Does Brutus have the six traits of a tragic hero?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Arguably, Shakespeare's play belongs to Brutus, not Julius Caesar despite his name in the title. For, it is Brutus who exhibits the traits of the tragic hero.

1. The tragic hero is of noble stature. Certainly, Brutus is one of Rome's noblemen. In fact, he is well respected as Cassius enlists him as one of the conspirators because of the fact that he is a nobleman who is revered and has credibility with the Romans. Moreover, Brutus possesses a greatness about him in that he is philosophically committed to the principles of republicanism. After his death, Marc Antony even acknowledged the noble nature of Brutus that surpassed any of the other conspirators,

He, only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them. (5.72-73)

2.  Although he is good, the tragic hero is not perfect, and his fall results from his "act of injustice," or hamartia, as Aristotle describes it. This act of injustice is committed out of ignorance or from a conviction that some great good will be served. For Brutus, his hamartia comes from his idealistic conviction that Caesar will become a tyrant. In his soliloquy of Act II, Brutus thinks aloud,

He would be crowned....
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatched, would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell. (2.1.10,32-35)

3. The hero's fall is his fault. Brutus falls from greatness by his flawed judgment about killing Caesar. Then, Cassius warns him against Marc Antony, but Brutus does not heed his advice; as a result, Antony moves the Romans to break out into civil war, a war in which Brutus makes mistakes such as marching upon the troops at Philippi.

4. Yet, the hero's fall is not wholly deserved. Brutus does make some bad judgments, but his death is undeserved. For, he is a man that is admired, and his death does rend pity for him.

5. The tragic fall is not complete loss. Before he dies, Brutus gains some self-knowledge, and he perceives the victory of Octavius and Anotny as causing the downfall of Roman freedom:

I shall have glory by this losing day
More than Octavius and Mark Antony
By this vile conquest shall attain unto. (5.5.36-39)

6. Although it arouses pity and fear, Brutus's death does not leave the audience in depression.

The audience feels a certain emotional release with Antony's oration on Brutus after his death, and there is a renewal of the greatness of Brutus. Antony declares,

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!" (5.5.73-75)

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question