUTUS
And dying has altered your belief in ghosts?

CASSIUS
Being a ghost has altered my belief ghosts. I suppose I could tell you that we're all just figments of your imagination . . . which is what you would probably imagine me telling you anyway.

BRUTUS
Look, Portia, Cassius, . . . I'm delighted to see you both again. And Polybius, at another time, I'd have been honoured to meet you. But what are any of you doing here?

CAESAR
I'm here because I said I would be. Also, to hound you---thee (Regaining his composure.)---until the Fates have punished thee for thy part in my murder.

POLYBIUS
Because there's a very interesting sequence with Caesar defeating Pompey; Pompey being murdered; Caesar and you, at different times, killing Pompey's murderers; you killing Caesar; and now, you being about to fight Caesar's partisans. Anyway, I'd like to see how it all turns out.

POMPEY
Just as I said, I'm here to support your anti-Caesarean campaign.

PORTIA
I've come to offer you what of solace and assurance I may give from beyond the grave.

CASSIUS
I was your nearest colleague in this enterprise, from the assassination through to the battle three weeks ago. Also, I died in that battle, and within a mile of this spot, so of all of us, I think I have the most reason to be here.

CAESAR
I have the prior appointment.

BRUTUS
(Interrupting.) Did it occur to any of you that turning up on the eve of a battle might be inconvenient---

POLYBIUS
But we know you spend battle eves staying up late, writing about history.

BRUTUS
(Rounding on Polybius.) ---or that I might want to have a private conversation with Caesar?

A pause while the ghosts consider this.

CASSIUS
What would the two of you have to talk about?

POMPEY
Aside from the rumour that Caesar is actually Brutus' father?

BRUTUS
I wouldn't expect either of you to understand, but for you, Cassius, I will say this: you remember, I am sure, that you persuaded me to join your conspiracy on account of Caesar's unprecedented exaltation and his ambition to climb still higher, not objection to the man himself. You, at least, know how reluctant I was to harm him, and that the entire enterprise confounded our relation in a manner that begs some resolution, as I am sure he will agree.

CAESAR
No, actually I'm with Cassius on this: I have no more to discuss with you than with any of my murderers, all of whom I hunt down until they meet their deserved end.

CASSIUS
But if you're haunting all of your killers, why did you skip me?

CAESAR
It is evidently impossible to haunt someone who does not believe in ghosts as adamantly as you used to.

BRUTUS
(In disbelief, to Caesar.) Nothing to discuss?

CAESAR
No. You proved yourself my enemy with your own hand, and the orators have not invented any speeches that can mitigate such an act.

BRUTUS
Then let me hope to prove you wrong, lest no man's legacy be any more than the deeds of a beast who wants discourse of reason! Your last visit was so brief---so unexpected---I had no time to collect my thoughts, but ever since your death I have desired nothing more than a chance to explain my actions to you in person, and to beg your forgiveness. I loved you ever. It was only your eclipsing spirit that I feared, not for myself, but for Rome, whom I hold dearer than any man. I grieved that I could not come upon that spirit separate from your person. But spirit and blood are so entwined that I could find no other means than the course I took, and even so I hated every blade that pierced your unoffending flesh. Knowing this, can you not forgive me, as a friend that never wished you ill?

CAESAR remains unmoved. BRUTUS makes as if to carry on, but PORTIA steps in.

PORTIA
Your speech is in vain, dear Brutus: I do not think that he can. In life, Caesar was resolute, almost to a fault; death, if anything, has made him even more so. While the memory of the dead may change the course of the living, so far as I have seen the reverse is not possible: the living cannot touch the dead, either in word or deed. If you could not move him while he lived, you certainly cannot do so at this time.

BRUTUS
Then why has he come here? Why have any of you come here, if nothing I say or do can reach you?

A pause while the ghosts try to determine a reply.

CASSIUS
Why, to haunt you, of course.

POMPEY
And to wish you good luck on the eve of a decisive battle. Regardless of our personal differences, Brutus, may Fortune be with you.

POLYBIUS
I would remind everyone that Fortune doesn't work that way---as I'm sure the wise here already know. But I do agree with you in sentiment, Pompey: good luck to you, Brutus.

CASSIUS
Yes, here's to hoping your battle goes better than mine: best wishes in overthrowing all our enemies tomorrow.

PORTIA
To Brutus: may the gods grace his life or death in the battle to come with an honour worthy of himself.

All ghosts, save CAESAR, nod approvingly. POLYBIUS and POMPEY exit in one direction; CASSIUS begins to follow them, but PORTIA catches his attention and they exit together in another direction.

BRUTUS
I do not suppose that I may expect friendly regards from you.

CAESAR
(Reluctantly.) I cannot in all truth wish that you gain the victory, but from one man who did love Rome to one who shares that love, I wish you well---ill-plighted foe though you may be.

CAESAR begins to leave.

BRUTUS
Wait!

CAESAR turns.

BRUTUS
Portia's conjectures held that the dead may influence the living, although not the contrary; but what of communication amongst the dead themselves---can ghosts have some impact on one another? Could you say if, when I pass from this world, I may hope to speak with you on even ground?

CAESAR
None but the dead can look to know the whole of death. However, should it ease your mind, I hope you find your answer not at length, but presently. Until such time, farewell.

Exit CAESAR.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
elviaprose
9th Feb, 2014 19:06 (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this with us! Excellent writing, as always. I think you used the form to very good effect! Polybius made a particularly good contribution, I thought (how did you decide to include him?). I enjoyed the interactions between Brutus and Caesar, and the hopeful note you end on.

P. S.
I couldn't unearth that thing by Dicax, though I tried.
fog_shadow
10th Feb, 2014 04:06 (UTC)
Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed it! It was interesting having to think about writing not merely not for the fandom, but for people who may have no more knowledge of the material than `Et tu, Brute?', and thus having to try to introduce and explain characters naturally.

I kind of absolutely had to have six people, because we needed a concluding piece that would include our entire ensemble cast. Polybius wound up being one of them largely because Plutarch does mention the epitome Brutus was writing of Polybius' histories the night before Pharsalus, so . . . he sort of already seemed like a natural companion under the circumstances; a trip into Wikipedia gave me a characteristic of his writing that I could turn into the character's shtick, and so that all worked. And, too, being a Classicist . . . well, an early draft wound up including rather more jokes about Classical historiography than was in any way rational to have (I had to explain most of those even to gig, though at least some of them still functioned as being funny without knowing all the background behind them).

`Hopeful note' - it does have that, doesn't it? I was weirded out at one point by the fact that none of the characters knows (nor did I want any of them to) that Brutus will be dead in less than 24-hours, although of course I do, and I also know that ages of historians like to make it the Death of the Republic, and . . . it was an odd mood balance to find. Gig helped a lot.

P. S.
Bother. Thanks for trying, though. I made a couple more attempts myself to no effect.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )