"The elements that define Julius Ceasar as tragedy, do not concern Ceasar as much as they concern Marcus Brutus, and thus it would be more appropriate for Shakespear to have entitled this play The...

"The elements that define Julius Ceasar as tragedy, do not concern Ceasar as much as they concern Marcus Brutus, and thus it would be more appropriate for Shakespear to have entitled this play The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus". Is this an appropriate observation to make regarding the William Shaekspeare's Julius Caesar? Discuss, using relevant textual references to support your answer.

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Yes. The play clearly illustrates Marcus Brutus's difficult decision to join the conspirators to assassinate his close friend Julius Caesar and depicts his tragic downfall. Based on the number of lines Brutus is given throughout the play compared to those of Julius Caesar, it is quite obvious who the protagonist of the play truly is. Brutus's conflict is pushed to center stage as he struggles with the decision to assassinate Caesar. After meeting with Cassius, Brutus contemplates whether or not Caesar's ambition will make him a tyrant. During Brutus's soliloquy in act 2, scene 1, he says,

It must be by his death, and for my part I know no personal cause to spurn at him But for the general. He would be crowned. How that might change his nature, there’s the question. It is the bright day that brings forth the adder And that craves wary walking. Crown him that, And then I grant we put a sting in him That at his will he may do danger with (Shakespeare, 2.1.10-18).

After Brutus reads several false letters from apparent Roman citizens calling for Caesar's demise, Brutus decides to join the conspirators intent on murdering Caesar at the Senate. When Brutus addresses the masses of Rome, he explains his decision to assassinate Caesar by telling them,

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more (Shakespeare, 3.2.17-22).

Unlike the other Senators, Brutus's decision to conspire against Caesar was motivated by his concern for Roman citizens. He does not seek personal gain or celebrity by murdering Caesar and is the only senator with genuine intentions. Unfortunately, Brutus makes several terrible decisions by allowing Antony to live and speak at Julius Caesar's funeral.

Once again, Brutus's decisions impact the trajectory of the play and drive the plot forward. Brutus also makes the disastrous decision to meet Antony and Octavius's troops at Phillipi and loses in the final battle. After Brutus commits suicide, Antony comments on Brutus's character by saying,

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 (Shakespeare, 5.5.66-80).

Overall, Brutus is the protagonist of the play, and his decisions drive the plot. His inner thoughts and difficult decision to assassinate Julius Caesar are emphasized and portrayed throughout the play. Despite the title of the play, Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is centered around the character of Brutus, and the play depicts his unfortunate downfall. 

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The title of Shakespeare's play has more to do with what was happening at the time in England when this drama was written than with Roman history. Shakespeare's desire to examine the question of whether authority belongs to the people, or to a single leader, or to the "state"--a monarchy, an empire, or a republic--is the reason for his title.     

During the time of Shakespeare, Queen Elizabeth I was in power, and Shakespeare's players staged epic dramas that showcased the heroic history of their beloved England and of the Romans, who were their ideal. In fact, the Earl of Essex held the Romans as his ideal, as well, fashioning himself as a modern Julius Caesar. However, this image of himself got the better of him, and Essex marched against the queen, which became a fatal mistake. Thus, the title of the play points to the historical personage who gave rise to the question of how much power should a leader possess. This question is the one that Brutus debates in his garden as he concludes that Caesar would become tyrannical if given too much power. 

Source: Bate, Jonathan and Rasmussen, Eric, eds. William Shakespeare Complete Works. NewYork: The Modern Library, 2007. 

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Redefining William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar as The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus would depend upon one's individual interpretation both Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus. While both men contain tragic flaws (or hamartia), one seems to be most certainly more tragic than the other.

For example, Julius Caesar does prove to be arrogant and ambitious (seen with his dismissal of the apothecary and his three time refusal to rule Rome), Marcus Brutus possesses many more tragic flaws (overconfidence, naivety, and impatience). His overconfidence and naivety show when he allows Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral. His impatience shows when he refuses to wait to battle Antony.

Also, the play continues on after the death of Julius Caesar. The movement of the play centers around Brutus and his own concern for Rome (illustrated by his constant mantra--"not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more"). Although Caesar's death is certainly tragic (given the upheaval it causes), the play's true action revolves around Brutus and his own tragic downfall. 

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Julius Caesar

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