(From the play Julius Caesar)
Was Brutus justified in killing Caesar? Defend your answer using events from the play.
How does Cassius persuade Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar? What are his reasons?
There are several Motif's or ideas that keep coming up throughout this play. They are:
Explain how they are used throughout the play. Use specific events to back up your answer.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare sets up the ultimate conflict between loyalty to an individual and loyalty to the state. What do you do when your benefactor, friend and leader becomes, as Brutus saw Caesar, the enemy of Rome and all that it stood for? In this case, it was more especially painful to Brutus because he had completely identified himself with the republican cause. That was the “hamartia” of the tragedy, as the Greeks would have expressed it.
Like many Romans of the day, Brutus saw republicanism as more than merely an effective form of government: it was a matter of faith. Brutus believed that Caesar intended to subvert the Roman system of government by having himself made king and that only his death could save Rome from tyranny. There is no indication in Shakespeare’s play that Brutus even considered other possibilities once Cassius had spoken to him about assassinating Caesar. Of course, effective drama keeps the plot rolling along, so we audience happily accept this and do not wonder at Brutus’ lack of reflection.
Shakespeare has Cassius appeal to Brutus’ sense of duty and honor, and his love of Rome. He also cleverly appeals to Brutus’ ego, his sense of importance. Overweening pride allows Brutus to override his repugnance at assassinating his mentor, friend, leader, and fellow Roman. He can excuse his betrayal of Caesar by pointing to Caesar’s betrayal of Rome.
The irony of the situation is that the assassination produced exactly the mayhem that Brutus had feared, and that it was exactly a change to an unelected leader in the person of Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian, that produced Rome’s Augustan golden age of peace and prosperity.
By the moral standards of Shakespeare’s day, Brutus’ action was entirely unjustified. The Stoic view was that leaders were sent by God (or the gods), and the proper place of common citizens was to make the best of a possibly bad job. This may be why Shakespeare is extremely careful in dealing with assassinations of heads of state, setting them either in the distant past (Richard II and Richard III) or in foreign countries (Anthony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar).