The Most Noble Brutus?
“E tu Brute? Then fall Caesar!” perhaps the most famous line from the play Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. This exclamation of the betrayal of Caesar’s closest friend, Brutus, who aided in taking down Caesar which threw Rome into political turmoil. The root cause of this political turmoil was in fact the weakness held by the character of Brutus. Brutus was easily tricked by the members of the conspiracy, allowing him to fall into the trap of aiding in the effort to assassinate the leader of Rome, Julius Caesar; a spark that started small and burst into a raging fire. Brutus made many political errors due to his lack of experience and knowledge in the political world; this would be the equivalent of adding fuel to a fire. Now, with Brutus’ misunderstanding of human nature, the fire has spread, scorching Rome and leading the citizens to question all that Brutus stands for. Brutus’ self righteousness is the final straw that not only has (metaphorically) set Rome a blaze, but has released the hidden dragon to devastate the unsuspecting city. The weakness of the character of Brutus was the cause of the political turmoil in Rome.
Brutus was easily fooled by the conspirators and therefore instead of putting an end to the conspiracy, Brutus was duped into joining. Brutus was made an easy target to coax into joining the conspiracy due to his extreme nationalism. In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, Brutus says, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I love Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.” (45). Brutus did not join the conspiracy out of hatred for Caesar but rather out of his love for Rome. Brutus tells the audience and those on stage that he is completely devoted to Rome and the well being of the Roman people, willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the order he holds dear. Cassius took advantage of the morals that Brutus held so high, freedom, honor, and self-control, by doing so; Cassius was able to push Brutus into joining the conspiracy (Rackin 6). Due to Brutus’ sense of moral duty, the conspiracy was able to thrive. Cassius exploited Brutus by convincing Brutus that Rome would not be able to function with such a rule as Julius Caesar, Brutus’ need to uphold his moral values forced Brutus into the trap of joining the conspiracy. Another technique Cassius used to trick Brutus into joining the conspiracy was the use of falsified letters said to have been written by citizens of Rome. Hongimann state this fact perfectly when he wrote, “Of Brutus’ many mistakes, however, the one that works most insidiously against him is the first, being duped by the papers thrown in at his windows” (3). Hongimann explains that out of every bad choice Brutus made throughout the play, being tricked so easily by these falsified letters was most certainly a leading cause to the political turmoil in Rome that went as far as a bloody civil war. The letters that sparked such a reaction in Brutus were relatively simple, merely stating, “Brutus, thou sleep’st: awake, and see thyself. / Shall Rome, etc. Speak, strike, redress. / Brutus thou sleep’st: awake” (Shakespeare 19). This letter sent to Brutus reprimands Brutus for not being able to see the evil that stands straight in front of him, claiming that Brutus is so oblivious the problem that it is as if Brutus is asleep. This combined with Brutus’ underlying doubts of Caesar and Caesar’s motives give Brutus the push that led him into joining the conspiracy. Brutus is unable to find an evil in the situation other than the ambition of Caesar, Brutus’ dear friend, and if Caesar is evil and is not in favor of Rome, then Brutus must stop Caesar (Rackin 6). Brutus’ mentality is that if Caesar is a threat to Rome, Caesar should not be allowed to continue on. Brutus treasures Rome and therefore is willing to go to extreme lengths to protect Rome, even killing his closest friend, Caesar. Brutus even states, “And therefore thinking him as a serpent’s egg/ Which, hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous/ And kill him in the shell” (Shakespeare 19). Brutus here states that Caesar may not be an immediate threat but it is certain that Caesar will grow in evil. Therefore, according to Brutus, it is in the best interest of Rome that Caesar is disposed of before he has the chance to pose a threat. Brutus easily fell into the trap set by the conspirators, joining the conspiracy instead of putting an end to it.
Brutus is not a natural leader; he is ignorant in the world of politics oblivious to twisted words and playacting. Brutus made to amateur mistake of allowing Mark Antony to speak at the funeral of Caesar. The mistake of allowing Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral was a simple political mistake that gave Antony that ability to speak the last words (Evans 77). This allowed Antony to twist the minds of the crowd, carefully planting doubt in the minds of the citizens of Rome. Antony used phrases in an almost sarcastic and ironic manner to do so. For example, Antony says, “But Brutus says he was ambitious/ And Brutus is an honourable man” (Shakespeare 46-47). By adding slight sarcasm to his words, Antony is able to grow doubt in the minds of the crowd, making the citizens of Rome not only question the actions of the conspirators but their motives as well. In addition to simple political errors, Brutus was far too honest and naïve to be a strong leader. Brutus would always fall short of Caesar due to his honesty and his inability to lie and act convincingly (Evans 75). Brutus is unable to be a good politician because he is unable to convince and manipulate people by means of acting, telling the shortened truth and twisting words in his favor, much like Antony had done so successfully at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus’ actions are based upon his sense of justice and what he believe to be the best, ironically these decisions turn out to be the wrong decisions in spite of Brutus’ intentions (Evans 76). Brutus attempts to do what he believes is in the best interest of Rome, these actions turn out to be wrong, therefore harming Rome despite Brutus’ intentions. Another reason for Brutus’ weakness in being a leader in his failure to eliminate the entire threat; killing only Caesar and brushing off Antony. “Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius, / To cut the head off then hack the limbs, / Like wrath in death and envy afterwards, / For Antony is but a limb of Caesar. / Let us be sacrificers but not butchers, Caius” (Shakespeare 23). Brutus compares Caesar to the head of some sort of beast, thinking that all that needs to be done is to cut off the head, wrongfully so. Also, Brutus does not allow the conspirators to kill Antony, think him on a follower of Caesar, oblivious to the true threat Antony poses. Brutus also has the arrogance to believe that by killing Caesar, he has done Antony a favor, freeing Antony of Caesar (Rackin 1). Brutus was convinced that by killing Caesar, the evil would be vanquished from Rome and there would be nothing left to obstruct the greatness of Rome, a childish thought on his part. Brutus was a weak leader, his decisions and political practices laving much to be desired.
Brutus does not have a good understanding of the mindsets of others, therefore making decisions that make sense to him without realizing that others do not see his decisions the same way. Brutus makes the crucial error of thinking that everyone has the same opinions as he does. In The Pride of Shakespeare’s Brutus, Rackin states, “It is often remarked that Brutus’ speech is designed for an audience of Brutuses…Brutus acts as if he lives in a world of Brutuses and that he persists in this opinion even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary” (5). Rackin describes perfectly how Brutus is convinced that all the citizens of Rome think in the same way that he does, oblivious to the fact that the way he sees his actions and decisions are not the way that all other people view his actions and decisions. Many of the mistakes made by Brutus sprouted from the wrongful assumption the Rome supported him (Hongimann 3). Brutus reassured himself and justified his actions with the false assumption that he was supported fully by Rome and that his actions were for the betterment of Rome. Brutus also attempted to make decisions that were far beyond his scope of knowledge. Instead of using the facts that lay before him, Brutus used his own opinions and idea (Hudson 2). Brutus ignored the truths and crucial facts that were set out in front of him, using his own beliefs to make decisions. Such an error cost him greatly, as the audience of the play realizes what is occurring; the trust held for Brutus dissipates due to his wrongful decisions based not upon fact but upon belief alone. In the article Shakespeare’s Characters: Brutus (Julius Caesar) by Henry Norman Hudson, Hudson wrote, “Here we have an instance of a very good man doing a very bad thing; and, withal, a wise man acting most unwisely because his wisdom knows not its place” (Hudson 3). Hudson superlatively states how Brutus misplaces his wisdom, wrongfully making decisions. Hudson also elegantly worded the situation Brutus was in, a good man corrupted by bad decisions. Brutus’ disregard for cause and effect are shown with mistakes that cause the judgment of Brutus to come into question. “…Brutus becomes an intellectual who makes mistakes- far too many mistakes- until we question not merely his judgment but his motives… If we follow Brutus from one mistake to the nest, however, his motives will strike us as less than respectable” (Hongimann 2). The faith the audience has in Brutus diminishes after each mistake he makes, after every questionable choice made that leads to the political turmoil in Rome. Brutus wrongfully made decisions on his beliefs and ideals without regard to the opinions of others.
The self-righteousness of Brutus aided in leading Brutus down the path to his failure. Although Brutus was loyal to his country, he was corrupted by arrogance and self-importance. Contrary to Shakespeare’s portrayal of Brutus being the noblest Roman, Brutus as shallow and harsh (“Marcus” 3). Brutus was not as noble as Shakespeare played him to be, he may have had Rome in mind but was too stubborn and arrogant to ask for help or let others do the work; even if they were better suited. In addition, Brutus was tainted severely by his self-importance (Hongimann 3). Brutus let his own self-importance cloud his views and judgment, ignorant to the wrong choices and harm caused by said bad choices. Brutus’ self-righteous actions led to the civil war that erupted between the conspirators and Antony and Octavian. In his article, Hongimann Sympathy for Brutus, Hongimann stated, “…Brutus’ high-minded reflectiveness gradually shades off into self-righteousness, even arrogance, and how inevitably everything leads into the quarrel-scene” (6). Hongimann describes how Brutus fails to see through his arrogance, thus causing the civil war. Hudson’s analysis agrees with Hongimann in Hudson’s statement, “Thus the course of Brutus serves no end but to set on foot another civil war, which naturally hastens and assures the very thing he sought to prevent” (3). Brutus failed at achieving his goal, for after murdering Caesar, Rome was sent into political turmoil that launched a civil war which cost Brutus his life. Brutus ignores the crime of his actions, justifying that his actions would bring about change for the better. Brutus focuses on the merit of his cause without regard to lesser chance caused by the bad hidden in the men pushing for the cause (Hudson 3). Brutus was blinded by the possible end at the goal that he failed to see the obstructions and twisting paths that lay in his was; said obstructions and twists lead to Brutus becoming lost, also causing the outbreak of the civil war at which Brutus is most lost. Antony states, “This was the most noblest Roman of them all: All the conspirators save only he, / Did that they did in envy of great Caesar; / He only, in general honest thought/ And all common good, made one of them” (Shakespeare 78). In this statement, Antony explains that though Brutus was wrong in his actions, he was the only conspirator who did not kill Caesar out of need for power or out of jealousy for what Caesar had. Brutus’ actions followed the wrong path, leading to civil war despite Brutus’ intentions to avoid such a conflict.
Brutus was the spark that set all of Rome aflame. Brutus was a fool, easily pushed into joining the conspiracy by his extreme nationalism, false letters sent by Cassius, and an underlying suspicion that Caesar wasn’t as great as he seemed. Brutus’ inability to practice politics added fuel to the fire, Brutus was a failure of a politician due to three main factors that include his simple mistake of allowing Mark Antony to speak at the funeral of Caesar, Brutus’ naivety, and honesty along with his inability of play-acting obliterated his chance at political success, Brutus’ final political weakness was his failure to eliminate the entire threat of opposition, the “limb”, Antony. Chaos spread like wild fire due to Brutus’ false assumptions of human nature; believing that all people held the same opinions as he does, Brutus making decisions beyond his scope of knowledge and expecting the citizens of Rome to understand his motives and accept them as so, added to this, Brutus failed to take cause and effect into consideration, ignoring the impacts his decisions made. Finally, Brutus was consumed with self-righteousness, a dragon within him that, when released, destroyed Rome; this is shown in Brutus’ arrogance and self-importance, the civil war that was caused by such flaw in Brutus’ character, and the way that Brutus ignored the crime of his actions, justifying them in the delusion that he was striving for the betterment of Rome. The weakness of the character of Brutus was the cause of the political turmoil in Rome.