Conversations in Tusculum
Porcia, thirties, his wife and cousin
Cassius, forties, his brother-in-law
Servilla, late fifties, his mother
Syrus, forties, an actor
The play takes place from May 45 B.C. to September that same year.
Tusculum, a small village outside Rome
* * *
Tusculum, a town in the Alban Hills, fifteen miles southeast of Rome, is home to many country villas owned by wealthy and politically well-connected Romans.
May. 45 B.C. Brutus’s villa in Tusculum. Night. A garden lit by a few oil lamps.
Brutus: (forties) and Cassius (forties) sit on benches in the garden. They have been drinking and talking for quite some time.
Cassius: I’m not sure what I’d actually expected—
Brutus: I’m so pleased we’re finally talking about this.
Cassius: I’m always thinking about it. Trying to figure it out. What it means. Or meant. What it says about me.
Brutus: Me too. So…
Cassius: So, well, I’d done pretty much everything I could to defeat him and he knew that. But in an odd— He seemed to respect that. Soldier to soldier.
Brutus: I know. Does he really mean it?
Cassius: Who knows? Then—he pardons me. He asks me for nothing. Treats me like a— One of his own. Does all he can to promote me . . . You lose the feeling that there’s ground under your feet, you just.
Pause. Off, some dogs bark.
Brutus: I’ve never told this to anyone.
Cassius: Neither have—
Brutus: What I’m about to say. (short pause) After the battle—it was…every which way. I—with a few men—we waded into a swamp. And through the whole night we sort of walked? Pushed our way? Swam? Toward Caesar. To surrender? I don’t know what I could have been expecting. (short pause) At his camp—they don’t kill me right away. I assume they’ll want—to show me off. They throw me into a small room. No light. I’m there for—I don’t know: half a day? Then—he walks in. Breastplate polished, helmet in his hands, No one with him. He closes the door. There’s hardly any light at all—except through the cracks in the wall of that hut, and the door. He says, “I understand you asked to clean yourself, Brutus—for me. Before meeting me. But I want to see you like this. Covered in mud and filth.” (short pause) I tried to stand. “Stay there. On the ground. Your mother,” he says. “I’ve written her. To tell her you’re alive. She’s asked about a hundred times. Servilia is a good woman—we’re both lucky men. . .“ Then he’s behind me and he sort of knees me in the head. “Why?” he shouts at me. “Why did you do this, Brutus? Since when did you want to become a soldier? What happened to your books? To say nothing—of your investments.”
Pause. Brutus looks at Cassius.
I’m not a greedy man.
Cassius: Of course not. He knows—
Brutus: I’m an honest man!
Cassius: He knows how to make us feel small. Feel like nothing.
Brutus: Then I think he kicked me in the side of the face, and I’m lying down. “For god’s sake—Pompey killed your own father! Why side with such a man? With him over me?! I have been kind.”
Cassius: Did you try to answer him?
Brutus: “I thought it was the right thing to do—for my country,” I said. “Which is greater than any one of us. Where no man—is master.” No one answers him back now.
Brutus: So he looks at me, and then: “So I should just pardon you? That’s why you waded all night through a swamp? Someone so close, so close to me—someone who has—betrayed me?” (pause) “That was a question,” he says. “What happens to me,” I say, “I leave to Caesar.” (short pause) “I should slit your throat, then. Or perhaps,” he continued, “as you are now such a man of principle— whatever that means—I could just leave a sword behind.” I nodded and held out my hand for the sword.
Cassius: You did?
Brutus: At least I did that. “No,” he says. “No, I will keep you alive—not because of your mother and the love and respect I have for her. Alive. And—promote you.” Just like with you.
Cassius: It’s good to know I’m not alone.
Brutus: Then to seal the deal, to put me permanently in his—debt? His purse? To own me like a slave.
Cassius: We are all now Caesar’s slaves.
Brutus: He tells me, “Pompey, I’ve learned, is on his way to Egypt. I shall chase him there and spread the word—that it was you who told me this, who’d betrayed him.”
Cassius: You didn’t?
Cassius: Everyone thinks you—
Brutus: I know. I know. “And,” he says, “outside this hut are five hundred prisoners, good men, some who fought with you, Brutus. Some who waded through that swamp last night with you. Excellent men. Worth their weight in gold. I want one out of every ten killed. As a lesson. Sever the heads, cut off the hands. Not necessarily in that order. Marcus Brutus, my dear friend, my new ally—I want you to choose who lives and who dies. Here’s the list. Make your mark.” And he lets the paper float to the floor. I watch it. It seems to take forever. I hear footsteps and the door close behind him. A captain was there a second later—requesting my orders. (short pause) I tried to find some criteria to— Age? Number of children? I tried a lottery. The more I worked at this, the more I just smelled the rotting stench of Caesar on me. I don’t sleep much anymore.
Cassius: But then again, we are alive. Pompey would never have been so generous to—
Brutus: If “generous” is the word. Perhaps the word is “cruel.” I don’t know. I don’t know. (pause) It must be the country air.
Cassius: What must?
Brutus: Would we ever have spoken like this in Rome? No one’s listening here. No one passing by. Here in Tusculum things seem clearer. Or maybe it’s just the relief of talking about it.
Cassius: (looking around) It is nice. You can forget that all this is here—waiting . . .
Brutus: I don’t think I ever want to go back to Rome.
Cassius: Maybe I’ll stay longer.
Brutus: Do. Send for your son. Do some fishing. Teach him something. Remind yourself—that you’re living.
Pause. Dogs bark again.
Cassius: I should go; it’s very late. If I’m going to get any sleep tonight—
Brutus: It’s too late, stay here—
Cassius: I have my dogs. It’s a short walk over the hill.
Brutus: I’ll get someone to—
Cassius: I’m fine. Please. The walk will maybe sober me.
Brutus: Is that what we are—drunk?
Cassius: I’m sorry to have missed Cicero. Something must have come up along the way.
Dogs louder. Porcia (thirties) enters.
Porcia: He’s just arrived.
Brutus: Now? At this hour? He shouldn’t have been on the road now.
Porcia: He’s here.
Cassius: (at the same time) It’s late for me. I’ll come back in the morning—
Brutus: Stay and—
Porcia: He knew we were expecting him.
Cassius: (to Brutus)No, no. I can see this evening’s just getting started again. I couldn’t— I must get to bed. I’ll be back. Good night Good night.
He starts to hurry off, stops.
And thank you—for urging me to come out here. To the countryside. You are right, I think it does help us see things—clearer.
He hurries off
Porcia: (as Brutus starts to stand) No need to rush. Cicero’s talking with Syrus, who heard the dogs. And catching up on all the Roman gossip.
Will he be safe getting home?
Brutus: He has his dogs. And how is Cicero? How does he seem?
Porcia: (stating the obvious) Like a man who’s lost his only daughter.
They go, as dogs bark off.