In Act I, scene ii of the play, the two friends Cassius and Brutus discuss Caesar, who has grown to be the most powerful man in Rome. Cassius does most of the talking as he seeks to convince Brutus to join a conspiracy against Caesar. Cassius wants to curtail Caesar’s power, and indeed, to dispose of him altogether.
Cassius begins by pointing out the injustice of the situation, that Caesar, who started on the same level as himself and Brutus –‘I was born as free as Caesar, so were you’ (I.ii.97) – has forged so far ahead. Cassius goes on to paint an unflattering picture of Caesar as being weak and incapable, recalling a day when he had to save him from drowning. Cassius deliberately plays up his own image here, comparing himself to ‘Aeneas’ (I.ii.112), the illustrious ancestor of Rome, bearing ‘the tired Caesar’ (I.ii.115) from the water, and marvels at the fact that such a weak man has gone on to wholly surpass his rescuer.
Cassius further emphasises Caesar’s weaknesses by referring to his epileptic fits, when he would turn pale ‘as a sick girl’ (I.ii.128). Clearly, Cassius deeply resents having to serve under a man whom he feels is actually inferior to himself.
Cassius is therefore motivated by personal envy of Caesar, but he also cites political reasons for taking measures against him. He points out that Rome is a republic, where no one man should be able to exert so much influence, and rails against the inaction of the general public:
Age, thou art shamed!
Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!
When went there by an age, since the great flood,
But it was famed with more than with one man?
When could they say till now, that talk'd of Rome,
That her wide walls encompass'd but one man? (I.ii.149-154)
It is this latter appeal that will touch Brutus, who is renowned for his political idealism. Brutus is moved to act against Caesar, a personal friend, solely due to political reasons. He is already feeling uneasy about Caesar’s rise; Cassius knows this, and exploits the situation.
Brutus is aware, at least to some extent, that Cassius is manipulating him: ‘what you would work me to, I have some aim’ (I.ii.161), but allows himself to be persuaded because his desire to safeguard Rome against the possibility of one man’s dictatorship ultimately overrides all other concerns. Cassius, on his side, is very anxious to have Brutus as part of the conspiracy against Caesar, as Brutus’s good name in Rome will make the conspiracy appear more acceptable.