Bhavik Morar 10U 20/09/04
How do Brutus and Cassius change throughout the play of Julius Cæsar?
William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, is one of his most inspirational, influential and greatest tragedies. Although Julius Caesar is set in Rome over 2000 years ago, it explores themes that are relevant to our own modern times and would have been relevant to Elizabethans in Shakespeare’s England. One of the main issues explored in the play is the nature of government or people and power. Shakespeare looks in detail at the choices and life Roman citizens had and what their place was in relation to the various kings of Rome. In real life, Julius Caesar emerged to be similar to all the previous kings of Rome in that he was a dictator who was feared by the Roman people rather then loved or valued. In the play, Shakespeare portrays Caesar as a character that has become so influential and strong that he effectively controls the Senate, something which the Republicans, especially Cassius and later on Brutus, will not stand for. This play also relates to the Elizabethan audience, as they would also have been asking what the internal affairs of the Queen and government had to do with them. Queen Elizabeth was a forceful ruler and had survived many plots against her, and it is clear to see that William Shakespeare has taken some of these incidents and superimposed them over this play in the form of the Conspirators.
At the start of the play we see that both Brutus and Cassius are deeply concerned about the popularity and attention Julius Caesar is receiving, Cassius more so than Brutus. At this time in the play, the whole of Rome is in a state of confused and mixed loyalties. Caesar had recently overthrown and killed a fellow general, Pompey, and this has created differences between those who liked Pompey, those who praise Caesar for removing Pompey from power, and those who are not in favour of either person but are shocked that something as evil as Romans fighting against each other has taken place. We see the full extent of Cassius’ feelings towards Caesar when they stand together on the upper balconies watching the procession of Caesar and his troupe at the ‘Feast of Lupercal’. As Caesar receives a rapturous applause and cheer from the crowd, Brutus reveals that he thinks Caesar will be made king and Cassius works on this statement and pursues him on the subject. Whereas Brutus speaks only two lines to say his fears, Cassius launches into a long speech about how if Brutus feels that this is wrong, he should stand up on his honour and stop this from happening. However Brutus stops him by saying that although he fears this will happen, he loves Caesar as a friend too much to do anything about it. Cassius continues nonetheless, stating on line 97 of Act 1, Scene 2:
“I was born free as Caesar, so were you;
We have both fed as well, and we can both
Endure the winter’s cold as well as he.”
This in simpler terms means that he and Brutus are just as good as Caesar and he does not deserve to be treated any differently or better. He emphasises this point by telling Brutus of a time when Caesar dared Cassius to join him in the gusty and fast-flowing River Tiber and swim to a distant point, when suddenly, Caesar began to flounder and cried, “Help me Cassius, or I sink.” Cassius, putting himself alongside the likes of Aeneas, a great Trojan Prince, came to his aid and saved him. He shows his disgust that such a weak man who cried for help like a child has now become a “God” and that he, a stronger person, must now bow down to him. Cassius also recalls a time later on when Caesar was struck down by a fever in Spain, and in a fit, he trembled like a coward and begged for a drink like “a sick girl”. It is evident by this time in the play that Cassius not only dislikes Caesar terribly, but also has a subconscious game-plan to persuade Brutus onto his side. Cassius needs to do this, as he alone does not receive the reverence that the noble Brutus receives.
In the movie adaptation of this play, Cassius is seen glaring at Caesar’s name graffiteed on the wall, and tearing through it with his dagger, and writing Brutus’ name beside it. In my opinion, this is where Cassius’ game-plan comes into its second stage. This is extremely hypocritical as these are not the actions of a honourable man.
Back in the play, Cassius changes his tactics and pairs himself up on Brutus’ side and opposes himself against Caesar. It is evident that Cassius is trying to provoke a fierce reaction from Brutus, however Brutus remains calm and collected, as he does for much of this scene, so instead, Cassius continues. As another cheer directed to Caesar arises, he talks of the way they and other people from the Senate cower away and do not offer any resistance whilst the citizens of Rome inflate Caesar’s ego to the size of ‘Colossus’. He suggests that the fault lies not in fate, but in their inferior attitude. He tries to goad Brutus by saying on line 144, “Why should that (referring to Caesar) name be sounded more than yours?” He questions what ‘meat’ Caesar eats that he should grow so great. The final straw that triggers a reaction in Brutus is Cassius’ reminder of Brutus’ ancestors’ dislike of royalty and their efforts to abolish it and make a Republic. He says on line 159:
This is a preview of the whole essay
“There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king.”
This in other words means that once there was a time when Brutus (his ancestor) would have endured the devil in Rome rather then have a king as head of state. This taunt on his ancestors pushes Brutus to the limit and he finally speaks up. He first of all pleads to Cassius that he stop trying to persuade him and states that he would rather be a mere villager then be called a ‘Son of Rome’ with a king ruling it. The use of small sharp syllables in line 159 suggests a bitter, spiteful tone, and this is shown also in the movie adaptation.
So far, I have focused mainly on the outward and intense character of Cassius, but it is strange to see how such a character manages to pair up with Brutus, a person who is much more reserved about his thoughts and less outspoken. In the end of the play, Brutus emerges as the most complex character in the play with his change in emotions and feelings toward Caesar, and eventually, he is shown as the ‘tragic hero’ of the play, in that he carried out the murder of Caesar in righteousness rather then for the prospect of personal gain. His main image in the play is one of a powerful public figure, however, throughout the rest of the play, he is also shown as a humble husband, a master to his servants, such as Lucius, a celebrated military leader and a loving friend. He is also portrayed as the most “noblest or Romans’ by the crowd and citizens of Rome, and he is especially admired by Antony for this trait.
Brutus’ feelings toward Caesar are of a strong friend, however, he is willing to disregard this friendship if Caesar becomes king, as he is against the rise of any mere man to the position of ‘Dictator’. Before Cassius manages to trigger a change in Brutus’ mind, Brutus is shown as extremely caring of Rome, and this is pointed out on line 11 of Act 2, Scene 1, where he says, “I see no personal cause to spurn at him, but for the general”. This means that Brutus would not personally conspire against Caesar unless all of Rome wished that he did. Brutus believes strongly in his morals and has a strong sense of honour, and this makes it easy for the conspirators, particularly Cassius, to manipulate him into hating and turning against Caesar. This is shown in Act 1 Scene 2 on line 311, where Cassius states:
“Well Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see
Thy honourable mettle may be wrought
From that it is disposed. Therefore it is meet
That noble minds keep ever with their likes;”
This quote basically means that because Brutus is so noble, he can easily be persuaded into an unusual course of action, and that it is much better if such noble men such as Brutus and himself (Cassius) keep together. This is all part of Cassius’ manipulation of Brutus so that eventually, Brutus may join the conspiracy against Caesar and believe that what he is doing is right and for the good of Rome.
A more detailed look at Cassius’ character reveals hidden traits that William Shakespeare chooses not to point out directly. Cassius becomes the main figure in the conspiracy to kill Caesar, and various statements throughout Act 1 Scene 2 suggest that his motives for starting such a plot is a combination of his own political ideals and his personal envy of Julius Caesar. Cassius is shown to be an accurate judge of other men and their abilities, and this is shown in his judgement of Brutus. Throughout the majority of Act 1 Scene 2, Cassius works hard to convince Brutus to join the plot against Caesar, and he uses his good judgement of Brutus to do this, however his good judgement of other men does not provide any hard evidence of Caesar’s tyrannical or ambitious nature. This most probably happens because of his feelings of envy towards Caesar, however he covers this by pushing the fact that Caesar came to such high stature by killing a fellow Roman general, Pompey.
Brutus remains reserved and thoughtful right up until the end of Act 1 Scene 2, however from here on, we see a sudden change in his character, triggered by the manipulative Cassius. As we see in Act 4 Scene 3 and the surrounding areas of the play, one notices how Brutus becomes much more assertive amongst the other conspirators and begins to overrule not only the other, lesser characters, but also Cassius, the head of the group. Brutus convinces the group to let him change key aspects of the plot, and because of these changes, their plan suffers an unexpected downfall, leading to the death of not only Caesar, but also themselves.
As the conspirators group and meet together to discuss aspects of the plot, we see Brutus overruling decisions made by Cassius and enforcing his opinion on the other plot members. Evidence of this is shown in line 189 in Act 2 Scene 1. At this stage, Brutus and Cassius are deciding whether it is necessary to kill Antony whilst killing Caesar. Cassius wants Antony to die, as he fears Antony may arise to become a strong enemy, because of his faithfulness to Caesar, whereas Brutus disagrees, saying, “Our course will seem too bloody”. Brutus is almost hypnotized in his willingness to kill Caesar as a sacrifice and makes a deep and thoughtful soliloquy to this effect:
“Let us be sacrificers, not butchers, Caius…
And not dismember Caesar! But alas,
Caesar must bleed for it. And gentle friends,
Let’s kill him boldly, but not wrathfully;
Let’s carve him as a dish fit for the gods,
Not hew him as a carcass fir for hounds.”
Brutus feels that what he is doing is not normal, morally wrong murder, but a sacrifice, that once made, will be for the greater good of the state. As it later turns out in the play, one sees that Brutus was flawed in allowing Antony to live. Cassius, being a much better judge of character had rightly thought that Antony, being Consul, would serve to cause them trouble if his position was improved with Caesar’s death, and this is so in the battle scenes of Act 5.
Leading up to Act 4, we see once again the control and assertiveness that Brutus has on the group and Cassius. In Act 3 Scene 2, Brutus shows his naivety by letting Antony speak to the already ruffled crowd, once he had explained his reasons for killing Caesar. Fist of all, Brutus, being a skilled speaker, calms and persuades the crowd in his favour from Line 16 to 51, telling them how he killed Caesar for the good of Rome and because of Caesar’s ambition. So powerful and emotional was this speech, the crowd cheer him enthusiastically and demand, in all irony, that Brutus should have a statue with his ancestors and be king like Caesar. Brutus calms the crowd down and calls upon Antony to say words on Caesar’s behalf. Antony appears to be agreeing with Brutus’ assessment of Caesar, but as he continues, he begins to literally grind the words “Brutus is an honourable man” into the crowds mind. He reminds the crowd that he:
“thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honourable man.”
At this point in the speech, Antony seems to have turned the crowd’s easily moveable sympathy toward Antony. The final straw is when Antony reveals Caesar’s generosity in his will, and the crowd leave in rage to take vengeance on the conspirators.
In Act 4 Scene 2, we see the start of a terrible row between Brutus and Cassius, and from Scene 3 onwards, they no longer share the strong brotherly friendship that they did at the start of the play. At first their relationship was supported by a building of trust between them, however when planning the conspiracy and in this Scene, they are distrustful to each other. One may suggest that Brutus is being stubborn and rigid in his belief that killing Caesar was a noble deed, but is blaming Cassius for his guilt.
Brutus notices that Cassius has changed in personality, and he accuses Cassius of corruption and having an “itching palm” because he took bribes from villagers to fund the war they were about to fight with Antony and Octavius. Brutus shows his hypocrisy here, as he is prepared to act righteous and chastise Cassius for taking the bribes, but he is still willing to take the money. From the start of Scene 3 to Line 28, Brutus baits Cassius and riles him up saying that he would “rather be a dog, and bay the moon, than such a Roman”. He also reminds Cassius that Caesar died in the name of justice, not so that Cassius should tarnish this by taking bribes. Cassius warns Brutus that he would have killed any other man that said this of him, and that he is an older soldier with more experience, and is abler than Brutus to deal with such matters. Regardless of this, Brutus continues and mocks his temper, stating:
“Go show your slaves how choleric you are,
And make bondmen tremble. Must I budge?
Must I Observe you? Must I stand and crouch
Under your testy humour? By the gods,
You shall digest the venom of you spleen,
Though it do split you. For from this day forth,
I’ll use you for my mirth, yea for my laughter,
When you are waspish.”
From the beginning of this Scene, one key aspect is apparent: Brutus is no longer afraid of Cassius, nor is he prepared for Cassius to work his manipulative manner on to him. Brutus has absolutely no regret for what he is saying, but is taking humour in tempting Cassius and literally laughing whilst Cassius struggles to control himself. Cassius does not accept this attempted role reversal and tries to get back into a leadership position by referring back to when he said Brutus was a more able soldier, not better, and that he has misunderstood, but Brutus is undeterred and carries on by bringing up another issue into the fray. Brutus remains more dominant and continues to ridicule Cassius, and one could assume that they no longer trust each other, but this is only temporal. He accuses Cassius of not sending him gold to pay his army, and this leads to another childish argument. Brutus and Cassius bandy words like five year olds saying:
“I denied you not.
I did not”
This shows the extent their tempers have reached. Finally, Cassius begins to break, saying that Brutus has broken his heart and that a friend should “bear his friend’s infirmities (weaknesses)”, but Brutus makes them greater than they are and emphasises them. This shows that despite all they have said, Cassius still regards Brutus as a friend, but the same cannot be said for Brutus. Cassius is still deeply moved and in despair, asks Brutus to kill him. Brutus sees what has become of him and calms down saying soothingly to Cassius, “Sheathe you dagger. Be angry when you will, it shall have scope”, and from here on, the friends are seemingly reconciled. Throughout the whole scene, we have always seen Cassius in a strong and sometimes manipulative light, always with something to say; however there is now an apparent role reversal in Brutus and Cassius’ character, such that Brutus has become extremely fierce and unkind, and this has toned down Cassius’ upfront nature to a more humble and sincere person. Brutus and Cassius exchange apologies, and Brutus says he will make allowances for Cassius’ quick temper.
Cassius and Brutus look in hindsight at their argument, and Cassius states that he did not think Brutus could be this angry, and Brutus explains why he has such grievances by revealing that Portia is dead. Cassius response to this is “O ye immortal gods!” It is unclear as to whether Cassius is pretending to sympathise with Brutus to remain friends with him, or if he is genuinely shocked, as he is as Shakespeare depicts, Brutus’ brother-in-law. Out of this whole revelation, we see more reaction from Cassius, a mere friend of Brutus, than from Brutus himself, who is actually Portia’s husband. A key part of Brutus’ nature, that he is a Stoic, is shown here. By being Stoic, Brutus accepts things as they come and has great self-control in adversity. Any other man revealing that their wife was dead would surely be stricken with grief, however, Brutus calmly wishes not to talk about it and move on to more pressing matters.
It is clear that Brutus has developed a stronger character throughout this conspiracy, and at the moment they appear on the surface to be firm friends again, but Brutus is just tricking Cassius into thinking this. Brutus does not see Cassius as a friend but as a colleague. At line 203 of Scene 3, we see the beginning of yet another row, this time about a strategy for battle. Cassius tries once again to get into a dominant position by suggesting a battle plan, but he is put down, as Brutus is now a much firmer and aggressive character, and sees through Cassius’ manipulative ways. One could assume that their relationship has completely deteriorated.
The second dispute starts when Cassius disagrees with Brutus when he suggests that the army should march to Philippi. Cassius thinks that this will waste the army’s energy and tire them out, and therefore they will not perform as will in the battle. He thinks that they should relax and build up their defences and wait for the enemy to seek them, so that they will become weary and tired. Brutus returns by saying that as the enemy march towards them, many other towns that have pledged allegiance towards the Brutus and will join forces with their army, adding to the number and increasing morale. He states that by the time they get to Philippi, they shall be ready to cut the enemy of, with the help of these towns at their back.
At this point, Cassius tries to interrupt by saying, “Here me good brother”. This is evidence of more manipulation on Cassius’ part where he still refers to Brutus as a ‘brother’ rather than using any other term. Brutus sees through this and stays Cassius’ comment. He finishes by surmising that:
“Our legions are brim-full, our cause is ripe.
The enemy increaseth every day;
We, at the height, are ready to decline.”
Cassius stands down and follows Brutus’ plan of action, however, this may be purely to do (in context to timescale) with the fact that it is late in the night and that they are both tired and need to rest. As they say good night to each other, it is clear to see that there is an over-the-top atmosphere as both characters try to be nice to each other. Cassius makes an effort to say “Good night my Lord”, and Brutus says “Good night good brother”. These statements are obviously not heartfelt but artificial.
In my opinion, Cassius and Brutus have a very similar likeness in personality, however they are pushed to show it in different stages in the play. At the start, Brutus is a stoic character, and follows the virtue of Zeno the Greek, living his life as a noble, taking things as they come, and being calm, unfeeling, patriotic and selfless. Brutus is habitually calm by nature and believes in principal. Later in the play, he becomes more powerful, just like Caesar and ‘falls a victim to those very vices for which he killed his friend, Caesar”. Both Brutus and Cassius refer to themselves in the third person in a self-admiring fashion. Cassius is a callous man consumed by jealousy, and at the beginning of the play, was envious of Caesar’s growing popularity. He is an observer of men, guided by personal considerations. He has a personal hatred for Caesar as a tyrant, unlike Brutus who hates all tyranny, regardless of who the tyrant actually is. He is easily alarmed and has a ‘choleric’, rash temper. Both the characters are not actually different, but their personality traits arise at different points in the play in contrast with each other, and this has arised inadvertently in the way William Shakespeare has written the play, Julius Caesar.