The central theme to Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar is that although nobility and honor may be desirable characteristics in a man, they do not necessarily make a man a good leader. Shakespeare develops this theme by showing how Brutus differs from Julius Caesar, Cassius, and Antony.
Except for Brutus, all of the above characters sought power and influence above all else. Brutus, on the other hand, was fixated on the idea that a man should always behave in an honorable, even noble, manner. For this reason, Cassius had some difficulty in convincing Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar. Once Brutus decided to join the plot, he made several decisions that doomed them to failure. Most famously, he convinced Cassius to allow Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Antony’s speech inspired to Roman people to turn against Brutus.
If the conspirators had followed the more ambitious and conniving Cassius, they probably would have succeeded, because he was focused on winning by any means necessary. However, Cassius was afraid that he would not have the support of the Roman people without Brutus, who was perceived as being a noble and honorable senator. Ironically, it was this very sense of honor and nobility that led to the eventual downfall of the conspiracy.
The conspirators, including the honorable Brutus, dip their hands in Caesar's blood and Brutus presents the people with a reason for their bloody cause:
Romans, countrymen, and friends! Listen to my cause, and be
silent, so you can hear. Believe me based on my honor, and have
respect for my honor, so you can believe. Judge me in your
wisdom, and wake up your senses, so you can be a better judge.
If there is anyone in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar's, to
him I say that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his love. If
then that friend demands why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is
my answer,—Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome
more. Would you rather Caesar were living, and you all die slaves, than
that Caesar were dead, so you all live freemen? 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 killed him.
There are tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honor for his
valor, and death for his ambition.
Brutus explains it so poetically. Caesar had to die for his ambition. Brutus feared that Caesar would make slaves of all the people. While it would appear that the conspirators had taken care of Caesar's ambition, Brutus allowed Antony to speak at the funeral. Antony stirs the people against Brutus and the conspirators and a civil war breaks out.
With Antony closing in on Brutus' and Cassius' men, Brutus falls on his own sword. He fought as an honorable man and dies as an honorable man. Antony even claims none to be more honorable than Brutus:
This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators, except him,
Did that they did out of jealousy of great Caesar;
Only he, in a general-honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man!"
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