What is Cassius's determination/motivation for assassinating Julius Caesar? In class, we are doing a Julius Caesar treason trial to determine whether or not we think that Caesar was a benevolent...

What is Cassius's determination/motivation for assassinating Julius Caesar?

In class, we are doing a Julius Caesar treason trial to determine whether or not we think that Caesar was a benevolent dictator who saved the roman empire, or a tyrant who destroyed the republic. I am a prosecuting attorney who examines Cassius, a prosecuting witness. I have information on Cassius, but I just can't figure out his motivation for being the head of the assassination plot. Could anyone help please? Thanks.

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Do not overlook one of the strongest and most insidious of motivators in human nature:  ENVY.  Caesar himself senses this dangerous quality of Cassius as he and Marc Antony and the "train" enter the streets of Rome:

Let me have men about me that are fat,/Sleek-headed men, and such as sleep a-nights,/Yond cassius has a lean and hungry look;/He thinks too much:  such men are dangerous....Ge us a great observer, and he looks/Quite through the deeds [sees through their motives]of men....Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort/As if he mocked himself, and scorned his spirit/That could be moved to smile at anything./Such men as he be never at heart's ease/Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,/And therefore are they very dangerous. (I,ii,192-210)

That Cassius is envious of Caesar's power is evident in his words.  He speaks to Brutus of being ignored by him, showing his desire for attention and affection:

Brutus, I do observe you now of late;/I have not from your eyes that gentleness/And show of love as I was wont to have....(I,ii,32-34)

In what is known as "the seduction scene" of Brutus by Cassius, Cassius offers no concrete evidence of Caesar's tyranny or ambitions except for describing Caesar as a Colossus, but even in this description, the envious nature of Cassius is evidenced in such words as "we petty men."

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world/Like a Colossus, and we petty men/Walk under his huge legs and peep about/To find ourselves dishonorable graves (I,ii,135-137)

Cassius tells Brutus how he, who "was born free as Caesar" I,ii,97) had to save Caesar, who became weak, from drowning; yet, this same Caesar

Is now become a god, and Cassius is/A wretched creature, and must bend his body/If Caesar carelessly but nod on him. (I,ii,116-117)

In his envy of Caesar's power, Cassius manipulates his brother-in-law, "seduces" him by means of flattery and an appeal to Brutus's sense of honor and republican ideals because he knows that the Romans respect Brutus who will be more able to effect a change of power. In his famous remark to Brutus, he all but says "why not me?":

Men at some time are masters of their fates:/The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/But in ourselves, that we are underlings./Brutus (and me!) and Caesar: what should be in that "Caesar"? (I,ii,139-141)

(When you have Cassius in court, you could question him about his words:  Isn't it true, Cassius, that on ----you said, ----?  Did you not remark to Brutus that -------?  Make Brutus testify, too, if you can in order to have Brutus verify what Cassius has said.)

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This sounds fascinating and very challenging.  I am confident that you will be pushed with this assignment.  It might be best for you to identify three reasons why Cassius was motivated to plot against Caesar  (Juries and audiences remember three reasons.)

1)  The belief that Caesar sought to subvert the republic into his own identity- Cassius lays out the case in the "seduction scene" to enlist Brutus' help that Caesar has ambitions that are larger than the republic.  His main argument is that continued rule by Caesar will lead to him gaining in stature so much so that a dictatorship will result.  Cassius' main intention here is to sway Brutus that removing Caesar from power is a good thing to help the republic prosper.

2) Caesar is not physically able to carry out the demands of being the architect of the republic- In another tact in this scene, Cassius suggests that Caesar is not able to carry out his duties from a physical sense and that this weakness will be read by enemies as the weakness of the republic.  Again, invoking notions of the republic, removing Caesar becomes a critical issue.

3)  Greatness is defined by individuals who seize the moment- This analysis is more aligned by his character.  I think you want to find instances in the first half of the play where Cassius talks about the greatness of men, and the heights that great men can achieve.  He extols his own virtues in trying to enlist Brutus' help and Cassius is a believer of free will (Note his line in that the "fault is not in the stars.")  Greatness in history is defined by the actions of the great ones who seize and own the moment.  He points to Aeneas' founding of Rome and then suggests to Brutus that this is their moment.

Going back and scouring the text for moments that substantiate these reasons will give a portrait of someone who possessed ambition and was willing to do what was necessary in the achievement of his goals.

impeccable | Student


Prosecutor: It is alleged by many drawn from the different walks of life that you had a personal grudge against Caesar which had motivated you to get rid of him. Is this true?

Cassius: It is totally ridiculous to say this. My fight was not against an individual. it was against the one who was posing a threat to the republian fabric of the Roman rule.

Prosecutor: How will you substantiate your claim that the Republican Fabric of the Roman Rule was under threat with Caesar staying alive?

Cassius: Have you all forgotten Torquin the Proud of 509 BC who rose up as a tyrant and reduced almost all of the Romans to a level of slaves? Are you not aware that one Lucius Junius Brutus had organised a revolt to rise against this tryrant and drove him out of Rome? Are you not aware that since then the elite and scholorly circle of Rome have thought that resting all the powers in one hand would lead to tyranny by the ruler? Dont you think that here the seedling for the concept of separation of powers was implanted? To translate this concept into practice have they not initiated the system of rule by the Triumvirate type of structure to keep the powers dispersed?

Prosecutor: Well ! But do you have anything to say to substantiate your claim that the system of Triumvirate rule so evolved was being eroded away with?

cassius: I have reasons your honour ! Such substantial reasons backed by evidence which would not only convince you but also convince the spirit of dead Caesar. During the period of Caesar the Triumvirate consisted of Crusser, Pompi and Caesar. Crussor unfortunately had been killed at a battle with the enemies of Rome. Of the two left Pompi and Caesar have developed ideological differences and Pompi openly deplored the unilateral policy decisions by Caesar. Gradually Pompi had beome an enemy in the eyes of Caesar and who had with his evil designs had got him eliminated from his path. Further to add to the gruesome act he had personnally pitted himself in a battle against the two sons of Pompi and killed them brutally. Thus the rule of Rome was put under the rule of a single man's awe. Anyone raising their voice or acting against Caesar's will were put to death without as much as of summary trial. The recent examples are the public officials Flavius and Marullus. In my opinion being under the awe of Caesar's tyranny the senators have decided to offer him a crown on that day of his assasination. Was it not? Had he been alive would not he have emerged as an emperor of Rome?

Prosecutor: Have you not instigated Brutus to rise against Caesar and be the leader of the conspiracy?

Cassius:It is not true. Brutus is an Idealist. He thinks that only the perceptible is real. The idealists usually fail on the practical front due to their Myopic visualization. My effort was to make Brutus think practically citing some examples of Caesar's auful conduct. If one calls such citations to emanate frm my Jealous nature then I would consider that as my misfortune.

[And so and so on to make it livley]

god bless you.

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question