Sample Character Analysis: Brutus from William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
A character analysis is a type of literary analysis paper which aim is to shed light on the nuances of a character in a given work. Usually written in the form of an essay , this assignment may explore the personality, motivations, and internal and external conflicts of the character. This sample paper examines the role of Marcus Brutus in William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
While history has no shortage of names that have come to embody villainy, only a few can surpass the notoriety that has been associated with that of the Roman politician Brutus. For two thousand years, his name has been synonymous with betrayal, having been portrayed in art, literature, and historical accounts as a treacherous man responsible for the death of the great statesman Julius Caesar. Indeed, one of the most enduring depictions of Brutus can be found in William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar . However, it merits asking whether it was Shakespeare’s intention to paint Brutus as a villain. In other words, is Brutus, as far as the play is concerned, a villain? A closer examination of the text reveals that Brutus is far from a treacherous traitor but rather a complex character with torn loyalties. On the one hand, he loves Caesar as a friend. On the other hand, he is a noble character who possesses a genuine and strong sense of duty to the Romans and the Roman Republic. These torn loyalties are exploited by others, thus rendering him a victim of deception.
Brutus is not the traitor he is often painted to be given that he truly loves Caesar. It is a prevalent notion that Brutus was a double-crossing traitor who kills Caesar because of envy and for political gain, but this cannot be further from the truth. On the contrary, Brutus has a deep, affectionate, and respectful relationship with Caesar. This is evidenced by his profession of love for Caesar. For instance, when Cassius asks if Brutus does not want Caesar to become king, Brutus is quick to say that “I would not, Cassius; yet I love him well.” (Shakespeare 1.2.172). This establishes the fact that Brutus is not a callous two-faced traitor but someone who actually has a positive relationship with Caesar. If this is the real relationship between the two, then it comes as a question why Brutus eventually commits murder. The answer lies in the fact that he has a strong sense of duty as a statesman.
Brutus’ defining quality is his unwavering loyalty to his ideals as a statesman, and this is what ultimately compels him to assassinate Caesar. To understand Brutus better, it is important to consider the politics of Rome. Rome is essentially a democracy in the time of Caesar. Power is held not by a single man such as a king but rather shared by the Senate (Gray 35), and Brutus himself is a senator of the republic. The Senate has existed for hundreds of years after the Romans overthrew their despotic king. As a senator, Brutus is bound by his duty to Rome: he must prevent power from being held by a single man. In the end, it is his commitment to his ideals and sense of duty that prevails. As he states in his speech at Caesar’s funeral:
If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
—Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? (Shakespeare 3.2.1553-1558)
Furthermore, it is important to note that Brutus has a valid reason for betraying Caesar. Indeed, there are strong indications that Caesar desires power. In an early scene, the Roman statesman Casca narrates how Caesar refuses the crown offered by Antony three times despite it being apparent that Caesar wants to become king:
Antony offer him a crown;—yet 'twas not a crown
neither, 'twas one of these coronets;—and, as I told330
you, he put it by once: but, for all that, to my
thinking, he would fain have had it. (Shakespeare 1.2.329-332)
This only goes to show that Caesar indeed has ambitions that contravene the ideals upon which Rome rests. He may have refused the crown literally, but that does not mean he does not desire power. In fact, the way Caesar dominates the entire political arena is indicative that he is already king in all but name. For it is within Caesar’s power to decide the fate of even consequential men like other statesmen. These details lend credence to Brutus’ cause, thus further strengthening the interpretation that he acts based on his lofty ideals rather than out of malice.
Finally, it must also be taken into account that Brutus is also a victim of deceit. While it is apparent that Caesar has political ambitions that contradict Rome’s tenets, part of the reason why Brutus assassinates Caesar is a fabrication. Cassius reveals that he has forged letters to make it seem like the Romans are rallying behind Brutus. Moreover, Cassius encourages Brutus to conspire against Caesar because he believes that Brutus will give their cause legitimacy. It is universally known among Romans that Brutus is a statesman with upright morals.
O, he sits high in all the people's hearts:
And that which would appear offence in us,
His countenance, like richest alchemy,
Will change to virtue and to worthiness. (1.3.590-593)
While Brutus acts because of Cassius’ deceit, this does not change the fact that Brutus’ desire is noble. His intentions are pure; it is the catalyst that is wrong. Hence, he is also a victim in his own right, taken advantage of by a less ethical man.
Taking into account these details, it is clear that describing Brutus as a treacherous, envious, and malicious traitor is inaccurate. A more accurate description of Brutus is someone whose loyalties are torn between his friend Julius Caesar and his love for Rome as a statesman. First, Brutus makes it clear that he has no animosity towards Caesar and actually loves him. Second, his duty requires him to take drastic action to prevent one man from gaining too much power. Incidentally, this man is his friend Caesar. Third, he is compelled into action through fabrication. Ultimately, he chooses his duty over his friendship. His murder of Caesar, therefore, is not personal but simply in defense of Rome based on his ideals. This elevates Brutus from being a two-dimensional character into a complex and truly relatable but tragic victim in the play. This makes him different from others such as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in the eponymous play.
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Gray, Patrick. Shakespeare and the Fall of the Roman Republic: Selfhood, Stoicism and Civil War. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2018.
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar . OpenSourceShakespeare. https://www.opensourceshakespeare.org/views/plays/play_view.php?WorkID=juliuscaesar&Scope=entire&pleasewait=1&msg=pl. Accessed 7 May 2022.