In Julius Caesar, which of the two conspirators appears to have a better understanding of human nature: Brutus or Cassius?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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An evaluation of the results wrought by the judgments and observations of Brutus and Cassius reveal which character is the idealist and which the pragmatist. And, of course, the pragmatist always has a better understanding of human nature. So, while both Brutus and Cassius are flawed, Cassius does seem to be the one who better understands human nature.

Brutus

  • Even when Brutus deliberates about joining the conspirators at the beginning of Act II, he bases his decision on his noble ideas, deciding that Caesar may "scorn...the base degrees/By which he did ascend"(2.1). So, he concludes that in order to protect Rome from his tyranny, he must join the assassins because he does not believe Caesar will continue to be just and honorable if given the authority of kingship.
  • Again Brutus is flawed by his idealism and poor judgment when he allows Marc Antony to address the Romans in a funeral oration after Caesar's death despite Cassius's warning that he knows not how Antony may move the crowd. "I know not what may fall; I like it not" (3.1). Antony does move the crowd, so much that a civil war begins.
  • In Act IV Cassius wants their troops to remain where they are and make their enemy march to them, but Brutus does not agree, convinced idealistically that¬†

There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries. (4.3)

This decision is a fatal one as the troops are so enervated by marching to Philippi that they are defeated and Brutus and Cassius must fall upon their own swords lest they be captured by Marc Antony and Octavius.

Cassius

  • Realizing that Brutus is a noble man of honor, Cassius cleverly solicits Brutus to his cause of assassinating Caesar. In what is called the "seduction scene," Brutus speaks of the grandeur of Caesar and his tyranny; he also includes allusions to honor, equality, and republican ideals into his speech in order to move the idealistic Brutus.

I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,
As well as I do know your outward favor.
Well, honor is the subject of my story. (1.2)

After Brutus leaves, in a soliloquy Cassius  plans to further sway the noble Brutus to his cause by sending him forged letters, ostensibly from Roman citizens, that describe Caesar's alleged ambitions. He knows if he does this, Brutus's sense of honor will force him to act. And, he knows that Brutus, who is widely respected, will bring credibility to the assassins' cause.

  • After the assassination of Julius Caesar, his friend Marc Antony asks permission of Brutus to speak to the Romans. Brutus agrees, but Cassius wisely suspects Antony when Brutus says they may "have him well to friend" (3.1):

I wish we may. But yet have I a mind
That fears him much; and my misgiving still
Falls shrewdly to the purpose (3.1).

Brutus's claim that his doubts always turn out to be justified are true as Antony stirs the crowd to break into civil strife. (Cassius wanted him slain.) Further on, Cassius again demonstrates his shrewdness and sound judgment of men. Nevertheless, he often defers to Brutus, acting out of his love for Brutus, rather than his good judgment of men as, for instance, when he agrees to have their troops march to Philippi.

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