Discussion Topic

Determining the tragic hero of Julius Caesar: Caesar or Brutus?

Summary:

Brutus is often considered the tragic hero of Julius Caesar. Despite his noble intentions and moral integrity, his decision to join the conspiracy and assassinate Caesar leads to his downfall. His internal conflict and ultimate realization of his mistake embody the characteristics of a tragic hero.

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In Julius Caesar, who is the true tragic hero, Caesar or Brutus, considering their qualities and faults?

I'm not sure "most people" would consider Julius Caesar the tragic hero of the play. He does have some elements of a tragic hero. Namely, he dies. Also his misfortune is not entirely deserved, but it is his fault. Caesar is really prideful and doesn't heed multiple warnings (the seer's and his wife's).  

Brutus is a better fit for the tragic hero mantle. First, Brutus is of noble stature (so is Caesar, yes). Brutus is one of Rome's noblemen. He's liked, well respected, and wealthy.  At the end of the play Marc Antony remembers Brutus by saying "the noblest Roman of them all." That's a big deal to be held in higher regard than Caesar. Regarding his personality, Brutus is an idealist. He is always looking for the best in people. He wants to trust people. He doesn't want to lie to them. He wants what is best for people. So how could he kill Caesar then? He did that because he believed that Caesar would become a tyrant and hurt the common good. Brutus "loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more." 

A second tragic hero nod to Brutus comes in the fact that Brutus is good, but not perfect. His desire to trust in others so much eventually leads to his downfall and death, not to mention the following civil war. That's another reason for Brutus to be the tragic hero. His downfall is his fault. But the reader also feels that his downfall is not fully deserved. The reader knows that Brutus is a good man, trying to do right, so it feels horrible that he has to die. Sure we feel bad that Caesar is betrayed and killed, but his death doesn't carry the same sense of loss that Brutus's death does. Lastly, even though Brutus dies, his death still evokes positive memories as stated by Antony with the following quote:

"His life was gentle, and the elements

So mixed in him that Nature might stand up

And say to all the world, 'This was a man!'"

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Which character, Brutus or Caesar, is the tragic hero of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

We editors at enotes do not write for students; however, we gladly offer suggestions and any guidance that we can.  With this in mind, perhaps a good way for you to begin the introduction of the defense of Brutus as truly the tragic hero of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is to define what constitutes a tragic hero. (see the link below.) This definition which has several facets to it can act as the motivator and then you can put the thesis as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph.

Since both Brutus and Julius Caesar are noble in stature, and have excessive pride (hubris), which causes them to make tragic mistakes (hamartia), you may need to make the strength of your thesis the statement that Brutus is the character who is present throughout the entire play, he is the central character who is well developed, and he is the character who illustrates the predominant theme of tyranny versus freedom.

Here are some ideas you can consider in making your choice of tragic hero and in the development of your essay:

This theme of tyranny vs. freedom is developed through the many agonizings of Brutus who first cannot decide whether Caesar should be slain or not.  Then, after he agrees to join the conspirators, he decides that for the good of Rome Caesar must die.  However, his political idealism makes Brutus blind to the subterfuges of Marc Antony and, in his hubris he does not listen to Cassius who suggests that Antony be slain as well.  At Sardis, Brutus argues with Cassius, and still maintains his idealism as he argues that the assassination was a noble deed.  Then, before the battle at Phillipi, Brutus makes his tragic mistake of ordering the troops to march to Philippi when Cassius has contended that they should wait.  Brutus still believes in fate as he tells Cassius "There is a tide in the affairs of men" that must be taken.

In contrast to Brutus, Caesar is not as well developed and only makes one tragic mistake whereas Brutus makes the mistakes of not slaying Antony and trusting him instead as well as his mistake about the battle of Philippi.

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Is Brutus the tragic hero in Julius Caesar?

It is a testimony of the nobility of Brutus that his arch-enemy, Marc Antony, praises him at the end of the play in his eulogy,

This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar,
He, only in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world: "This was a man!"
(V.v.68-75).

That Brutus has "general honest thought" and is virtuous is evinced in his decision to slay Caesar whom he considers a threat to his beloved Rome in the early part of the play, in his speech to his loyal wife Portia, and even in his treatment of his friend Cassius.  For, in Act IV, Scene 3,  when Cassius urges Brutus to defend his friend Pella, Brutus ignores the letters of Cassius, allowing Pella to be rightly punished for taking bribes.  Later he chides Cassius for his wrongdoing.  He also continues to defend his belief in this argument that the assassination was a noble deed; this defense in light of the damaging civil war points to Brutus's self-deceptive commitment to principle.

In this argument with Cassius, Brutus also demonstrates that he is not perfect as he speaks rather rashly and loses his temper.  Later, he does not listen to Cassius about keeping the troops where they are and letting the troops of the triumvirate come to them.  Instead, Brutus orders the troops to Philippi, exhausting them before their battle, thus causing their defeat.  This act of hamartis, in which Brutus feels

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.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.(4.3.243-250)

is what causes Brutus's death. A noble Roman, Brutus is loved by Cassius, who is ready to kill himself after their argument in Act IV.  Certainly, his misfortune is not entirely deserved; however, much like Caesar who exhibits inconsistencies before he goes to the Senate, Brutus, too, is inconsistent, discounting fate earlier then calling for the moment to act in his "tide in the affairs of man" speech. And, tragically, Brutus is too much of an idealist.  It is he who is the tragic hero of Shakespeare's play.

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Who is the real hero of Julius Caesar, Caesar or Brutus?

This question has caused Shakespearean scholars to discuss and write papers for centuries.  Many people wonder why the play is titled "Julius Caesar" when Caesar isn't even the primary protagonist of the action - he isn't really in the play very much and he is assassinated halfway through, although, to be accurate, his ghost does make some appearances later on!

It is, however, Caesar and his determination to be emperor that causes the action of the play, and precipitates others' reactions to him, leading to his death.  And again, that is where we get the question about Brutus and Caesar and who was the most heroic.

Brutus claims that he loved Caesar, but he loved Rome more, which seems to justify, in his mind, why he turned against a man he had thought of as a friend and was willing to help stab him to death.  But Caesar believed that by becoming emperor, he could help Rome remain a major power and prevent the problems that occurred under a group of senators.

What you have are two men who claim to have been trying to do what they believe was right - following their consciences.  It is up to each reader of "Julius Caesar" to determine which was the most heroic, if that is even possible.  But a careful reading of the lines written for Brutus and those written for Caesar can perhaps help you come to an understanding for yourself.  And perhaps the title really shouldn't have been "Julius Caesar"! :)

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Who is the hero of Julius Caesar, Brutus or Caesar?

I believe Brutus is a tragic hero. He does not desire to murder Caesar because he loves Caesar. However, Brutus goes against his own feelings for the good of Rome.

Brutus is a hero, a tragic one. He takes the life of Caesar because he loves Rome more than he loves Caesar. Brutus is intent on keeping Rome free from tyranny. He risks his life to keep Rome free from slavery. Brutus admits that he would rather be a common villager than to become a slave under Caesar's leadership:

Brutus would rather be a villager
Than to say he is a son of Rome Under the hard conditions that these times
Are likely to lay on us.

Brutus is no doubt a hero. He follows through with the conspiracy because he fears that Caesar has become too ambitious:

What does this shouting mean? I’m afraid the people
Are going to choose Caesar for their king.

Brutus gives his reasons for agreeing to the conspiracy against Caesar:

He must die, and, for my part,
I don’t know a personal cause to throw at him,
But for the general complaints. He wants to be crowned.
There's the question: how that might change his nature.
A bright day brings out the black, poison snake,
And that means we must walk carefully. Crown him?— that.
And then, I admit, he may do danger, at his will, with
A sting that we put in him.
The abuse of greatness is when it disconnects
Remorse from power, and, to speak truth about Caesar,
I haven’t known a time when his emotions were swayed
More than his reason. But it’s common knowledge
That being lowly is young ambition's ladder
Where the one who would climb upward looks for help,
But, when he once he gets to the top,
He then turns his back to the ladder and
Looks to the clouds, scorning the common ladder
By which he ascended. Caesar might do the same thing.
Then, because he might, we must prevent it. And, since the quarrelis rather thin for the thing he is,
We must make it sound like this—that what he is,
With some additions, would run to these and these extremities.
And for that reason we must think of him as a serpent's egg
Which hatched, would, as his kind grow dangerous,
And kill him in the shell.

With these comments, Brutus is no doubt a hero. He realizes that Caesar has become overly ambitious. Now, something must be done about Caesar's ambition. Brutus is man enough to agree to the conspiracy that is forming. Brutus proves himself a brave leader in his agreement to rid Rome of Caesar's ambition.

Even in the end, Brutus proves himself brave when he falls on his own sword. He would rather die that live under the oppression of a tyrannical government.

Marc Antony admits that Brutus was more noble than all the conspirators. Antony admits that Brutus did what he did for the common good of all. Antony's kind words about Brutus prove that Brutus was indeed a hero:

This was the noblest Roman of them all.
All the conspirators, except him,
Did that they did out of jealousy of great Caesar;
Only he, in a general-honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, "This was a man!"

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Who is the hero of Julius Caesar, Brutus or Caesar?

Yours is a question that has long been debated, and arguments can be made for both characters.  For, Caesar and Brutus of "Julius Caesar" both demonstrate hubris, arrogance as a result of his pride or passion; they both make tragic mistakes, or commit harmartia; and they both die as a result of their tragic mistakes,

However, it would seem that Brutus commits his "act of injustice," hamartia, more closely to definition, having killed Caesar through the conviction that a greater good will be served.  His act is a criminal one and Brutus is responsible for it throughout the play whereas Caesar is gone by the end of Act III. 

Another argument for Brutus as the tragic hero is in the gravity and number of his tragic mistakes. 

  • His first mistake, of course, is believing that Caesar is too ambitious and

It must be by his death...He would be crowned. III,i,10-12)

  • At the same time, Brutus also mistakenly believes that Cassius and the others have the same noble intentions as he.  After the assassination, Brutus does not follow the counsel of Cassius who tells him not to let Marc Antony speak, but Brutus believes that his rational argument of his having "loved Rome more" will sustain the crowd against Antony's rhetoric. This error leads to Antony's swaying of the Roman crowd as well as his becoming a military and political opposing force to Brutus and the other conspirators. 
  • As a result of this grave error,Brutus is responsible for the country's being thrown into civil strife, a condition far worse than Caesar's having been "crowned."
  • In his military endeavors against the triumvirate of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, Brutus blunders gravely at the battle of Phillippi.  Again, he does not listen to Cassius and moves too quickly, his final tragic mistake as this error causes his suicide, a death chosen over being dragged through the streets of Rome as the defeated. 
  • And, tragically, the resulting reign of the triumvirate becomes far more tyrannical than that of Caesar.
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What characteristics make Brutus a tragic hero in Julius Caesar?

Brutus is a tragic hero for several reasons. Most important, his character flaw, allowing others to twist his virtues to their own causes, is the cause of his downfall. He is so honorable that he is unable to see dishonor in others. In addition, he is a high status character --he is an esteemed general and political leader in Rome.

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