In Julius Casesar, is Brutus the noblest Roman of them all? Frankly, I don't think so. The primary reason is that Antony is alive because of Brutus. Is it not just gratitude that makes him label...

In Julius Casesar, is Brutus the noblest Roman of them all?

Frankly, I don't think so. The primary reason is that Antony is alive because of Brutus. Is it not just gratitude that makes him label Brutus as great? What is GREAT in Brutus? He betrays his closest friend and mentor in the worst possible way. And there is no nobility in the way he lies over Caesar's body and quarrels with Cassius. Brutus is OVERRATED. And Cassius extremely underrated. It is Cassius who supports Brutus even when he knows Brutus is wrong. Friendship nd loyalty are killed by Brutus nd revived by Cassius. Why then is HE not the noblest Roman? If Brutus is noble, Cassius is divine...

Please write your views. 

Asked on by imrul23

7 Answers

sfwriter's profile pic

sfwriter | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

Posters 1 and 2, if it is possible, I agree with both of you!  Poster 1, within the context of the play I do agree with you about 85%, because Brutus (along with the other conspirators) takes a human life that he really had no right to take.  That he, possibly alone among all the people who planned to kill Caesar, did it from disinterested motives does not mitigate that he took a life.   So Brutus is certainly no saint.

Poster 2, I agree with you because in Ancient Rome (and even in Shakespeare's time) the word "noble" had many meanings (as it does now) and certainly some meanings that we would not value as highly now.  Brutus was considered "noble" in certain specifically Roman (Republican rather than Imperial) ways.  A lot of Brutus' "nobility" is predicated on things that do not happen and are not explained within the context of Shakespeare's play.  Long before the events of the play take place (and certainly Shakespeare takes liberties with the facts) Brutus was considered "noble" because he stood for many of the old,some would say outdated, ideals of the Roman Republic.  This was a certain distaste for luxury and display, a dedication to the privileges of the Senate and at least a nominal respect for the few privileges of the plebians, and a dedication to the old-fashioned "First Among Equals" idea of leadership in the Senate.  That no one man would have concentrated power was the main ideal of the whole machinery of the Roman government.  This worked well Rome was a small city-state, or only at the head of a small, largely Italian, empire.  But after Caesar expanded the empire so greatly this system of government (probably -- this point has been debated greatly over the centuries) would no longer suffice.  So, in many ways, Brutus was a sort of conservative hero -- and an improbable one at that.  He stood for the old order that was fast passing away -- a large number of people couldn't (or wouldn't) accept that Rome, after many centuries, was changing rapidly.  Brutus' conservatism, and the fact that his motives were very pure, became a rallying point for those who were not ready for the changes that were coming.

On top of this, Brutus was certainly of a very noble family (there were great senators and generals in his family tree -- this was far more important to Romans than it is to us now, so much so that it is hard for us to understand the power of a good family in Roman life fully) and was, personally, a very "noble" man.  He is what we might call now a man of integrity; he could not be bought or bribed, he was uninterested in ambition for himself, and he abhorred the venal back-biting and petty political in-fighting of the Senate and kept himself well above it.  None of this is obvious from the play -- it is only hearsay (mostly from the ironic mouth of Antony!).  Shakespeare was writing for an audience (at least part of his audience) who would have known the history behind these events, and known Brutus as "noble" before he ever considered this conspiracy.

So I can see both arguments -- Brutus certainly did some very bad things, I think, and thus loses the attribute "noble", but he did represent what many of the Romans of his time would consider "nobility".  He is not a one-sided character -- he is conflicted and real, like actual people are.  Ah, the wonder of Shakespeare!  :)

drmonica's profile pic

drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

The eNotes discussion of Julius Caesar offers an excellent analysis of this very quotation:

I shall offer my thoughts on the discussion post following the citation from the text--

Marcus Antonius:
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He, only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.

Julius Caesar Act 5, scene 5, 68–72

I agree with Antony's assessment of Brutus. He is correct that Brutus acted purely out of concern for the good of the Roman republic, not out of "envy of great Caesar." There is no indication anywhere in the play, either through Brutus's words or actions, that he is anything other than saddened and consumed by guilt over ending a human life. However, he loved Rome more than he loved Caesar, or his own life, and that is why he participated in the assassination.

scarletpimpernel's profile pic

scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

It depends on what you mean by the word "noblest." In your comments about Brutus, you describe why he is the most effective conspirator, not why he isn't the noblest.  His tragic flaw is his poor judgment; so anyone could argue from the play that Brutus is not the best conspirator in carrying out the assassination and follow-up.

The comment about Brutus being the "noblest" is because his intentions in killing Caesar were honorable in the Romans' eyes.  He did not kill Caesar for personal gain or revenge (like Cassius); rather, he took his life because he believed that Caesar was going to do irreversible damage to the Roman Republic.  His forefathers fought to establish the republic, and Brutus did not want to return to an overbearing monarchy or empire.  If Brutus was sincerely willing to sacrifice family, friends, position, and life for the good of Rome, he deserves the title.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

One must wonder if Brutus did not argue with Cassius at Phillippi so that the wrong battle decision would intentionally be followed.  As Hamlet reflects in his famous "To Be, or Not to Be" soliloquy, 

Thus, doth conscience does make cowards of us all (III,i,84)

Perhaps, then, after he has learned that his wife Portia has killed herself in her anguish, and Brutus has seen Caesar's ghost, he feels that he should be punished, for he is not meant to rule Rome, that Rome will fare better with a triumvirate.  In acting on conscience in his death, Brutus displays the same integrity that he has in acting on the assassination of Caesar when he perceived Caesar and a tyrant to the Rome that he loves so well.  Because he yet loves Rome, Brutus has himself taken out.  In this decision Brutus is noble.


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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

When Antony says Brutus was the noblest Roman of them all, he means the noblest of all the conspirators. He then explains why as he contrasts Brutus's motives with those of the other conspirators. Unlike the others, Brutus did not act out of selfishness or self-interest but for the general good of Rome. Post #2 points out clearly the personal price Brutus was willing to pay to act upon his convictions. He was certainly the most noble of all the conspirators and seemed to be far more noble than the other Romans we meet in the play, including Caesar and Antony who abused power once they had it.

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dp8155's profile pic

dp8155 | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted on

 Brutus is certainly the noblest Roman of them all for three distinct reasons. 

First, his forefather Lucius Junius Brutus, was the principal agent in abolishing the monarchy and founding the Republic. 

Second, he was one of the first two consuls in 509 B.C., the year the Republic was founded. This is actually very important in regard to how "noble" Brutus is. The world noble derives from the Latin nobilis (Nobile) which was someone whose ancestor had held the office of Consul. After the Plebeians were allowed to stand for councils, a newer form of "nobility" formed which consisted of non-patrician families whose ancestors had held the rank of Consul, and were therefore very important. Therefore, Brutus' ancestor was the first "Noble" in the nominal sense of the word. 

The third reason has been mentioned already, which is that Brutus was the only conspirator to act out of a sense of duty rather than envy.

Therefore, Brutus is the noblest Roman based on ancestry AND character.

imrul23's profile pic

imrul23 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

thank you everyone for your individual thoughts on the topic.It was interesting to read through it all.