The tragedy in Julius Caesar

?William Shakespeare has written many plays that touched millions of people throughout
the centuries. His works are still the most controversial ones favored by many Literature critics
because his plays generate spontaneous debates on issues such as friendship, revenge, human
ambitions and moralities that lead to dynamic discussion among people. In the play The Tragedy
of Julius Caesar, friendship vs. duty is one of the major themes that is developed. One’s struggle
over the choice between friendship and duty is depicted through the main character, Brutus, as he
battles himself to choose between his duty to carry out people’s will and his own conscious hitting
on his faithfulness to his best friend Caesar. Although Brutus himself was skeptical if he made the
right decision, he joins the conspiracy that plans for the murder of their leader Julius Caesar. The
tragic aspect of the play Julius Caesar is that even though Brutus ‘s motives were immaculate, his
fear toward Caesar’s ambition, Cassius’ persuasion, and his tragic flaw, idealism deluded him to
make a tragic mistake of assassinating Caesar.

While human ambition is considered an important requirement in achieving one’s goal, it
often leaves negative impressions to others. People do fear ambitious men because strong desire
often leads to selfishness and dictatorship. As Caesar’s popularity became more evident, his
fellow officers and the nobles were worried that people of Rome might crown Caesar. As early as
Act 1 scene one, two tribunes of Rome, Flavius and Marullus show concerns toward a possibility
of a new dictatorship in Rome and remind themselves of their duty to protest against such power
exercised by one person. Not surprisingly, the rumors of Caesar being crowned have been
bothering many people in high political position like Brutus, a well- respected and honored man
and his brother-in-law, Cassius. Cassius, who does not want Caesar to have all the power in
Rome, plans to form a conspiracy to kill Caesar, and other nobles, who believe that Caesar’s
death is the only way to save the Roman citizens from a tyrannical ruler and to retain republican
government, were easily persuaded to join the conspiracy with Cassius. However, although
Brutus agrees that Caesar should be killed for the better of the country, joining the conspiracy
was extremely pressing and strenuous for him, because Caesar was his good friend.
“ Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.

Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves,
than that Caesar were dea, to live all free men? As
Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate,
I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but as
he was ambitious, I slew him”(Act 3, Scene 2, 25 – 27)
As Brutus was struggling with his mind, (Cassius speaks of an idealized “Rome” of the
past in which kingship was unthinkable.

“ Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!…
O, you and I have heard our fathers say,
There was a Brutus once that would have brooked
Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome
As easily as a king” (Shakespear 1.2. 151 – 161)
Cassius’ reminder of an idealized “Rome” draws Brutus’s heart toward joining the
conspiracy with Cassius, because he realizes that while Cassius and he were different in the nature
of joining the conspiracy, both equated Rome with the republic. They see themselves as Romans
because they believe in the Republic. They repudiate kingship, so that power can be shared
among the elected rulers, the aristocratic patricians who make up the Senate. Therefore, Cassius,
and certain nobles who are willing to risk their personal safety to resist one who abuses power
join in the conspiracy, and they are convinced that they must turn the commoners against the
ambitions of Caesar. Their justification is that no one man can dominate Rome therefore, Caesar
should be stopped before he grows stronger and become tyrannical like many others who were
given a total dictatorship. Brutus also draws his heart toward joining the conspiracy because he
fears that if the nobles of Rome give Caesar so much potential power for evil that he will no
longer be able to resist the temptation to suppress the rights of Roman citizens.)(Mowant, P.

When Brutus’ heart was moving toward the conspiracy, Cassius, with his eloquent tong,
persuades Brutus even more. Cassius wants Brutus to be the chief of the conspirators to gain the
public’s justification and respect for their assassination. (He has already stirred his friends against
Caesar: they all agreed and promised to take part with him.) (Daniell, P.335) (In Cassius’
passionate argument in act one, scene two, he blames Caesar for the power he has accumulated,
and the weak willed nobilities of Rome for letting Caesar have all the power. He also mentions
Caesar’s desire to rule with a god like authority and that with the increased power he will become
even more tyrannical. However, it was still hard for Brutus to reach a conclusion because
although Julius Caesar was ambitious, he has never shown any signs of becoming a totalitarian.
Suddenly, a shout from the crowds attending Caesar, offstage, startles Brutus, and he accidentally
speaks his thoughts aloud: “I do fear the people choose Caesar for their king.” (Shakespear 1.2.

79) The word ‘fear’ encourages Cassius to proceed with an attack on Caesar. Cassius points out
that Caesar is being treated as if he were a superhuman. He recalls two instances when Caesar
showed weakness, but Cassius speaks as though the weakness were moral, and not merely
physical. Here we can see Cassius’ mean spirit, but Brutus does not notice this because the shout
from the crowd distracted him.) (Roma, P. 4 – 15)
Though Brutus was unable to fault Caesar, he resorts to a generalization, a “common
proof,” which says that ambitious men, at the height of their power, will corrupt.
“ More than his reason. But ‘tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition’s ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,”(Shakespear 2.1. 21 – 25)
Then, Cassius returns to flattery, reminding Brutus of his own reputation and that of his
ancestor, the Brutus who expelled Tarquini, a tyrant, from Rome. This statement moves Brutus
In act 2, he concludes that Caesar must be considered as a snake’s egg, which would hatch
and become a powerful atrocity. Therefore, he must be killed before he becomes a king.
“ And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg
Which hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell ” (Shakespear 2.1. 32 – 35)
To come to such a decision, Brutus’ idealism is one of the factors that supported his
choice of his country over his friendship with Caesar.(His motives for joining the conspiracy are
wholly pure, and he intends to maintain this purity in everything. He is very conscious of his
position among people. He is well respected of his noble nature and honored by many. His duty
is to carry out general people’s will and his duty solely for people’s benefit. His background also
has a role in providing another motive for him to kill Caesar. He is descended from patriots, and
he is often reminded of the Lucius Junius Brutus who drove Tarquin from Rome and helped to
found the first republic. Brutus, once he is convinced that Caesar would be crowned, sees him as
destined to repeat his ancestor’s heroic mission: by killing Caesar, he will, he thinks, restore the
true “Rome” – the republic. (Mowant, P. 215 – 216) Therefore, despite his friendship with
Caesar, Brutus kills Caesar because he thinks the country will be better without a king. Brutus
continues this ritual act by having rejecting the suggestion that they should swear an oath of
allegiance. His ground for objection was that honorable man acting in a just cause need no such
“Swear priests and cowards and men cautelous,
Old feeble carrions and such suffering sould
That welcome wrongs; unto bad causes swear
Such creatures as men douubt; but do not stain
The even virtue of our enterprise,
Nor th’ insupressive mettle of our spirits,
To think that or our cause or our performance
Did need an oath; when every drop of blood
That every Roman bears, and nobly bear,
If he do break the smallest particle
Of any promise that hath passed from him. (Shakespear, Act 2, scene 1, 129 – 140)
Also, he objects the suggestion for killing Antony along with Caesar because he thinks that
Antony will be nothing without Caesar and he does not want to kill anyone unnecessarily. Brutus
says, “ Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers.” (Shakespear, Act 2, scene 1, 166) Here, we can
see Brutus’ idealism is strong and Cassius is overruled again. (Although Cassius persuades
Brutus to lead the conspiracy, it was Brutus, blinded by his idealism, who persuaded himself to
join the conspiracy.) (Wright, P. 22)
(The trouble with idealism is that it can so easily blind those who possess it, and Brutus is
blinded by his idealism. His tragic flaw, idealism, makes him to make initial decision, arrived at
with such difficulty, that Caesar has to die. Brutus is wrong. Yet when we read carefully, the
soliloquy in the garden, it becomes obvious that Brutus is deceiving himself. He confesses that he
has “no personal cause” to fear Caesar and furthermore, that he has never known of potential of
tyranny in Caesar. His honor and nobility were manipulated by Cassius and at the end, he finishes
his life tragically by suiciding. The tragedy of Brutus lies here. Not that he attempted to free the
republic of Rome from a tyrannous dictator and was killed in the action; but that, with the best of
motives, he was responsible for the murder of Caesar.) (Mowant, P. 23 – 25)
“ Thou art the ruins of the noblest man
That ever lived in the tide of times.” (Shakespear, Act 3, scene 1, 256 – 257)
Bibliography:
Julius Caesar