Why does Brutus lie about not hearing of Portia's death before the decisive battle; does this highlight yet another flaw in his character?

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scarletpimpernel eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 4, Scene 3, Brutus discusses with Cassius (Portia's brother) his wife's death and her reason for committing suicide.  Right after this conversation, Messala enters with news and letters and (after Brutus's prompting) tells Brutus that Portia is dead.  Brutus's words suggest that he intends for Messala to believe that Brutus is hearing the news for the first time.  There are several possible interpretations for the motivation of Brutus's lie.

1. Brutus, like his wife, was a Stoic.  Stoicism stresses the ability to control the human reaction to pain--physical or emotional; so Brutus's response to Messala's news and even his attitude when he is telling Cassius about Portia's death could be Brutus's attempt to represent properly his belief system.  He shows no emotion in either case, and if Messala believes that Brutus's Stoic response to the news is sincere, then Brutus has contributed to his "honorable" reputation.

2. Brutus's lie to Messala could also be motivated by not wanting to appear weak in front of his men and military leaders as they get ready to fight the most signficant battle of their lives.  He knows that he must portray strong leadership, and so his false reaction to Messala's words enable him to show that he will not let personal tragedy affect his goals for the Roman Republic.

3. Finally, it could be possible that Shakespeare is portraying Brutus as drunk or as mentally unstable at this point in the play. Brutus does mention to Cassius that wine is his only solace, and he later has a dream in which Caesar's ghost appears to him, which might suggest that Brutus is having a difficult time distinguishing the past from the present and appearance from reality. If this is Shakespeare's motivation for includingthe conversation in the scene, then Brutus does not tell a lie, because he is not in control of his thoughts.

Whether the audience interprets Brutus's lie as another flaw certainly depends upon their interpretation of his motivation for lying.

imrul23 | Student

As you so righty said,Brutus's motive for lying may be interpreted in a variety opf ways.Personally I think Brutus lies not because he was a die-hard stoic but because he tried to attain the degree of respect Caesar commanded from his countrymen.By veiling his emotions,he wants to awe Messala.He wants to give the impression that he is still in control.

Rest assured ,Brutus was not as good a stoic as he has been described as.Stoicism does not permit suicide,and moreover it condemns murder.Brutus committed both.How then can you label him a stoic?

 However,I loved the interpretation of him being in a drunken state of mind.Thank you again.

imrul23 | Student

thank you for your view.I've posted some other thoughts below.Please go through them and comment at will.

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Julius Caesar

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