In just a few words, a complete portrait of a character can be formed. As in all Shakespearean drama, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is masterful in its technique of characterization and eloquence. In Marc Antonys famous speech to the plebeians after Caesars death, he repeatedly states that Brutus is an honorable man (3. 2. 89).
The quote, which can be taken both on a literal and non literal level, reveals much about the character of Brutus. Not only does Antonys quote point, obviously, to the fact that Brutus is seen as an honorable man, but in its tone and application, it also raises questions as to whether this honor is duly placed. Marcus Brutus is seen by all of Rome, including himself, as an upstanding man of the state. He has learned to take pride in his reputation and is eager to use his distinguished status to every possible advantage. After Caesars assasination, Brutus gains the attention of the people by asking them to Believe [him] for [his] honor and have respect to [his] honor that [they] may believe (3.
2. 14-16). He knows that he is seen as possessing nobility and uses this image to sway the minds of the commoners. Since he is honorable, after all, then all of his decisions must also be both honorable and true. Antony, however, sees the self-important side of Brutus that has developed.
He notices Brutus unassuming hubris and uses it against him. Through repeatedly stating the idea that Brutus is an honorable man in his speech, and then pointing out the fact that Brutus is claiming to be so honorable because he murdered Caesar, Antony quickly dissuades the people from Brutus line of thought to his own. Although it is apparent that Brutus is perceived as a respectable member of the Roman community, this respect by the people is not strong enough to hold when Brutus takes his supposed moral obligations too far and murders his friend. Brutus reputation, although sound, is not sound enough t cover such blatantly faulty motives: motives that serve his own conceited conscience rather than serving the concerns and fears of the citizens of Rome.
Antony may have also noticed (and be using the knowledge in his speech) that Cassius flattery, as well as the flattery of the other conspirators, has finally made its mark on Brutus. From the beginning of act one, Cassius attempts to lure Brutus into the Caesar assassination plot through flattery. Why should [Caesars] name be sounded more than yours Cassius asks Brutus (1. 2. 143).
Weigh them, Cassius says, Brutus, is as heavy; conjure with em, Brutus will start a spirit as soon as Caesar (1. 2. 146-147). For a man of such nobility, it is strange that Brutus reacts so considerably to the praise that Cassius so easily offers. Brutus never questions Cassius reasons for the murder conspiracy. He sees them as true.
The only predicament he has in killing Caesar lies solely in the idea that Caesar is his friend-not that Caesar does not possess the characteristics of ambition that Cassius convinces Brutus are viable reasons for conspiracy. Since Brutus image of himself has gained in intensity through the flattery of others, he comes to the point that he sees no wrong in his actions because they do come from such an upstanding member of Rome-himself. Brutus allows his self-assuredness to balloon into conceit, and, no doubt, sets himself to be trapped by Antonys speech to the plebeians. Brutus believes that all men who respect his dignity must share the same values as himself. He loves Caesar, but since Caesar does not share the same ideals for Rome that Brutus does, Brutus finds sufficient reason to slay him.
Antony states that all the conspirators save only [Brutus] did what they did in envy of great Caesar (5. 5. 69-70). Brutus in no way envies Caesar.
He is merely afraid of Caesars growing power and how Caesar may attempt a dictatorship in Brutus beloved Rome. However, since Cassius appears to uphold the same standards as himself, Brutus states that [Cassius] does love [him], [he] is nothing jealous (1. 2. 163). Since he is allegedly so honorable, Brutus believes that only those with values in line with his are worth his complete respect. Since Antony does not share the same values and beliefs as himself, Brutus does not see him as a threat.
He states that Antony is but a limb of Caesar... [and] can do no more than Caesars arm when Caesars head is off (2. 1. 165, 182-183). Think not of him, Brutus continues, he is given to sports, to wildness, to much company-all activities Brutus does not believe to be worthy of respect (2. 1.
181, 188-189). It is through this line of reasoning that Antonys life is spared and Brutus downfall comes so entirely. Brutus has such faith in his own moral uprightness that he discards the ideas of others and makes himself the exclusive judge on all Roman matters. He believes that controlling Romes fate is his duty since he has the most honorable principles in the state. As Antony says, Brutus is an honorable man. Brutus relies so much on this honor, though, that he refuses to open himself up to any idea that is not his own.
If Brutus deems a concept as reliable, then it is so. It is his failure to acknowledge others ideas that leads to Brutus inevitable demise. In his speech after Caesars death, Marc Antony states repetitively that Brutus is an honorable man. It is paradoxical how his words ring genuine with both truth and cynicism. Brutus is a good man. He is a good citizen.
He is a good Roman. However, Brutus lets his goodness and his honor run away with him. He forgets that one man should not decide a countrys fate-no matter how honorable the man may or may not be. Brutus becomes what he hates. He takes the reign of power over Rome into his own hands-the exact scenario he was attempting to avoid with the assasination of Caesar.
With Antonys one brief line, Shakespeare creates an entire portrait of Brutus. Brutus is an honorable man. The statement is true. Brutus is honorable, but the underlying meaning behind Antonys words is also true-Brutus is not honorable enough to decide the fate of all of Rome. Shakespeares ability to add depth, dimension, and humanity to a character in such few words is remarkable. Brutus, through Shakespeares portrayal of him, will, always be seen as an honorable man and his legacy of honor will live on and flourish as a major theme in literature and life throughout the ages.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Ed. William and Barbara Rosen. New York: Penguin Books Ltd. Signet Classic Series.