In Fahrenheit 451, why did Beatty choose to say the lines from Shakespeare?  It's on page 119 in my book.

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jmj616's profile pic

jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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In Part 3 of Fahrenheit 451, Montag is arrested by his fire-chief, Beatty, for the crime of possessing and reading books.  This takes place at the scene of a "fire"--a bookburning perpretated by the firemen.

Montag aims his flamethrower at Beatty in order to kill him.  Just before he is torched, Beatty quotes some lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Act IV, Scene 3:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats,
For I am arm'd so strong in honesty,
That they pass by me as the idle wind...

These lines are spoken by Brutus, in a scene in which he angrily accuses Cassius of government corruption.  When Cassius threatens him, Brutus replies that "there is not terror" in his threats, because he (Brutus) knows that he is in the right.

This is an appropriate quote for Beatty, who is trying to tell Montag that he is not afraid of his threats because he knows he is right.

It is also an ironic quote because the author of Fahrenheit 451 clearly sides, throughout the novel, with Montag and his defense of books, rather than with Beatty the book-burner.  The words that Beatty speaks could (and perhaps should) have been spoken by Montag instead.

teachersage's profile pic

teachersage | (Level 2) Educator

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Beatty, a literate man despite his devotion to book burning, sees himself cast as Shakespeare's Brutus in this scene. Right before the lines he quotes: 

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats, 
For I am arm'd so strong in honesty, 
That they pass by me as the idle wind...

Brutus says to Cassius: "You have done that that you should be sorry for." This reflects Beatty's assessment of Montag, for Beatty thinks Montag has made grave mistakes in embracing books, a destabilizing force, to Beatty's mind, to the society. 

Beatty understands Montag as Cassius. As Brutus is contemptuous of Cassius, so Beatty is dismissive of Montag. In lines apropos for this novel because of their fire imagery, Brutus says to Cassius:

O Cassius, you are yokèd with a lamb
That carries anger as the flint bears fire,
Who, much enforcèd, shows a hasty spark
And straight is cold again.
Brutus is saying here that his anger passes quickly. If Beatty had this passage in mind, which comes slightly later in the scene, he too is thinking that he will make it up to the, to his mind, weaker Montag, once their little fight is over. 
But Beatty has misread his man: Montag is not Cassius. Brutus survives his encounter with Cassius, but Montag turns his flamethrower on Beatty, killing him. There is indeed truth in Montag's threats. 
Beatty's death wish is used to justify Montag' murder and is buttressed by the parallel with Brutus (who also wishes to die). But Montag changes the equation in his ruthless killing of Beatty: perhaps, like Octavius and Antony, he has the qualities that will help him survive.


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