Potential For Evil In William Shakespeare’s epic tale of

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Max Gould

Potential For Evil

In William Shakespeare’s epic tale of Julius Caesar, the ruler of the Roman Empire is betrayed by his closest friends and greatest advisors. Fearing the worst in Caesar, these conspirators convince Marcus Brutus to conspire with them in their treachery to prevent Caesar’s ambition from turning to tyranny. Though Brutus loves Caesar greatly, as Mark Antony acknowledges in the lines, “Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel”, Cassius fans the flame of Brutus’ doubt into a righteous conflagration culminating in Caesar’s murder. However, Brutus remains uncertain to the last, even as Caesar is murdered Brutus hesitates, the last to steep his dagger in that noble blood. “I do fear the people choose Caesar for their king”, Brutus and the conspirators condemn Caesar not for any crime he committed, but for his potential for evil which, as all things, is balanced by his capacity for good. Condemning a man to death, for nothing more than his potential for destruction, is wrong. Brutus, Cassius, and the rest of the conspirators were wrong to murder Caesar for nothing more than his perceived ambition.

During the course of the play, Caesar does little to provoke the treachery he receives, showing barely any sign of tyrannical behavior. Though in the Senate House Caesar’s stubborn refusal to repeal the sentence of banishment upon Publius Cimber suggests growing arrogance, “I could be well mov’d, if I were as you… But I am constant as the northern star, of whose true-fix’d and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament”, but this in itself is not tyrannical behavior, and the conspirators were already intent on murdering Caesar long before. Caesar’s behavior prior to the murder in fact, was quite contrary to his perceived ambition. At the feast of Lupercal, Caesar refused a coronet offered to him by Mark Antony three times. Though the coronet holds no real authority, it represents the power of a supreme ruler, and Julius Caesar’s refusal belies the conspirators’ claims of his ambition. Casca claims that Caesar was “very loath to lay his fingers off it”, but despite this, Caesar still refuses the coronet, showing his understanding of the significance of the event. By refusing the coronet because power corrupts, Caesar shows that he is less likely to become a tyrant because he is intelligent enough to understand the difference. Furthermore, Antony proves that Caesar had not as yet lost any of his generosity or love for the Roman people by reading his will. “To every Roman citizen he gives, to every several man, seventy-five drachmaes… Moreover, he hath left you all his walks, his private arbours and new-planted orchards… to walk abroad [in] and recreate yourselves.” Ambition in itself is not a crime; this will suggests that Caesar may have sought power for the betterment of Rome, and not for tyranny. Caesar may have been ambitious, but was no tyrant, and showed little evidence of becoming one.

Brutus and Cassius would still have been wrong to kill Caesar even if they had been given good reason to fear him. Because Caesar had, as of yet, shown no definite tyrannical behavior when the conspirators plotted their treacherous actions, they were condemning the man for what he might become. Ambition does not inexorably lead to tyranny; it is simply a means to it. By murdering Caesar for being ambitious, the conspirators were prosecuting him, not for any action he did, but for his potential for actions to come. Though Caesar might very well have become a tyrant, killing him stripped him of any chance to prove his innocence. Cassius might believe that Caesar would grow too powerful to kill if left alive to reveal the kind of ruler he would have become. However, as the conspirators are all already close friends and advisors of Caesar, killing him would not prove much more difficult were he an emperor of all Rome. Caesar deserved the opportunity to reveal the purpose behind his apparently ambitious nature, as every man deserves the chance to explain his actions. Killing Caesar for his potential of becoming a tyrant, even given his ambitious nature, was a cruel and viscous act on the part of Brutus and the conspirators.

Julius Caesar is accused of being ambitious despite his refusal of the coronet in Act I. Though Cassius convinces Brutus that Caesar would have become a tyrant, the revelation of his will by Antony suggests that he was a different kind of man. Though Caesar may truly have been ambitious, but there was nothing to suggest that he would have used power irresponsibly. Though Caesar never acted in a way to deserve treachery, the conspirators feared his potential for evil, ignored the potential for good also inherent in power, and prosecuted him for crimes he never visited upon the people of Rome. The conspirators were fundamentally wrong to murder Julius Caesar, because betraying a man only for what he is capable of doing is immoral and wrong.

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