Compare and contrast Brutus and Cassius.
Julius Caesar is a tragedy that was written by one of the world’s most honoured writers, William Shakespeare. The play is based on true historical events regarding the conspiracy against the ancient Roman dictator, Julius Caesar. The tragedy explores a plethora of concepts which relate to our society today. The story is set in ancient Rome, a time when power and recognition was the only way to success. There are numerous characters to follow in the play, however each individual has certain qualities and traits that distinguish them from each other. Two characters that stood out in the play for me, were Brutus and Cassius. These two characters were both involved in the conspiracy against Caesar, but what fascinated me most was that Brutus and Cassius had two very distinct motives for Caesar’s assassination.
Marcus Brutus was a noble man who was well respected by Rome. Brutus was a dear friend to Julius Caesar, but his love for Rome and his fear that Caesar would become king of Rome, and turn his back on its people, were stronger values. For example, in Brutus’ soliloquy he states:
“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…
…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….” (II, I, 10-27)
In his soliloquy Brutus tells himself that Caesar intends to be crowned king. Brutus is a good friend of Caesar’s and knows him better than most people. Brutus has no personal cause against Caesar, but is afraid that he might use his power imprudently and to his own advantage, rather than for the good of Rome. He is concerned about how Caesar might change if he became the absolute ruler of Rome.
Caesar has behaved modestly up to now, but Brutus knows that “lowliness is young ambition’s ladder.” Brutus is thinking that Caesar is only pretending to be humble and modest in order to make an impression on the masses. Brutus strongly suspects that Caesar is wildly ambitious and would become a tyrant if he obtained political, economic and military power.
Brutus is being pressured to join in the conspiracy to assassinate Julius Caesar, mainly by Cassius but also by other Roman conspirators who fear that Caesar would seriously weaken their powers and privileges if he became king. Brutus is an intellectual man and will not act impulsively based on feelings but, has to think thoroughly and carefully before undertaking any serious action. He knows that if he agrees to join Cassius and the others in the conspiracy, then they will take charge because he will have given them the justification they need for their violence. On the other hand, if he decides not to involve himself, the conspiracy may come to nothing. Cassius knows this well and is the reason why he is trying so urgently to persuade Brutus to join him, both by direct personal persuasion and by trickery.
Cassius is a very jealous and deceitful character who would do anything to remove Caesar from power. His sly and cunning nature allows him to persuade Brutus in joining the conspiracy. The most significant characteristic of Cassius is his ability to perceive the true motives of men. Cassius believes that the nobility of Rome are responsible for the government of Rome. He believes that they have allowed Caesar to gain excessive power over the country and therefore have the responsibility to stop him; which can only mean assassination.
Cassius dislikes Caesar personally, but he also deeply resents being subservient to a tyrant. To accomplish his goal of removing Caesar from power, he tries to persuade Brutus after a long and passionate argument. Later, he is more directly devious in the use of forged notes, the last of which prompts Brutus to leave off contemplation and to join the conspiracy. Cassius later uses similar means to bring Casca into the plot.
The reader is also able to understand Cassius’ jealousy and hatred towards Caesar. For example, when Cassius is trying to persuade Brutus into joining the conspiracy he mentions:
“I was born free as Caesar; so were you.” (I, ii, 97)
Cassius is saying that he and Brutus are free men just like Caesar, so why should they have to be subservient to a tyrant, if they were born as so called “equals.”
Cassius then continues to use examples of the many times Caesar has needed his help for survival. For example:
“How he did shake: ’tis true, this god did shake.” (I, ii, 121)
In this quote, Cassius refers to Caesar as a “god” to emphasise the point that the people of Rome are honouring someone who is just like them- meaning that Caesar and all other people of Rome can endure the same pain and have the same emotions.
Therefore, Cassius and Brutus were a part of the conspiracy, but had two very distinct motives for Caesar’s assassination. Brutus’ loyalty is to his country, while Cassius tends to only consider his own wishes and desires. Brutus is also very strict when it comes to the law, whereas Cassius is willing to bend the rules, lie, and use manipulation to get what he wants. Shakespeare’s characters are not the real Brutus and Cassius of history, but have instead been exaggerated. I think Shakespeare wanted to give his characters distinguishing character traits in order to differentiate them for his audience. Even though these two men seemed to be the same, they had two very different frames of mind in the play Julius Caesar.