Brutus emerges as the most complex character in Julius Caesar and is also the play’s tragic hero. In his soliloquies, the audience gains insight into the complexities of his motives. He is a powerful public figure, but he appears also as a husband, a master to his servants, a dignified military leader, and a loving friend. The conflicting value systems that battle with each other in the play as a whole are enacted on a microcosmic level in Brutus’s mind. Even after Brutus has committed the assassination with the other members of the conspiracy, questions remain as to whether, in light of his friendship with Caesar, the murder was a noble, decidedly selfless act or proof of a truly evil callousness, a gross indifference to the ties of friendship and a failure to be moved by the power of a truly great man.
Brutus’s rigid idealism is both his greatest virtue and his most deadly flaw. In the world of the play, where self-serving ambition seems to dominate all other motivations, Brutus lives up to Antony’s elegiac description of him as “the noblest of Romans.” However, his commitment to principle repeatedly leads him to make miscalculations: wanting to curtail violence, he ignores Cassius’s suggestion that the conspirators kill Antony as well as Caesar. In another moment of naïve idealism, he again ignores Cassius’s advice and allows Antony to speak a funeral oration over Caesar’s body. As a result, Brutus forfeits the authority of having the last word on the murder and thus allows Antony to incite the plebeians to riot against him and the other conspirators. Brutus later endangers his good relationship with Cassius by self-righteously condemning what he sees as dishonorable fund-raising tactics on Cassius’s part. In all of these episodes, Brutus acts out of a desire to limit the self-serving aspects of his actions; ironically, however, in each incident he dooms the very cause that he seeks to promote, thus serving no one at all.
The conspirators charge Caesar with ambition, and his behavior substantiates this judgment: he does vie for absolute power over Rome, reveling in the homage he receives from others and in his conception of himself as a figure who will live on forever in men’s minds. However, his faith in his own permanence—in the sense of both his loyalty to principles and his fixture as a public institution—eventually proves his undoing. At first, he stubbornly refuses to heed the nightmares of his wife, Calpurnia, and the supernatural omens pervading the atmosphere. Though he is eventually persuaded not to go to the Senate, Caesar ultimately lets his ambition get the better of him, as the prospect of being crowned king proves too glorious to resist.
Caesar’s conflation of his public image with his private self helps bring about his death, since he mistakenly believes that the immortal status granted to his public self somehow protects his mortal body. Still, in many ways, Caesar’s faith that he is eternal proves valid by the end of the play: by Act V, scene iii, Brutus is attributing his and Cassius’s misfortunes to Caesar’s power reaching from beyond the grave. Caesar’s aura seems to affect the general outcome of events in a mystic manner, while also inspiring Octavius and Antony and strengthening their determination. As Octavius ultimately assumes the title Caesar, Caesar’s permanence is indeed established in some respect.
Antony proves strong in all of the ways that Brutus proves weak. His impulsive, improvisatory nature serves him perfectly, first to persuade the conspirators that he is on their side, thus gaining their leniency, and then to persuade the plebeians of the conspirators’ injustice, thus gaining the masses’ political support. Not too scrupulous to stoop to deceit and duplicity, as Brutus claims to be, Antony proves himself a consummate politician, using gestures and skilled rhetoric to his advantage. He responds to subtle cues among both his nemeses and his allies to know exactly how he must conduct himself at each particular moment in order to gain the most advantage. In both his eulogy for Caesar and the play as a whole, Antony is adept at tailoring his words and actions to his audiences’ desires. Unlike Brutus, who prides himself on acting solely with respect to virtue and blinding himself to his personal concerns, Antony never separates his private affairs from his public actions.
An idea about Shakespeare's Julius Caesar...
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I just read Julius Caesar. I liked the play, and I loved Marc Antony's funeral speech. If you're interested, check out my blog on the play:
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