Brutus is easily the most complex character in William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar. He is a powerful figure in the public’s eye, but also appears as a loving friend, a husband, a dignified military leader, a master to his servants, and a man of honor. This tragic hero’s sense of honor seems to make him a target for others to try and manipulate.
The tragedy of Julius Caesar, is mainly based on the assassination of Julius Caesar. The character who was one of the main masterminds behind this assassination was, ironically, Marcus Brutus, a senator and close friend to Caesar. On the Ides of March, as Caesar is being stabbed to death, the last words he utters are “Et tu, Brute,” (3.1.85). Caesar was heartbroken at the sight of his friend and gave up his will to fight. This shows the respect and love Caesar has for his mislead friend, Brutus. Brutus is a very well thought out man. He declares to himself that his role in the scheme is for the good of Rome. He declares to the plebeians that, “Romans, countrymen, and lovers, hear me for my / cause, and be silent that you may hear. Believe me / for mine honor, and have respect to mine honor / that you may believe. Censure me in your wisdom, / and awake your senses that you may the better / judge.
If there be any in this assembly, and any dear / friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’s love / to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend / demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this my / answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved / Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living, and / die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all / freeman? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him. As he / was fortunate, I rejoice at it. As he was valiant, I / honor him. But, as he was ambitious, I slew him. / there is tears for his love, joy for his fortune, honor / for his valor, and death for his ambition. Who is / here so base that would be a bondman? If any, / speak for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would be a Roman? If any, speak, for him / have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not / love his country? If any, speak, for him have I / offended.” (3.2.14-36). Since Brutus “loved Rome more,” (3.2.21), he decided to be apart of the conspiracy.
In this play Brutus’s rigid idealism can be described as both his greatest virtue and most deadly flaw. In the world of Julius Caesar, self-serving ambitions seem to overshadow all other motivations, Brutus lives up to Antony’s melancholy description of him as “the noblest of Romans” (5.5.74). However, his commitment to his principle of honor repeatedly leads him make miscalculations. When Cassius comes to warn Brutus about letting Atony speak at Caesar’s funeral saying, “You know not what you do. Do not consent / That Antony speak in his funeral / Know you how much the people will be moved / By that which he will utter” (3.1.255-259). In this moment of naive idealism, he ignores Cassius’s plea and allows Antony to speak a funeral oration over Caesar’s body.
As a result, Brutus loses the authority of having the last word and thus allows Antony to motivate the plebeians into rioting against him and the other conspirators. Brutus later threatens his good relationship with Cassius by self-righteously condemning what he sees as dishonorable, exclaiming, “Let me tell you, you yourself / are much condemned to have an itching palm, / to sell and mart your offices for gold / to undeservers” (4.3.9-12). In these two episodes, Brutus acts out of a desire to limit the self-serving aspects of his actions; however, in each incident he ironically dooms the very cause he seeks to promote, thus serving none at all.
Marcus Brutus’s sense of honor makes him an easy target for manipulation in the play, Julius Caesar. This tragic hero works for the good of Rome and is blinded by his ambitions. These ambitions ultimately lead to the death of his close friend and his own.
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