Throughout the tragedies written by William Shakespeare, each contains a tragic hero, a person who possesses heroic qualities but then has a tragic reversal of fortune. This tragic event is often the central element that allows the play to become a tragedy. Tragic heroes also possess something known as a tragic flaw, and it is this flaw that is the main reason the tragic event is brought about. For example in the tragedy of King Lear, the king trusts the wrong people (this is his tragic flaw) and is then tricked and later becomes mad (this is his tragic reversal of fortune) and eventually he dies. It is important however that tragic heroes possess heroic qualities. For example, some people say that Julius Caesar is the tragic hero of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, however, he lacks any real heroic qualities, and so cannot be considered a hero, let alone a tragic one.
One of the important qualities that make Brutus a tragic hero is a fact that he has a tragic flaw. I believe this flaw to be the fact that he is too noble; this leads to naivety and allows him to be deceived by the other characters in the play to his downfall. He is naï¿½ve of some of Cassius’ true character even though he is his friend. He is also over-trusting of Mark Antony which is clearly shown in act 3 scene 1 where he makes the mistake of allowing Antony to make a speech at Caesar’s funeral, even though his fellow conspirators advise him otherwise: ‘Brutus, a word with you. You know not what you do; do not consent that Antony speaks in his funeral: Know you how much the people may be moved by that which he will utter?’ here Cassius attempts to persuade Brutus not to let Antony speak at the funeral, yet Brutus does not listen. This clearly demonstrates Brutus’ tragic flaw; he trusts Antony not to deceive him and is an ½ve of his true motives because his better judgement is overruled by his want to show his honour by giving Caesar a proper memorial.
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This notion of honour is a key theme throughout the play, which was true of some of the culture of the Roman period and Shakespeare’s audience longed for such a concept in their own cultures, which is why it would have been a success in his day. It is also interesting to note how this contrasts with some of his other plays, such as Mac Beth where there is so much dishonour in the main character. Another important aspect to many tragic heroes is the actual heroic qualities that make the audience respect them. Brutus’ main heroic quality is his nobility and honour. Throughout the play, he never deceives one person out of greed or hatred. He does not tell Portia about the conspiracy because he cares about her and doesn’t want her to worry about him. He deceives Caesar in a way by killing him, but he does for the good of Rome and not for his own purposes, in fact, he vows to so the same to himself if it is so required to benefit Rome: “With this, I depart, that as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death”.
This quote clearly shows his allegiance to Rome, and how he cares more for it than his ‘best lover’, or indeed his own life! Of course, some would have made this promise only idly or in jest so as to please the people; but I think it is not so, for he it would be out of his character to do such a thing. An important trait for any hero is good skills of leadership. While Shakespeare builds up an image of Brutus as a noble and honourable man, we also see other good qualities of leadership such as being decisive and strong in decisions. This is shown in act 4 scene 5, “That you have wrong’d me doth appear in this: You have condemned and noted Lucius Pella For taking bribes here of the Sardinians… Brutus: You wrong’d yourself to write in such a case.’ here he is shown to have ordered a man’s punishment for taking bribes, Cassius then attempts to persuade him otherwise and Brutus is cross and surprised at Cassius for fighting on the case of such a man.
This shows how Brutus refused to change his decisiveness or allow his nobility to be overruled, even at the request of his greatest friend. This strength of character and ability to stick to his decisions and values of honesty and integrity are key elements of Brutus’ heroic character. The final point I will make is of how Shakespeare uses other characters in the play to present Brutus as a tragic hero. The most obvious scene where this takes place in Act 5 Scene 5 after Brutus has died when Antony gives a small speech about the great qualities of Brutus: ‘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 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 the world ‘This was a man”
The very last phrase of that quote speaks volumes of the way in which Brutus is the hero of the play. The very fact that someone who betrayed and deceived Brutus, someone who could be named as his greatest enemy should acknowledge him with so great an honour is evidence alone enough to justify that Brutus is the tragic hero of the play. I believe that Shakespeare was very careful to choose this very character to acknowledge Brutus’ great qualities because he would have been the last person the audience would have expected to do such a thing! Another important thing to note in Antony’s speech is his use of language; Shakespeare uses short and to the point phrases, with very little imagery (in fact there is only one metaphor in the whole speech), this can be especially noted in the main and last point of the speech, ‘this was a man ‘, it could be no plainer! I think that this is used to portray Brutus’ character, an honest man with no complications or evilness hidden inside him.
In conclusion, I will say that Brutus is the only character that truly fits the criteria for a tragic hero. He possesses heroic qualities such as bravery, honour and nobility such as I have shown above. He has a tragic reversal of fortune, in act 3 scene 2, when Antony turns against him. This in turn leads to his death, another thing that happens to all the tragic heroes of William Shakespeare. And, last, of all, he has a tragic flaw that ultimately leads to his death. Only Brutus fits as the tragic hero of the play.