Who is the main character of "Julius Caesar" —Caesar or someone else?  Although we aren't surprised that Caesar is killed, we are a little surprised at when he is killed. The play is named for...

Who is the main character of "Julius Caesar" —Caesar or someone else?

 

Although we aren't surprised that Caesar is killed, we are a little surprised at when he is killed. The play is named for him, but he is in the play only a short time. This leads us to believe that Caesar may not be the main character in the story—if he isn't, who is?


Asked on by ryry1212

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I believe that the main character in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is Marcus Brutus. The play is named for Caesar, but it is actually what happens to him, and in Rome after his death, that marks the play as a true "tragedy."

Some sources insist that Caesar cannot be ignored in this play, even though he is in it only for a short time. It is Caesar at the center of the story as Brutus, Cassius, et al, conspire to murder him. His importance in the play cannot be underplayed, even after his death.

It is, however, Brutus who seems to be the one man most capable of driving the plot. He loves Rome, but is fearful that Caesar does not love Rome enough. Brutus decides to participate in Caesar's murder even though Brutus loves Caesar. He explains his actions to the crowd after Caesar's death, and is ready to face any criticism from any friend of Caesar, for what has happened—that it is not that he loved Caesar less, but loved Rome more than he loved Caesar, and this is the thread of his logic throughout the play.

If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar's, to him I say that Brutus' love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. (III.ii.18-22)

Brutus is idealistic; devoted to republicanism; may lack political judgment (he seems easily manipulated); he may join the conspirators for the wrong reason; and, he is tragic hero. Brutus is the story's main tragic figure. He is a noble citizen of Rome, one loved by Caesar—who loves Caesar in return, but becomes involved in Cassius' plot in order (he says) to guarantee Rome's "freedom." Brutus' actions have grave consequences; they:

plunge...him into a personal conflict and his country into civil war.

While the play is named for Julius Caesar, Caesar is only in three scenes. Brutus, who is listed far below Caesar in the original list of characters, is in the play much more, even in the play's final scene, when he dies.

To look upon Caesar as 'the real as well as the nominal hero' of the play, however, is [a] mistake. Shakespeare's Caesar does not fulfill the demands of a tragic hero...

A.C. Bradley distinguishes between Caesar's role and that of Brutus without detracting from either one: Caesar...is in a sense the dominating figure in the story, but Brutus is the 'hero.'

Aristotle lists the characteristics of a tragic hero as: the hero must be a great man; he must die due to a tragic flaw; and, his death must be his own fault. As a tragic hero, Brutus must have a tragic flaw, which is seen by some as:

...his philosophical commitment to principle...

Brutus is a great man, well-loved and respected by Caesar. He dies because of a tragic flaw, which is his overzealous sense of commitment to republicanism, leading to murder and civil war; and, his death is his own fault in that he had a choice in joining Cassius; he doesn't check Cassius' "facts;" he allows himself to be manipulated.

Tragedy often works precisely because the protagonist in choosing good, chooses something that will lead to unhappiness.

I believe that Brutus is the main character, that he is our tragic hero, and the story's protagonist. And for a good reason, he makes a bad choice.

Additional Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamartia#.22Tragic_flaw.22

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