What are the strengths and weaknesses of Brutus as a character in Julius Caesar?
Shakespeare seems to have held the opinion that all men are mixtures of good and bad. He shows this clearly in Julius Caesar. Caesar is a great man, but he is an egomaniac. Antony is courageous and resourceful but two-faced. Cassius is brave, intelligent, and an inspiring talker, but he is greedy and stingy. Brutus, according to Mark Antony, had an exceptionally fine character. At the end of Act V, Scene 5, Antony says of his defeated enemy:
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.
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."
Yet Brutus had his weaknesses. He seems to be the kind of introverted, solitary man who is highly intelligent and learned but lacks common sense. He judges others by himself. Once he takes the leadership of the conspiracy, he makes terrible blunders. Mark Antony practically makes a fool of him in getting permission, against Cassius' advice, to speak in Caesar's funeral and then delivering a speech which is far more effective than Brutus' formal speech of self-justification. Cassius even wanted to assassinate Antony along with his great friend Caesar, but Brutus overruled him in Act II, Scene 1, saying:
Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards--
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.
Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius.
It is ironic that when Brutus and Cassius are having their acrimonious argument in the tent in Act IV, Scene 2, Brutus says:
I did send
To you for gold to pay my legions,
Which you denied me. Was that done like Cassius?
Should I have answered Caius Cassius so?
That was done exactly like Cassius. Cassius loves gold, and he has the worldly wisdom and aggressiveness necessary to acquire it, even though their armies are forced to withdraw to the countryside while Antony and Octavius have free access to all the resources of Rome. Brutus judges others by himself. He is noble, generous, and unselfish, and he expects others to be like himself. He was mistaken about Antony, and he is mistaken about Cassius, as he discovers when they have their falling out in his tent. Brutus has to ask Cassius for gold because he is too noble, too aristocratic, too genteel to get it the hard way (which is just about the only way to get it). As he tells Cassius:
For I can raise no money by vile means.
By heaven, I had rather coin my heart
And drop my blood for drachmas than to wring
From the hard hands of peasants their vile trash
By any indirection.
Brutus shows a further weakness in judgment when he decides to fight Antony and Octavius at Philippi against the strong advice of Cassius. Brutus is not cut out to be an assassin and a revolutionary. He is a meditative, scholarly, impractical type of man who is misled by the crafty, ambitious, and unscrupulous Cassius into becoming the leader of the bloody coup. Cassius might have been a better leader, but Brutus was loved and respected by the Roman people, whereas Cassius was not liked because he was not a likable person--and apparently he knew it.
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