Julius Caesar

by: William Shakespeare


For let the gods so speed as I love
The name of honor more than I fear death (I.ii)

Here, Brutus remarks to Cassius that he would readily sacrifice his life for the greater good. Honor in Julius Caesar is synonymous with bravery and selflessness. This is why Brutus is considered honorable by nearly every character in the play: he is earnestly committed to public service and the overall good of his country. It is precisely this virtue that Cassius exploits for his own aims. “I see thou honorable mettle may be wrought” Cassius says of Brutus at the end of Act I, scene 2. And sure, enough, by forging the letter from the plebeians (who beg Brutus to stand up to Caesar), Cassius appeals to Brutus’ honor, which serves to ensnare him in the conspiracy. Tragically, it is Brutus’ great virtue that contributes to his death and to the Civil War.

We are two lions littered in one day,
And I the elder and more terrible,
And Caesar shall go forth (II.ii)

Here, as Calpurnia urges him not to go to the Senate, Caesar compares himself to “danger” using the metaphor of twin lions. Caesar insists that he is the bigger and more terrible of the twins. All of this is a way to show off how honorable he is. As with Brutus, honor for Caesar means bravery and strength. Skipping a requisite Senate visit on account of his wife’s premonitions implies fear and cowardice, and these would make him appear dishonorable. This emphasizes the performative nature of honor. Caesar would heed Calpurnia’s warning were it not for the fact that he would look weak to the world. Again, like Brutus, Caesar’s vain sense of honor leads to his death.

It is more worthy to leap in ourselves,
Than tarry till they push us (V.v)

Realizing that the end is near, Brutus decides the most honorable way to go is suicide and so asks Strato to hold his sword while he runs into it. Again, in this scene honor connotes self-pride. It is more “honorable” for Brutus to save face and take his own life than it is to be captured and appear weak. Because Brutus does not fear death, he is deemed brave, self-possessed, and a model of Roman virtue. On the other hand, Cassius orders someone else to do the deed, and before dying, covers his face so as not to see the sword swing down on him. Both are signs of fear and cowardice, and both serve to paint his death in a dishonorable light.

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