One of the most significant characters within Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is that of Brutus, a very complex individual whose actions have significant impact upon the events on the play. This paper examines the character of Brutus and assesses both the good and bad elements of his character. A critique of how these qualities present inner conflict within Brutus is offered together with an explanation of the ways in which these conflicts manifest themselves.
It is the intention of this paper to prove that despite the fact that Brutus was able to murder his closest friends, he is essentially a moral man who maintained his honor to the end. One of the most significant elements of Brutus’ character is his strict ideals. He is a nobleman, “the noblest of Romans” (V. v. 75) who is strongly guided and influenced by matters of honor. He demonstrates a continual obsession with acting in a way that is right and just and speaks regularly of the need to create a republic in Rome that is ruled by the votes of the senate as opposed to a single dictator.
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This creates a problem in his relationship with Caesar. Despite their close friendship, Brutus is concerned that Caesar will rise to power and then commit an act of betrayal by enforcing a dictatorship on the people of Rome, “climber-upward... He then unto the ladder turns his back... " (II. ii. 24,26). It is clear that, for Brutus, his moral and ethical ideals are of higher importance than his friendship and love for Caesar and thus he is able to commit the inhumane act of murder.
However, whilst the murder itself is wrong, the fact that Brutus himself believes so strongly in the fact that his actions are for the good of Rome, entails that he does, to an extent, maintain his honor. Brutus’ single minded obsession with morality entails that he can be easily persuaded by others to carry out their will, provided it is presented as being for the good of Rome. This reveals a further, negative, element to his character; he is naive. Cassius is able to manipulate Brutus’ obsession with honor in order to persuade him to murder Caesar, an ironic turn of events that on face value is anything but honorable.
Brutus fails to recognize that he is being used by Cassius and Antony and seems to accept everything on face value, failing to question facts or consider the possibility that he could be deceived. This can be seen in the way he blindly accepts the letters from Cassius as being sent from the people of Rome and thus demonstrative of their will for Cesar to be removed. His nativity entails that he allows others to play upon his ideals in order to convince him to perform the act of murder. Despite the fact this murder causes him anguish, “Our hearts you see not; they are pitiful; and pity to the general wrong of Rome...
" (III, i, 185-186), he allows Cassius and Anthony to convince him that committing such acts will win the hearts of the people of Rome, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. " (III. ii. 21-24). Brutus’ gullibility is something that he carries with him to the grave, even on his deathbed he believes that he has shared his life with true and honorable men, "My heart doth joy that yet in all my life I found no man but he was true to me" (V. v. 38-39). Such a naive and trusting nature allows the audience to perceive Brutus as honorable.
He is innocent and trusting and truly believes that he is acting on behalf of the people of Rome. A further negative element of Brutus’ character is his poor judgment. He believes that he will win the support of the people of Rome because he acts in their interests. This is evident when he addresses the Roman citizens in the forum and in his general treatment of the Roman crowds. He incorrectly perceives them as intelligent individuals who will be able to understand his reasoned approach to the murder of Caesar. However, the reality is that the crowd is not able to understand his intellect and is thus left vulnerable to the words of Antony.
Here, despite Cassius’ advice to the contrary, he allows Antony to have the last word at the funeral and is thus once again betrayed as a direct result of his naivety. Antony is able to utilize Brutus’ words and actions against him and generate hatred and animosity in the crowd. The same crowd that Brutus judged to be reasonable and intellectual. A further significant component of Brutus’ character is that of his philosophical nature. He is a believer in Stoicism, a philosophy that dictates living side by side with nature and existing in a carefree and indifferent manner. Such a philosophy manifests itself in an unemotional manner.
This can be observed when Brutus hears of the death of his beloved wife and simply replies, “Why farewell Portia, We must die, Messala" (IV. iii. 218). His stoic nature can be seen as a possible explanation for the way in which he is able to restrict his focus to the political and ethical reasons for his murder of Caesar. Brutus’ stoic nature is further enhanced by the fact that he is able to put the good of the public before his own personal feelings. He does not think of Caesar as a man or a friend, but as a political entity, a future dictator, who threatens the good of Rome.
This is one possible explanation for why he appears to show no grief for the acts he has committed or for his dead friend; he is too entrenched in his political objectives. The political focus of Brutus’ character proves to be a further flaw that allows others to use him to their advantage. His apparent lack of emotion is something that Cassius is able to utilize when he addresses the crowd and convinces them that Brutus is inherently bad. As readers though we have an insight into Brutus’ actions and understand the causes for his lack of emotion.
He is so intent on doing what he believes to be right that, in our eyes, he maintains an honorable image. One of Brutus’ biggest faults is his inflexible nature. His stubbornness and inability to adapt to the events that occur ultimately leads to his downfall. Despite the fact that he is so politically focused, he fails to play the game of politics himself and thus leaves himself open to manipulation. Unlike Antony and Cassius, he is unable to strategically plan the best means of achieving his intentions, instead acting upon his blind faith that what he is doing is what the people want.
However, although this is a flaw, it is something that maintains his honor; he is not a cheat or a conspirator at heart. This paper has discussed a number of Brutus’ character traits, both good and bad. A number of his qualities both serve in his favor and lead to his downfall. Whilst he is trusting, true to his beliefs and resolute, his naivety, poor judgment and single mindedness entail that he leaves himself vulnerable to the dishonest actions of those around him.
However, it is such naivety that allows the readers to maintain an image of Brutus as an honorable man, who tries to act in the best interests of his people. The last word on the character of Brutus is expressed extremely well by the words of Mark Antony: “This was the noblest Roman of them all:? All the conspirators, save only he? Did that they did in envy of great Caesar,? He, only in a general honest thought? And common good to all, made one of them” (V,V, 68-72) For the characters in the play, and for the reader, Brutus maintains an element of honorability that even his most disgraceful acts cannot eradicate.
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