In the duration of the play Shakespeare utilizes several dramatic procedures to provide as complete a section of Brutus' character as possible. At first Brutus is seen largely through the eyes of observers, especially the scheming Cassius. The audience is drawn to compare Brutus' successive actions and thoughts with the assessment that Cassius gives in Act I Scene 2. In the early scenes Shakespeare highlights the inner tension that occupies Brutus' thoughts. The playwright alludes to both its source and its resolution. Brutus acknowledges he is 'not gamesome'; this is an admission that he is worried, 'with himself at war'.
When Brutus is alone Shakespeare deploys sophisticated use of the devices of the aside and soliloquy to allow his character expression, reveal innermost ambitions and fears, and to expose the logical process by which he explores his tensions, examines them and comes to resolve them. The soliloquy in Act II Scene 1 is concerned with the themes of ambition and the effect of power on personality - two of Shakespeare's favourite themes. He realizes that the embryo snake (Caesar) has to be killed before it can develop and 'grow mischievous'. However in the next soliloquy Brutus reveals that he is still appalled by the prospect of this course of action, balancing the competing claims of loyalty to both Caesar and the State, and his own virtue. Brutus stands at the centre of Julius Caesar, the axis around the conspiracy, assassination and civil war, and also psychologically, morally, dramatically and politically. Thus, Brutus is Shakespeare's protagonist - but can he be labelled as the play's hero?
Plutarch in Brutus says that he was 'framed unto virtue... gentle and constant'. Caesar, his former archenemy 'kept him always about him... [did] as much honour and esteem him as any man in his company'. The Greek historian then praises Brutus' qualities: immunity to flattery, commitment to justice and truth. Concluding, Plutarch notes that so 'well-beloved' a man killed Caesar 'as thinking the act commendable of itself'. Shakespeare incorporated these positive aspects into his own portrait of Brutus.
That Brutus achieves tragic status derives from his nobility, his honour. From the outset he strikes as being honourable, struggling with his conscience. To signify their devotion Portia wounds herself, Caius Ligarius worships at his feet (II.1.316-7). Brutus is a leader; though Cassius instigates the conspiracy, it is Brutus who emerges to take control. Brutus is chosen by Cassius for his absolute commitment - that if he can be convinced that the conspiracy is a just and worthy cause, he will wholeheartedly follow it. Furthermore Brutus' reputation is a considerable asset; hence Casca's metallurgical metaphor in I.3 that what would be considered base motives for murder, with Brutus' involvement will be transmuted 'to virtue and worthiness'. Brutus pleads:"Let us be sacrificers not butchers
Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds"
Antony fully realises Brutus' self-delusion and verbal rationalizing; in their final confrontation, Antony remarks"In your bad strokes, Brutus, you give good words;
witness the hole you made in Caesar's heart,
Crying, 'Long live! Hail, Caesar!'"
Brutus' self-awareness is challenged in the second scene when Cassius, beginning the corruption of his mind, wishes 'That you might see your shadow' (I.2.58). By 'shadow' Cassius means reflection. Hitherto Brutus had thought of his inner world as private, 'Conceptions only proper to myself'. Cassius begins here to penetrate Brutus' inner world, playing on his ambition and pride. Shakespeare developed this later in Othello and Hamlet. Shakespeare had long been interested in the stormy relationship between the inner world and statecraft. To some extent Richard II had presaged this. The climax of the King's deposition is Richard breaking the mirror:Bolingbroke:
"The shadow of you sorrow hath destroy'd
The shadow of your face.
Say that again.
The shadow of my sorrow?"
Brutus' major decisions in the play are:
- To join the assassination plot;
- Sparing Mark Antony's life;
- Allowing Mark Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral;
- Rebuking Cassius for moral flexibility;
- To march at once to Philippi;
- To commit suicide.
Though widely different in nature, Brutus' approach to each of these decisions is similar - i.e. taken in response to an ideal code of morals. Hence whereas Caesar bases his decisions of public criteria, Brutus' are based on an inward, private rationale. It is on the first, Brutus' decision to join the assassination plot,
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