What is Brutus's attitude towards the act of conspiracy? What does this tell us about him?
In the beginning of the play, Brutus is indecisive about the conspiracy. He knows that Caesar is gathering power, but he hasn’t seen him use it in an inappropriate way. When Cassius approaches him about joining the conspirators he doesn’t commit himself right away.
It is worth noting that Cassius appeals to his vanity right away by referring to him as honorable and noble. Brutus prizes the quality of honor. Cassius also resorts to a bit of trickery by sending Brutus letters praising him and asking him to join the conspiracy. These letters appear to have been written by different people.
Brutus does some soul searching and finally decides that Caesar must be “killed in the shell” before he becomes too powerful to stop.
Brutus feels that he cannot risk his “honor” by allowing Caesar to assume greater and greater power. An all-powerful Caesar would eclipse and possibly, in a sense, enslave Brutus (not literally, but politically). How much of Brutus’ decision is based on true honor and how much is due to his vanity is unclear. What is clear, however, is that once Brutus makes up his mind, he does not look back.
When Cassius first approaches Brutus in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, to see if Brutus will join the group of men intent on assassinating Caesar, Brutus is at first hesitant, and rightly so. He is a smart man who loves Caesar—and his honor means everything to him. But he loves Rome more than Caesar or himself. Brutus first shows caution with Cassius in Act One, scene two:
Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek into myself
For that which is not in me? (68-70)
Brutus suspects that Cassius may have something in mind that Brutus does not have a heart for. Trumpets sound and there are shouts. The two men try to understand what is taking place...and Cassius is quick to surmise that Brutus does not want Caesar crowned "king."
What means this shouting? I do fear the people
Choose Caesar for their king.
Ay, do you fear it?
Then must I think you would not have it so.
I would not, Cassius, yet I love him well.
But wherefore do you hold me here so long?
What is it that you would impart to me?
If it be aught toward the general good,
Set honor in one eye and death i' the other
And I will look on both indifferently.
For let the gods so speed me as I love
The name of honor more than I fear death. (84-95)
Brutus tells Cassius that he loves Caesar. He also warns him that if Cassius' plans concern the good of the Roman people—with death on one hand and honor on the other—he will not be moved, for he holds honor above all else.
Cassius makes known his complaints against Caesar, but they are based on a bruised ego and jealousy. Brutus tells him that maybe someday they will speak again, but he leaves Cassius without any indication that he wants Caesar dead. It is important to note that Cassius' words take root in Brutus' heart and he thinks about them for over a month, at which point he finally joins Cassius because Cassius has manipulated Brutus into believing that Caesar is an immediate threat to Rome.
Once Caesar is dead (and Antony has turned the crowd against Brutus, Cassius and the other conspirators), in Act Four, scene three, Brutus begins to see Cassius in a different light: a man selling favors of political office—rewards where money speaks and not honor. Brutus addresses Cassius harshly, wondering how the noble hands that took the life of one of the greatest men that every lived could now be so dishonorable as to take bribes.
Let me tell you, Cassius, you yourself
Are much condemn'd to have an itching palm,
To sell and mart your offices for gold
To undeservers. (9-12)
The name of Cassius honors this corruption,
And chastisement doth therefore hide his head. (16-17)
Remember March, the ides of March remember.
Did not great Julius bleed for justice's sake?
What villain touch'd his body, that did stab,
And not for justice? What, shall one of us,
That struck the foremost man of all this world
But for supporting robbers, shall we now
Contaminate our fingers with base bribes
And sell the mighty space of our large honors
For so much trash as may be grasped thus?
I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon,
Than such a Roman. (19-29)
Though they make peace, Brutus has had time to see what he has done, and although his actions were for the good of Rome, Brutus killed Caesar—a man he admired and loved—because he was caught up in petty resentments lesser and weaker men had against Caesar. Brutus, the tragic hero, takes his life rather than being taken by Antony's forces.