In Julius Caesar , Shakespeare explores the theme of heroism primarily by leading his audience into a reflection about which characters may be considered heroes and why (or perhaps why not). Let's look at Caesar himself, for instance. Clearly, the Roman people view him as a hero. His is a...
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare explores the theme of heroism primarily by leading his audience into a reflection about which characters may be considered heroes and why (or perhaps why not). Let's look at Caesar himself, for instance. Clearly, the Roman people view him as a hero. His is a victorious military leader who has entered the city in triumph after defeating Rome's enemies. The people are ready to make Caesar a king, and they actually try to give him the crown three times. He refuses all three times, and this actually may be more heroic than a military victory. Caesar turns his back on ambition for the good of his people.
Cassius, however, doesn't see Caesar as a hero at all. Rather, he thinks that Caesar is a weakling who is not qualified to rule. Caesar even has seizures of some sort, and this would never happen to a true hero, at least as far as Cassius is concerned. Readers are left to ponder that for themselves. Cassius's job is to convince Brutus that Caesar will give in to his ambition and overthrow the republic.
Brutus is certainly concerned about this. He recognizes the people's love for Caesar, but he worries that they will lose their freedom by placing too much power in the hands of one man. Brutus also wonders if Caesar is truly qualified to rule. To his credit, Brutus is honestly considering what is best for Rome. He does not want the people to inadvertently subject themselves to a dictator. When Cassius plants the false letters that are supposedly (but not really) written by the people of Rome, Brutus makes his decision to join the conspiracy against Caesar. He believes that he is doing the right thing, and he carries out his part in eliminating Caesar. The audience is left with the question of whether Brutus is doing something heroic, at least as far as he knows and can know. He is acting in good conscience to protect Rome from what he honestly thinks will be a horrible fate.
This is not an easy question to answer, and it is not supposed to be. Shakespeare wants his audience to wrestle with the nature of heroism in all its complexity. Being a hero is not just about winning battles. It's also about following one's conscience. Both Caesar and Brutus are heroes to an extent, but they are flawed heroes, even tragic heroes, who do their best yet fail in many ways. By the end of the play, Brutus, however, has realized his mistake, and he admits it. Perhaps this, too, is heroic.