In the play Julius Caesar  by William Shakespeare,  Marcus Brutus is the tragic hero. What is his tragic flaw?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare is a political play with actual characters from 44 B.C. Among the characters, Marcus Brutus rises to the forefront.  Even his enemy, Marc Antony, calls him the most noble Roman of them all. 

Brutus was a sensitive, intelligent, somewhat naïve man, who served as a Roman senator.  He was drawn into the conspiracy by Cassius who despised Caesar.  Brutus, on the other hand,  did not dislike Caesar.  Cassius knew that he needed Brutus as a conspirator to validate the reasons for  killing Caesar and to satiate the Roman citizens. 

Brutus's quandary was that he was not absolutely sure that killing Caesar was the right thing.  After a self-examination and debate, Brutus determines that Caesar must die based on the possibility that he might become too powerful!  Using the example of venomous snake egg that is not treacherous until it hatches, it should be killed it before it has the chance to be dangerous.

And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

This is why Brutus becomes an assassin.

Brutus makes poor decisions throughout the play.  He does not listen to the counsel of Cassius; in fact, he over rules him on key decisions.

Brutus’s poor decisions-

  • Allowing Antony to live
  • Letting Antony speak after Brutus
  • Leaving after he speaks and not listening to Antony
  • Trusting Antony to not incite the crowd
  • Not listening to Cassius about the battle decisions since Cassius was a seasoned soldier
  • Marching the army to Philipi instead of letting Antony and Octavius come to them

Is Brutus a tragic hero? Aristotle defines the tragic hero as a man “of noble stature man. He is not an ordinary man, but a man with outstanding quality and greatness about him;  yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty.”

He should be highly renowned. This certainly defines Brutus.  He was not a perfect man for who is.  Yet, he loved his family, he loved his country, and actually he loved Caesar.  He was a beloved citizen of  Rome who flaw was his naivete.  From his choice to be a part of the conspiracy, Brutus finds himself on the path to death.  When the ghost of Caesar speaks to him in his tent, Brutus really is not shocked probably because he knows now that he made the wrong decision. Consequently, as in all tragedies, the hero dies, in this case, by his own sword.