Brutus in Julius Caesar | Character Analysis

Brutus in Julius Caesar | Character Analysis

Character Sketch of Brutus in Julius Caesar

Marcus Brutus is certainly the hero of the play, Julius Caesar. Brutus stands out most prominently in the action of the play, even though Caesar dominates the play by his personality and the ultimate success of Caesarism. It is Brutus who wins our highest admiration and our deepest sympathy. Caesar too wins our admiration and our sympathy, but to a very limited extent.

Brutus’s Nobility, His Most Striking Quality

The most striking trait of Brutus’s character as depicted in Shakespeare’s play is his nobility. Indeed, this is one trait in his character which cannot be questioned or doubted. Almost everybody in the play expresses a high opinion about him; and this high opinion is based upon the nobility of the man. Cassius, speaking to himself says:

“Well Brutus, thou art noble”.

Cinna asks Cassius whether the “noble Brutus” has agreed to join the conspiracy against Caesar. Casca says that Brutus “sits high in all the people’s hearts” because of his nobility. Antony at the end describes Brutus as the noblest Roman of them all. Not only Cassius but every one of the other conspirators also thinks that, if Brutus joins the conspiracy, it would be a great gain for them because Brutus’s participation would mean that the people would afterwards approve of the action taken by the conspirators against Caesar.

Brutus’s Vast Influence in Rome

The name of Brutus commands great respect in Rome. Indeed, his influence over the minds and hearts of the people in general is vast. The conspirators also look to him as their leader even though the conspiracy was started by Cassius. Men like Caius Ligarius follow Brutus’s lead blindly. When Caesar has been assassinated, the conspirators call upon Brutus to lead them and to go to the pulpit in order to explain to the people why Caesar had been murdered. Indeed, Brutus’s influence is paramount: and his influence arises from the undisputed nobility of his character. Brutus is justified in saying towards the end of the play that he had found no man who was untrue to him. People’s loyalty to him is based upon his nobility and integrity. With a few words which he speaks to the mob after the assassination of Caesar, he wins their fullest approval of this deed, even though soon afterwards Antony succeeds in nullifying the effect of his arguments.

His Love of Liberty and His Republicanism

Brutus deserves high praise also because of his genuine love of common welfare and his championship of the rights of the people. Both by his family traditions and by his own convictions, he is an upholder of the republican principle and a firm opponent of dictatorship and kingship. When Cassius begins talking to him about the growing danger from Caesar, Brutus has already been feeling worried by thoughts of Caesar’s increasing power. He clearly tells Cassius that he does not want Caesar to become a king even though he otherwise loves Caesar. In other words, he is willing to subordinate his love of Caesar to his love of liberty. If Caesar becomes a king and acquires dictatorial powers, he would surely encroach upon that freedom which seems to Brutus to be essential for the welfare of the Romans.

As a king and as a dictator, Caesar would no longer remain gentle or generous but would become a tyrant who would crush the rights of the people. After all, this Brutus is a descendant of that ancestor who had driven out the Tarquin from Rome. In joining the conspiracy started by Cassius. he is not at all prompted by any personal envy of Caesar or by any personal grudge against him or by any personal ambition of his own. Antony makes this point clear at the end of the play when he says that all the conspirators with the sole exception of Brutus had joined the conspiracy from personal and selfish motives.

Brutus’s Wrong Judgment to Human Nature

Brutus is an idealist who is incapable of understanding human nature. He cannot anticipate how other people will act in the future, and he is unable to read the motives of others even when they are talking to him in the present Cassius talks to him about Caesar’s infirmities and about the possibility of Caesar becoming a tyrant; but Brutus does not in the least understand what Cassius’s real motive is. This is Brutus’s chief fault and his chief handicap. He does not understand the working of the minds of other people. It does not occur to him that Cassius may be having some personal resentment against Caesar. Being true and honest himself, he believes that others too are true and honest. He takes the statements of other people at their face value. The result is that he misreads the characters of almost all with whom he comes into contact. He misjudges the character of Antony whom he regards as a pleasure-loving man not much interested in affairs of the State. This misjudgment is the biggest cause of Brutus’s downfall especially because this misjudgment leads him to permit Antony to address the mob just after he has himself addressed them. He had misjudged Cassius who was able to lure him into the conspiracy. He misjudges the mob and addresses them in a laboured, argumentative style as if each person in the mob possessed the trained intellect of a philosopher. He misjudges even his own wife because he thinks that he can hide his mental disquiet from her.

A man so devoid of insight into human nature is bound to fail when he leaves his books and goes out to act. The world, in which Brutus feels at home, is the world of speculation, meditation, and study; and therefore he would find himself at a great disadvantage in the world of realities. That is why Brutus’s public career proves to be a series of errors and mistakes. It was a mistake on his part not to have agreed to the murder of Antony along with the murder of Caesar. It is a mistake on his part to allow Antony to address the mob. It is a mistake on his part to insist on marching to Philippi instead of waiting for the enemy at Sardis. At one point in the course of the battle he makes the mistake of giving an order prematurely and afterwards not preventing his soldiers from plundering the local property. He is even mistaken in not extorting money from the farmers for the sake of the cause for which he is fighting and for which he had murdered his best friend. Indeed, the tragedy of Brutus is a tragedy of errors: and the errors are largely due to his idealism and his love of moral perfection.

Brutus’s Theoretical Wisdom

Brutus is a philosopher whose talk abounds in wise statements which are so worded as to sound like maxims of conduct. There is no other character in Shakespearean drama who utters so many guiding principles of conduct. His style of speaking is pithy and condensed as becomes clear in his speech to the mob and also later when he tells Cassius that there is a tide in the affairs of men, etc, etc. His speeches ate full of wisdom but he often misapplies his wisdom to the particular situations with which he is faced.

Furthermore, his character is marked by a certain want of steadiness of character. He condemns suicide in principle, but soon afterwards he himself commits suicide.

Brutus: A Stoic Philosopher

Brutus is a stoic philosopher. This means that he stands firm and resolute in the face of all happenings, good or evil. For instance, he endures the death of his beloved wife with exceptional courage and fortitude. And he remains firm and unmoved in the face of his approaching defeat in battle. In the quarrel scene he certainly behaves in a manner which is far from stoical; but even here he soon cools down and then rightly tells Cassius that he carries anger just as the flint bears fire.

Brutus’s Gentleness

Brutus’s character is marked by a gentleness which is almost like the gentleness of a lamb. This gentleness appears most clearly in his relations with his wife and in his treatment of his boy-servant. And this quality reveals itself also in the quarrel scene when he quickly responds to Cassius’s apology and feels fully reconciled with him. This gentleness imparts to his character much beauty and sweetness. And yet, in an o all assessment of his character, we cannot forget that in betraying his friendship with Caesar he had committed a highly objectionable deed. The stigma of assassination does attach to his name, especially because he had no definite and tangible ground for joining the conspiracy, and because he had made common cause with the conspirators merely on the basis of the presumption that Caesar would soon become a dictator and a tyrant.

His Tender Affection for His Wife

The domestic scene between Brutus and Portia shows Brutus to be a loving husband who has a great regard for his wife’s feelings. When Portia says that he is treating her as if she were his harlot, not his wife, he replies tenderly that she is his true and honourable wife, as dear to him as the drops of blood which visit his sad heart. When she urges him to tell her his secret thoughts, he says:

“O ye gods,

Render me worthy of this noble wife.”

Later in the play, when Portia dies, Brutus feels overwhelmed by grief; but he endures the misfortune with stoical courage. Here we perceive a heroic trait in him. He is a stoic philosopher.

His Failure to Perceive the Danger from Antony

In dealing with Antony, Brutus shows the same ignorance of the practical realities of life as he had previously shown when the conspiracy was discussed by him with his fellow-conspirators. Having spared Antony’s life, he now shows himself to be more than willing to negotiate with Antony the terms of an agreement.

Blunders committed by Brutus

Apart from the laboured, argumentative speech Brutus delivers, he commits a great blunder in departing from the market-place immediately afterwards, and leaving the field clear for Antony; and Antony takes full advantage of this situation. Subsequently Brutus falls out with Cassius who is his only powerful ally in the war against Antony and Octavius. Here once again Brutus shows himself to be an idealist.

His Grief and Kind-heartedness

Brutus feels deeply touched by Cassius’s death, and his grief at this time is genuine. Looking at Cassius’s dead body, he says that Cassius was the last of the great Romans, and that it is impossible for Rome to produce another man like him (Cassius). He further says that he owes more tears to this dead man than he would be shedding just now. Time has now come for Brutus to kill himself. Finding him dead, Antony refers to him as the noblest Roman of them all. He further says that all the conspirators, with the sole exception of Brutus, had joined the conspiracy in envy of Caesar, and that only Brutus joined the conspiracy

“in a general honest thought and common good to all.”

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