The Tragedy In Julius Caesar


The Tragedy In Julius Caesar Essay, Research Paper

 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.

215 – 216)

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

even more.

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,

Is guilty of a several bastardy

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)


Julius Caesar


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