Why is there debate about the tragic hero in Julius Caesar?

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Brutus is the tragic hero because he embodies a set of virtues that are undermined by his actions. This is a more common path for Shakespearean tragedy: to be undermined by the same impulses that had made one admirable in the first place.

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This play can be seen as something of a political debate between Caesar and Brutus regarding what kind of government is best and what a political person's orientation toward power should be.

Caesar seems like he should be the tragic hero. In Elizabethan drama, tragedies are named after their hero:...

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Marlowe'sDr. Faustus and Edward II or Shakespeare's Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, etc. It would seem unquestionable that Julius Caesar is the hero of his play as well. The case could be made that Caesar is a great man who is betrayed by fellow countrymen and friends such as Brutus. If we take Marc Antony's eulogy at face value, Caesar was a great man and his ambition was driven by a desire to give Rome a great and powerful leader.

However, when we look at what seems to have interested Shakespeare in his tragic studies, Brutus offers a stronger case to be the tragic hero. He speaks vastly more lines than Caesar, and his speeches reveal a mind tormented by conflicting impulses about love and loyalty to his friend and duty to his country. Brutus wants to be a person of integrity, but he finds himself in a situation in which the competing pulls of personal and political identities make it impossible for him not to betray something.

He struggles to be honorable and thinks his higher honor lies with duty to Rome. When Marc Antony delivers his funeral oration, the repeated irony of "Brutus is an honorable man" not only raises the people to riot against the conspirators but seems to highlight the tragic error Brutus has made. In seeking to preserve his honor by protecting Rome from a potential tyrant, Brutus has destroyed the qualities that made him honorable. This is a more typical path for a Shakespearean tragic hero: to be undermined by the same impulses that had made one admirable.

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Excellent question! To answer it you need to consider the definition of a tragedy that Artistotle provides us with and try to relate that to the downfall of the two central characters, Caesar and Brutus, to think about which character has the more "tragic" downfall.

Aristotle said a tragedy had to feature a man who would suffer a tragic reversal of fortunes because of a fault or a series of bad decisions that resulted from a deficiency of character. A tragedy could not feature a completely evil character, but needs to focus on the life of a normal human with failings that we can relate to.

Thinking about the play then, both Caesar and Brutus can be considered tragic figures in this sense. Caesar seems to be assassinated because of his desire to gain more power and his ambition. Brutus, on the other hand, suffers his tragic end partly because of his sense of honour and naivety - he ignores the advice of the more savvy Cassius and has a mistaken sense of honour that perhaps blinds him to his own ambition and envy. When considering how the label of "tragedy" applies to both characters we do need to remember that we know a lot more about Brutus than we do about Caesar - we need to infer a lot about his character, whereas because Brutus lives until the end of the play we have far more insights into his character.

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