All people have definite concepts of self. In different situations, one may feel short, tall, smart, slow, fast, talkative, reserved, etceteras. These self-concepts are usually very different than how others opinions of us. Depending on one’s actions, words or even tone of voice, one may misrepresent oneself and be misinterpreted. One may be so arrogant or so humble that they prevent themselves from seeing themselves through others’ eyes. In William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, two main characters, Julius Caesar and Marcus Brutus, present different personas- one being each characters actual self-characterizations, which we learn through their discussions with others, and another is how they are actually perceived in the eyes of others. Their inability to project their true motives in performing certain actions eventually brings about their tragic downfalls.
Julius Caesar believed that people needed one strong ruler in order to have maximum production and proper function of a society. He believed that he possessed many, if not all, of the characteristics required of a great leader. He spoke to others in a way which he believed exhibited authority, told people why he should be the one to lead them, and thought that his own advice was best.
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His unwillingness to listen to others is received as arrogance. Though already warned by the soothsayer to “beware the ides of March,” Caesar refuses to heed advice to stay home from Calpurnia, his wife, because he feels that she is trying to keep him from obtaining power and status. Calpurnia believes Caesar to be a prince and is convinced that some falling meteors are warnings of a prince’s death. When she hears her husband boasts that he is more dangerous than danger itself, she recognizes that this is simple arrogance, and tells him so, saying, “Alas, my lord/ Your wisdom is consumed in confidence (Act II, scene 2).” In response to her criticism and humble petitions, Caesar momentarily agrees to pacify her. However, when he changes his mind and decides to leave against her admonitions, she reluctantly, but obediently fetches Caesar’s robe and he departs for the Senate, and his meeting with fate.
Caesar’s greatest character flaw, however, is thinking that he is far above others and somehow invincible. When he compares his own perseverance with that of the North Star, saying “But I am as constant as the northern star/Of whose true fixed and resting quality/there is no fellow in the firmament (Act III, Scene 1), ” he pushes the envelope too far. It is here that his murderers descend him upon. When Caesar compares himself to a heavenly body, Brutus’ fear about Caesar becoming intoxicated with power begins to show the truth, and his conspirators feel they must kill him. When faced with death, however, Caesar’s humanity is restored to him. The dying Caesar is not the egotistical and power-hungry man who has just spoken from the throne. For a moment, he is only an idealist who cherishes the noble love of a friend more than anything in the world. When he sees Brutus, whom he loves best, among his betrayers, he relinquishes his hold on the world and utters, “Then fall Caesar (Act III, scene1).”
As a member of the conspiracy against Caesar, Marcus Brutus declares to himself that his role in the conspiracy is to save Rome. He says to the people, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose /against Caesar, this is my answer: Not that I lov’d /Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more(Act III, scene 2).” He believes himself to be an honourable man, to his country and to Caesar. He does not think that his people would do well under the rule of a king, and he concludes that Caesar would definitely want Brutus to keep him from being an insufferable dictator. His conflict consists of his love for Caesar on one hand, and his concern for the public good and the welfare of the Republic.
When approached by Cassius to join a conspiracy against his friend, Brutus does spend a restless night making his decision. He can find no justification in past actions for Caesar’s murder; therefore, he finds justification for it in what Caesar might become. He assumes that Caesar will become an unbearable tyrant if he is made king, and it is based on this assumption that he decides to will join in the conspiracy.
The flaw in his reasoning is that Brutus does not raise the question of whether or not a moral end justifies immoral means, nor does he consider that his action may be met with public disfavour. He is blindly convinced in the power of reason and believes that the public when they have heard his reasons, will support his action. Because he has little practical knowledge of life, he is blind to the real motives and nature of men and is unfamiliar with the procedures of war.
Brutus attempted to advocate peace, freedom, and liberty for all Romans. He also tried to bring about solidarity amongst the conspirators. Brutus said that if the conspirators did not join for a common cause, then there is no need for an oath because the conspirators are self-righteous. If the conspirators did not bind together, then each man will go his own way and become a weakling. “No not an oath, If not by the face of men, /the sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse-/If these motives be weak, break off betimes, /and every man hence to his idle bed; /So let high sighted tyranny rage on, /till each man drop by lottery (Act II, scene 1).”
Brutus is a character who is revered. Caesar feels that Brutus is noble to him and does the right thing, regardless of personal danger. On the Ides of March, as Caesar was assassinated, Caesar’s last line is: “Et tu, Brute?–Then fall, Caesar.”(Act 3, scene 1). This shows that Caesar would not die without Brutus’ stab. Caesar realizes that there must be a noble reason for this assassination if Brutus was in it. This again shows how much Caesar respects Brutus.
Since Brutus “…loved Rome more.”(Act 3,scene2), he decided to be a part of the conspiracy. If he hadn’t loved Rome more than Caesar, he would not have joined in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Cassius and the rest of the conspirators chose Brutus to join them and head the conspiracy because they knew how much Brutus was respected by the people, and the people would think that if Brutus killed Caesar, there was a good reason for it.
After the assassination of Julius Caesar, Brutus talks to Antony about Caesar’s death. “Our hearts you see not; they are pitiful; and pity to the general wrong of Rome…”(Act 3, scene 1). Brutus says that Antony cannot see their (members of the conspiracy) hearts, which are full of pity. Again, this shows how Brutus loved Caesar but cared for the life of Rome and its people more. It also shows his naiveté, because he believes everyone has as pure a heart as he, but then Anthony does not follow through on a promise made to him and declares an attack on the conspirators.
Up until his death, Brutus feels that he has done what he has for the good of the Romans, never thinking of himself. Though his fellow conspirators were only envious of Caesar, Brutus had only noble intentions. After he has killed himself, even Antony declares, “And this was a man!”(Act V, scene 5)
As we go through life, we must learn to be perceptive of other people’s thoughts and feelings, of not just what is going on around us, but also of their attitudes toward us. We must take time to understand why people feel about us the way they do and, if need be, make the changes that will make us better able to move productively through life. If Caesar had listened to others more and Brutus paid more attention to his deeper judgment, both would have continued to live long, productive lives, and not have been so susceptible to the actions and wants of others.
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