CHARACTER OF MARCUS BRUTUS
Brutus is the dramatic hero of the play- Julius Caesar. He is most prominent figure & almost at every stage our interest is focused on his deliberations & decisions. Shakespeare brought the nobility & virtue of Plutarch’s Brutus but has modified his character in several ways for which there is no warrant in Plutarch. Shakespeare’s Brutus is with all his estimable qualities pompous, opinionated & self-righteous. His judgment is not to be trusted. He is led by the nose by Cassius & gulled By Antony. At almost every crisis in his fortunes, he makes decisions against the advice of experienced men of the world that contribute materially to the failure of his cause. He seems completely blind to the reality, an ineffectual idealist idealist whose idealism cannot prevent him from committing a senseless & terrible crime.
In contrast to the character of Caesar which is established by incidental phrases & by implications, the character of Brutus gets established from what others & he himself speaks. Caesar declares him ‘noble’ & ‘honorable’, Caius Ligarius calls him ‘Soul of Rome’ and Casia says about him that ‘He sits high in all the people’s hearts’. We also get the glimpse when Shakespeare lets him speak for himself.
Although he has been drawn into the conspiracy by the conspirators to bind themselves by an oath & Brutus says no to the proposal, and he gives the same treatment to the suggestion regarding the involvement of Cicero in the plot. Cassius points the potential danger in sparing Antony’s life, and urges that he should fall with Caesar & Brutus turns down the suggestion which ultimately cost dear to their camp. In much the same tone Brutus, after the death of Caesar, overrides Cassius’ prudent objection to letting Antony speak in Caesar’s funeral.
In Brutus Shakespeare gives us a subtle portrait of a man divided against himself- with himself at war, to use Brutus’ own phrase. Even before his first encounter with Cassius he has been torn by the conflicting passions: his admiration for Caesar’s gift & noble qualities & his fears of his ambition, his love for Caesar as a personal friend & his sense of duty to the republic. Throughout the play, he is to some degree accompanied by this internal conflict. It is this that leads him to justice & assert so positively, this that stands behind much of his demeanor to Cassius during the quarrel, this that causes him to kill himself with a better will than that with which he slew Caesar. He is an entirely honorable man engaged in what he does not realize is a dishonorable cause & associated with unscrupulous men whose lack of principle he does not see & would not understand.
Caesar grows in the stature as the play grows, Brutus deteriorates. In his quarrel with Cassius he is irritable, undignified & unjust. Though he vehemently disputes Cassius’ claim to be the abler soldier, his reasons for engaging the enemy at Phillipi are less convincing than those of Cassius for differing the battle.
To conclude, in Julius Caesar, Brutus seems to be a man we must respect, but for whom it is difficult to feel love. Shakespeare in many ways gives him a disagreeable personality-such a personality indeed, as is not uncommon in perfectly upright men who can not see beyond their own strict code of conduct. On the other hand, he makes him act on an entirely sincere belief that he is serving his country by killing Caesar. He shows him struggling with a problem beyond his capacity to resolve. A man who committed Brutus’ crime could not be portrayed as a whole sympathetic character, but Shakespeare shows him as blind, not evil.
CHARACTER SKETCH OF JULIUS CAESAR
Julius Caesar’s part in the play is small in comparison with those of Brutus, Cassius & Antony and he cannot therefore, reveal himself fully in his speeches & actions. A good deal of what we learn about him emerges from the remarks of the other men, whose opinions of him differ widely. In piecing together the impressions that Shakespeare wishes us to form, we must depend to some degree on passing remarks, hints and implications. However, we must differentiate between reliable & prejudiced judgment on part of those who speak of him.
Shakespeare shows Caesar as the darling of the plebeians in the play. Caesar is so much “The foremost man of all this world,” as Brutus describes- that his greatness & nobility need not to be emphasized. The first scene depicts the love of the plebeians for him and in the second scene Caesar makes his appearance, attended by the leading men of Rome & followed by a great crowd.
We see at once that he is a man of immense authority. When he speaks, Casca bids every noise be still, when he gives orders, Antony says, “when Caesar says do this, it is performed.” The charge that Caesar is superstitious because he believes that if Calpurnia is touched by Antony during the ‘Holy Chase’ she may be cured of her barrenness is baseless because the belief was common to all the Romans of the day. Had he been superstitious he would not have brushed the soothsayer aside as a dreamer.
The speeches of Cassius, in which he tries to find faults with Caesar, do not detract from the greatness of Caesar; they tell us much about the littleness of Cassius. The envious malcontent who is obsessed with the sense of his inferiority to Caesar. His analysis of Cassius being dangerous is one of the most impressive passages in the play & we feel that the man who can judge his fellowmen with such penetration should rightly stand at the head of the nation.
The second act shows us the monstrous visage of the maturing conspiracy. In it we also learn much about Caesar, from an honest man who is striving to be entirely fair-minded. Brutus knows no personal cause to spurn Caesar, he says; but he has been whetted against him by Cassius. Brutus has never known Caesar to be governed by his feelings rather than his judgments & still on a purely hypothetical assumption he resolves to slay him. He has persuaded himself that he is doing it for the good of Rome. In the same scene, the charge of Decius that Caesar is susceptible to flattery does not take anything away from him because such weakness is not uncommon in great men.
In Act-III, scene ii, on the morning of assassination, Caesar as a fair-minded personality comes to light, though he initially rejects Calpurnia’s fears as the fears of common men & his arrogance in assuming that he is too great to be liable to ordinary human fears is emphasized by his referring to himself in the third person, & a little later by the manner in which he bids Decius tell the ‘grey beard senators’ that ‘he will not come’ to the session. Inspite of his firmly expressed intention of going to the senate House, he does at length agree to stay at home, but only when Calpurnia has knelt before him with the most moving entreaties to do so. But he later feels ashamed of yielding to her fear when Decius gives a different interpretation of her dream & tells him that Senate has decide to offer him the Crown.
Before his assassination, Shakespeare presents Caesar as an arrogant man & alienates some of the sympathy he has awakened in the reader, but once Caesar falls, we hear nothing but good of him & the alienated sympathy returns more permanently. With Caesar’s dying words,” Et tu Brute-then fall Caesar”, Brutus’ treachery is fully brought home & the act of the conspirators where they bathe their hands in Caesar’s blood merely disgusts us. By the end of the assassination scene Caesar has regained a great deal of sympathy & the conspirators have forfeited all our respect.
The second half of the play is dominated by Caesar’s spirit. Though his body has been stained, his spirit manifests itself in many ways, & he is never absent from the thoughts of those who slew him. Both Brutus & Cassius die with Caesar’s name on their lips.
To conclude, Shakespeare wishes us to admire his Caesar in the play. His greatness is assumed throughout the play. He has some weaknesses like ambition but it is an essential accompaniment of greatness & in his cause it is not the uncontrolled & wicked ambition of Macbeth. His physical disabilities remind us of him as a fallible human being.
“But Cassius, being a choleric man, & hating Caesar privately more than he did the tyranny openly, he incensed Brutus against him”, these words from the play seem more than any others to have been the foundation upon which Shakespeare built the character of Cassius. Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Caesar, a masterly sketch of Cassius (Act I - Sc ii) which is worthy of close study. Of course, he has other qualities than those mentioned by Caesar most of which are displayed in the second half of the play like courage in war & generalship, such things as the ability to attract loyal followers, generous sympathy for an afflicted friend, magnanimity not to hold his leaders blunder against him. But in the earlier scenes, Shakespeare is concerned to show him as the type of scheming malcontent, a man who plots the murder of great national leader. Cadaverous & hungry looking much given to brooding, & a great reader, a scorner of sports & light diversions, a very shrewd judge of human nature: such a man is Cassius, & he is a bitter & unhappy man. When he also tries to smile at all, the way in which he smiles, betrays his frustrated nature, & Caesar has the insight to see that he is very dangerous.
Yet even in the portrait of an arch-conspirator, Shakespeare compensates weakness with strength, evil qualities with good. Whenever critical decisions are Cassius prove himself more clear-sighted than Brutus; & though he allows himself each time to be overborne by Brutus with a good enough grace but had his counsels prevailed especially in regard to regard to Antony, the republican cause would have had a much greater chance of success.
In the last halfway of the play, Cassius becomes more likeable, he is just as calm as Brutus, & certainly more far seeing. It is Cassius who has our sympathy in his quarrel with Brutus, & it is he who makes the first move towards the reconciliation. He feels deeply for Brutus in the “insupportable and touching loss” of Portia & hr wholeheartedly joins with him in burying all their unkindness in a cup of wine. Thus Shakespeare seems to be recognizing that no man is wholly bad, and that Cassius may, like Brutus have acted for mistaken rather than evil motives, he somewhat softens & ennobles his character.