Does Julius Caesar possess the traits of a tragic hero?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Since Julius Caesar only appears in three scenes in Shakespeare's play, there is not enough development of this character for him to be the real tragic hero of the drama. Nevertheless, he does possess certain tragic characteristics:

1. He is of noble stature. Having patrician roots as the son of Aurelia and Gaius Julius Caesar has risen as a great general. As the play opens, Caesar has been named dictator perpetuus, but when Marc Antony offers him a crown, Caesar refuses it three times as the Romans watch.

2. His downfall comes as a result of his hamartia, or act of injustice. This act is committed prior to the action of the play as Caesar has defeated Pompey and then returns to Rome in the first scene.  His celebration of triumph over Pompey arouses skepticism and uneasiness in the Romans because triumphs were reserved for foreign conquests, and because Caesar and Pompey were part of a triumvir at one time. This action and his apparent desire for absolute power are what cause Casca to say that the senators "

Mean to establish Caesar as a king
And he shall wear his crown by sea and land,
In every place save here in Italy (1.3.86-88)

Cassius, too, speaks of Caesar's desire for power,

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. (1.2.141-144)

3. The hero's fall is his fault. Caesar's pride will not allow him to heed the warnings of the seer to "Beware the Ides of March," nor to comply with his wife's pleas to remain home because of her portentous dreams after Decius arrives and reinterprets Calpurnia's dreams and taunts Caesar by suggesting that the senators will say that he is afraid.

4. The hero's misfortune is not completely deserved. It becomes apparent that Cassius is envious of Caesar's power, as are others among the conspirators. Even Caesar himself recognizes Cassius as a threat,

Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous. (1.2.200-201)

5. The tragic fall is not complete loss. When Caesar turns as Brutus stabs him and says, "Et tu, Brute?" he realizes that he has exceeded his reign for someone as noble as Brutus and as close to him to wish to assassinate him.

While the death of Julius Caesar arouses compassion for him, it does not produce the emotional release and sympathies at the end of the play as does the death of Brutus. Caesar's death leads to civil disorder, instead.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Brutus qualify as a tragic hero in Julius Caesar?

Brutus meets all of the qualifications of a tragic hero.

-He is a man of high position (socially, politically, and financially) who experiences a drastic fall from that position.

-He is of noble birth.  His family helped end the reign of the king and establish the Roman Republic.

-He possesses a tragic flaw (an emotion, obsession, or characteristic which causes a tragic hero's downfall).  His flaw is a lack of discernment of bad judgment.  Several examples of this can be found in Act 2 when Brutus disagrees with many of the conspirators on issues such as killing Antony.  He did not want to kill Antony because he was afraid of how the conspirators would be perceived, and yet if had chosen to kill Antony at the same time as they killed Caesar, who knows what history would look like now?  There are several other examples of his bad judgment, especially in Acts 4 and 5.

-He has a tragic realization (the point at which the tragic hero realizes that he has brought about his own downfall).  For Brutus, of course, this is too late.  As the battle seems to go to Antony, Brutus realizes that he made a horrendous mistake in killing Caesar.  He begins to make this discovery when Caesar's ghost appeared to him the night before, but as he is about to die, he knows that he judged Caesar in error and that he would have to pay for it with his life.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, discuss how Brutus can be considered a tragic hero.

Though Shakespeare's play is called Julius Caesar, the main character is Brutus. He is the play's tragic hero.

Aristotle described the characteristics of a tragic hero. He must be a great man—a man of notable deeds or character, or both. Second, the tragic hero has to die. Last, the hero's death is his own fault, brought on by his poor judgment because of a tragic flaw in his character.

Brutus is a great man in Rome. Brutus is greatly admired; when Rome erupts in Civil War, there are many that follow Brutus because of the true caliber of man he is. He is not a man who openly complains; while he worries over the fate of Rome in the hands of Caesar, he keeps his own counsel. Brutus believes in doing the honorable thing, even if it means his death:

For let the gods so speed me as I love

The name of honor more than I fear death. (I.ii.94-95)

Brutus tips his hand, letting Cassius know how he feels, especially in fearing that Caesar is to be crowned a king—in such a case, he says he'd rather be a peasant:

Brutus had rather be a villager

Than to repute himself a son of Rome

Under these hard conditions as this time

Is like to lay upon us. (178-181)

We know that Cassius lies to Brutus as he speaks of "seducing" the will of someone even as noble as Brutus—tricking him to believe there is more of a threat than there may really be—so Brutus will join Cassius. After Brutus leaves, Cassius ruminates about the man:

Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet, I see

Thy honorable metal may be wrought

From that it is disposed; therefore it is meet

That noble minds keep ever with their likes;

For who so firm that cannot be seduced? (311-315)

Naiveté is Brutus' tragic flaw: he too easily believes Cassius—and falls in with Cassius' plot to kill Caesar. From one meeting to very next, Brutus has allowed himself to be swept into Cassius' conspiracy. Brutus will never know how this "friend" tricked him. At the end of the play, he erroneously honors Cassius:

My heart doth joy that yet in all my life

I found no man but he was true to me. (V.ii.38-39)

Brutus does die in this tragedy. He fights like a lion and is a valiant leader to his men. Rome is his only concern: he risks (and loses) his life for the good of his country. When he contemplates that he and Cassius may be defeated, he declares he will never allow himself to be captured and paraded through the streets in ignominy.

BRUTUS:

No, Cassius...Think not, thou noble Roman,

That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome;

He bears too great a mind. (V.i.120-122)

Brutus chooses a solider's death—to die by his own sword rather than be taken prisoner.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on