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Essential Passage by Character: Brutus

BRUTUS:
It must be by his death, and, for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder
And that craves wary walking. Crown him? that;
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him
That at his will he may do danger with.
The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins
Remorse from power, and, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway’d
More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may;
Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
Will bear no color for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus, that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities;
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.

Act 2, Scene 1, Lines 10-34

Summary

Julius Caesar has returned from his victorious battle against Pompey in the Roman civil war. It is the feast of Lupercalia, a fertility rite, and Caesar has told his wife, Calpurnia, to stand in the path of Caesar’s loyal friend Mark Antony, who runs in the race, for people believed if a woman is touched by a runner during this rite she will become pregnant. The implication is that Caesar expects to be made a king, and he is eager for a son who might inherit his title. A soothsayer ominously tells Caesar, “Beware the ides of March” (which is the next day), and this second instance of superstition increases the suspense that something is going to happen to Caesar. In fact, some of Caesar’s generals and noblemen are worried that the mob will try to make Caesar king and that he will accept the honor. Cassius, a senator who distrusts Caesar’s ambitions and resents the adulation bestowed on him, hints to Brutus, another great friend of Caesar’s, that he should participate in a plot to assassinate Caesar, hoping that Brutus’s reputation for virtue and wisdom will lend moral weight to the cause. Cassius tells Brutus he has noticed he looks worried and then suggests he must be worried about Caesar, because he is too. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves, that we are underlings,” he tells him (1.2.146-147), trying to convince Brutus to take responsibility for preserving a free Rome. After he hears that Caesar was offered the crown three times, including once by Antony, Brutus tells Cassius he will think about the idea. Late that night, Cassius meets with Casca and Cicero, two other conspirators. The night is stormy, and Casca says he has seen many unnatural sights on his way to their meeting, including a slave with a burning hand and a lion that glared at him. Meanwhile, unable to sleep during the storm, Brutus is in his orchard, meditating on whether to join in Cassius’s plot against Caesar. He has always admired Caesar and considered him a good leader, but he wonders whether Caesar would continue to be just and honorable if he is granted the tremendous authority of kingship. After concluding that Caesar will indeed be corrupted by power, as Cassius has suggested, he receives a letter from the conspirators that firms his decision to lead them in assassinating Caesar.

Analysis

Some think the play should be called The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus because Brutus, not Caesar, is the tragic hero here. Brutus is a great man, which we see by the fact that Cassius and the other conspirators need him in their plot to kill Caesar. However, like all tragic heroes, Brutus has flaws: idealism and poor judgment. He allows Cassius to convince him that Caesar as king would corrupt Rome without considering the consequences of an assassination—chaos and war. Even worse, he assumes Cassius’s motives are noble because...

(The entire section is 2,608 words.)