What do we learn about the characters of Cassius and Brutus and how they change through the course of the play
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The play Julius Caesar, which is set around 44 BC, is one of the tragedies written by William Shakespeare. Set in Rome, it tells the story of a conspiracy against Caesar, led by the two main characters in the play, Cassius and Brutus in which they stab Caesar halfway through the action. Since such a play would have been performed to an Elizabethan audience, it would have had great significance as Caesar and Elizabeth were alike in many ways , as they are both weak yet bear great power and are childless.
We must also remember the important themes of friendship, loyalty, and honour and respect which are the driving forces of many of the plays workings. Also to be noted is Shakespeare’s use of language which Shakespeare uses to portray these themes and the changing characters of Cassius and Brutus which will be the subject of this essay. In the beginning of scene 2, Shakespeare establishes Cassius as a close friend of Caesar since it is he who helps Caesar locate the soothsayer when he cries, “Fellow, come from the throng”.
Since it is Cassius and not any of the other men who helps Caesar in this way, we learn that Cassius is close in terms of position with Caesar and that Shakespeare wishes to draw our attention to him. But Cassius’s close position to Caesar does nothing to improve Cassius’s relationship with Caesar, in fact, it encourages jealousy and hate since Cassius thinks that “We have both fed as well… and bitterly says that he must “bend his body,/ if Caesar carelessly but nod on him”.
Imagine the bitterness as he utters these words, the jealousy and hatred which demonstrates his extreme malice towards his ambitious peer which shows why he later decides to murder Caesar. It must be noted how Cassius says “bend his body”, from which we get a painful image of one to having curl themselves up before Caesar though it only means to bow, hyperbole which suggests his linguistic talent.
From the word “carelessly”, we are given the impression that Caesar has become so great that he needs only briefly to “nod” at Cassius before he must kiss the floor at Caesar’s feet. From such use of words, we can see that Cassius has great linguistic talent, for several times he uses “we”, an effective persuasive technique with which he hopes to draw Brutus to his side with the implication that they are one and that they are fighting the same cause, against Caesar. Such use of language is very effective, further showing the persuasiveness of Cassius to the audience.
Cassius’ use of anecdotes is also quite persuasive, especially where he likens Caesar to a “sick girl” to ridicule him. Such language which Shakespeare makes this persuasive character use, is proof of his powers of persuasion where Shakespeare uses the implications of words, where “girl” could suggest weakness, especially among an Elizabethan audience where females had a very low status in society, and also contrasting against the common belief of the Elizabethan audience who were taught that Caesar was a great warrior.
The word “sick”, implying rotten and could even be reminding Brutus of Caesar’s falling sickness which make Caesar seem unprepared to become king of the greatest empire at the time, and therefore persuading Brutus to take this view against Caesar. Another show of this talent is when he says , he doth bestride the narrow world/ Like a colossus and we petty men/ Walk under his huge legs”.
His use of the simile “Colossus” is good use of language since Caesar is likened to one of the great wonders, emphasizing how big Caesar could become; the giant bronze statue of the god Helios which the Elizabethan audience and Brutus would have known to have dwarfed Rhodes harbour in ancient times. Also good use of language is when he says “we petty men” where he refers to all the citizens of Rome to be insignificant men in comparison to Caesar, implying that he must be stopped before his power becomes too great that he has “now become a god”.
Possibly even more effective than his persuasive skills is his psychological insight, especially in this scene, when he is able to grasp Brutus’s key values, and strengthen his case by using his knowledge of Brutus’s desires against him. One such example is where he realizes that Brutus wants to protect the republican system and uses this knowledge to craftily get Brutus on the opposing side of the dictator by saying that Caesar will be king, in examples given later.
We know that Caesar knows of this ability since he says to Antony, “He looks / Quite through the hearts of men. ” We also learn that Caesar has a similar talent, but more importantly that Cassius can see through “the deeds of men”. With such an ability, he can be very manipulative, and also with combinations of eloquence, intelligence and cunning.
An example of his manipulative skill is where he uses Brutus’s belief in the republic to turn him against Caesar and take his own views by saying, “that her wide walks encompassed but one man? Such a phrase would sway him against Caesar and so Cassius, with his manipulative character, repeatedly introduces the idea that Caesar will be king, where he says, referring to Rome, “there is in it but one man” and when he reminds Brutus his predecessor would have endured the devil in Rome, “as easily as a king”. It is also especially manipulative when he refers to Caesar as, “immortal Caesar”, to mock Caesar’s godlike feature which the population are giving Caesar right now.
To Brutus it would imply that he will have to put up with Caesar for ever if he does not deal with him now, and therefore, sway Brutus towards Cassius and whatever actions which he is likely to do against Caesar. In addition to being manipulative with his eloquence, Cassius is also shown to be manipulative with his intelligence, and cunning at that. After he learns that Brutus wants to do things for “the general good” he devises a cunning scheme to manipulate Brutus onto his side by throwing in papers which look as if they were from various citizens in Rome, telling Brutus to do something about Caesar.
This is a very clever idea which is sure to sway Brutus since he will then think that actions against Caesar will be honourable since the public want it. But Cassius is not only intelligent with possibly pre thought schemes, he is also very quick witted and thus this adds to his dominance over Brutus in this scene and his ability to change Brutus’s views. Evidence of Cassius’s quick wit is in his response to Brutus’s remark, “I do fear the people/Choose Caesar for their king”.
In addition to learning that Brutus is “with himself at war” (due his mixed feelings towards Caesar), he quickly says, “Aye, do you fear it? /Then you must have me think you would not have it so. ” This reply is evidence of his quick wit because he grabs the opportunity to learn more of Brutus’s feelings to help him with his argument and he emphasizes what Brutus has just said (by speaking in monosyllables, making good use of language) to show Brutus that even he himself believes they should not put up with Caesar.
He also takes advantage of what Brutus has previously told him, when he says, “Honour is the subject of my story,” immediately after Brutus tells him that he would “set honour in one eye and death I’ th’ other” and “look on both indifferently”. This demonstrates Brutus’s quick wit and flexibility in his argument because he uses what Brutus has just said to grab his attention. This tells us that Cassius is not only clever with pre-prepared arguments but that he is quick witted and flexible in order to be more persuasive and manipulative.
All in all, with Cassius’s persuasion, manipulative skill, intelligence and quick wit, it is clear to see that he dominates the scene, while Brutus takes a back seat listening to Cassius’s ideas. Throughout the passage, Cassius is the main speaker, with Brutus’s comments ignored or taken advantage of. Even Cassius later admits that Brutus can be changed in his soliloquy, when he says, “Thy honorable mettle may be wrought,/ from that it is disposed”. This could show that Cassius has taken the very dominating role in order to “wrought” Brutus to further his aims.
Cassius, with his intelligence previously displayed, understands that he needs Brutus to help him if he is to succeed in plotting the downfall of Caesar since he needs a respected citizen on the side of the conspirators to show the public their actions were honourable since Cassius himself is not. It is known that Cassius understands this because he agrees with Casca when he says “ Sits high in people’s hearts” and that he will change “offence” to “virtue” and “worthiness”. Brutus, another of the leading characters in the play has a very contrasting personality.
Unlike Cassius, Brutus is regarded as an honourable person by the public. Brutus in his conversation with Cassius says: If it be aught toward the general good, Set honour in one eye and death i’ th’ other, And I will look on both indifferently. This means that Brutus will treat death and honour as the same thing and will die in the name of honour and for the good of the general public. This is also shown by the comments of many other people like Cassius who says in his soliloquy, “Well Brutus, thou art noble” and Antony who, even after the murder of Caesar said, “For Brutus is an honourable man.
We also know that he treats honour as the highest priority since he kills Caesar in the name of the good of the republic which shows he regards honour even higher than his loyalty to Caesar, and honour over the pains of doing the assassination himself. In addition to his respectable character, he is also polite, shown since he speaks with consideration. Just at the beginning of the scene when everyone goes to watch the races, Brutus does not, yet he says, “Let me not hinder, Cassius” rather than request company. Such words show Brutus to be thoughtful for others and that he is a kind man.
We also learnt that Brutus is undecided, having mixed emotions about Caesar. We learn this when he says himself that “poor Brutus is with himself at war”. It is confirmed his conflicting emotions are about Caesar when he says, in response to Cassius’s question about fearing the coronation of Caesar, “I would not Cassius, yet I love him well. ” This undecided state means that he is prone to Cassius manipulative powers, which is later proved when Brutus takes part in the conspiracy. Brutus is also seen to be cautious, especially when he says, “Into what dangers would you lead me.
This shows he is cautious because though he knows what Cassius is talking about he still asks Cassius to do the talking rather than himself, since words spoken can be turned against people later on. Therefore, maybe as a result of his caution in this scene, he remains passive, and maybe thoughtful, allowing Cassius to sway him. Even at the end of the scene, he remains passive, only saying they should keep in contact to further discuss matters. Later on, Brutus joins the conspiracy and in a meeting in his house where he is joined by the rest of the conspirators, he begins to show changes in his character.
There he starts to override Cassius who calls for an oath to be made by all conspirators, confirming their part in the plan but Brutus openly objects and also starts his series of bad mistakes leading to the failure to the conspiracy by imposing his opinion that Antony should not be killed. After the stabbing of Caesar, Brutus’s effectiveness with the crowds of Rome is justified when he makes the crowds think it was right that Caesar was to be stabbed but the mistake of not dealing with Antony and even letting him speak becomes apparent when they are driven from Rome since Anthony’s words turned them against the conspirators.
As act 4. 2 begins, the change in the characters of Cassius and Brutus is shown and the roles which they play in the production. Act four scene two is opened with an argument between Cassius and Brutus which tells us that the relationships between the two are not like what they were, and that their roles have changed. Where Brutus was once dominated by Cassius, now it is shown to be the other way round. Throughout this scene, Brutus overrides Cassius like when he says, “hear me Cassius, for I will speak”.
With such monosyllables, showing the good use of language to impose authority, it is known that Brutus is in control whereas previously, Cassius was with his intelligent, quick witted comments. Another sign of Brutus being over Cassius is that while they argue, Brutus does most of the talking, giving comments like accusing Cassius of having an “itching palm” or saying “there is no terror in your threats” while Cassius does little more than say, “O ye gods, must I endure all this? ” This was very different at the beginning of the play, especially in act 1. where Cassius was persuading Brutus and Brutus listens passively, under control of Cassius’s intelligent words.
Even after they have made up, Brutus continues his authority, one such example being when he says “Good reasons must of force give place to better” which effectively says “listen to me because you are wrong”, and shows that Cassius continues to be put down. Finally, Brutus’s supremacy over Cassius is proven when even Cassius refers to Brutus as “Lord” when they say goodnight while Brutus says, “goodnight good brother”.
The word Lord is a clear indication that Cassius is resigned to the fact that Brutus is now in control since Cassius must flatter his “new master”. An addition to this control is Brutus’s newfound arrogance. This becomes too apparent when he says that he, “is armed so strong in honesty/ that they (threats) pass by me as the idle wind”. Such talk shows Brutus to be arrogant since he boasts of his honesty, where he metaphorically refers to honesty as a weapon. The way which Brutus ignores Cassius’s threats is also very arrogant. After Cassius says, “Have mind upon your health”, Brutus only says “Away slight man”.
An arrogant and boastful attitude is shown since Brutus thinks nothing of such dire threats, and thinks none may harm him. This is different to the Brutus we knew in the beginning of the play who was a humble man. Possibly as a result of his arrogance, Brutus is very unkind to Cassius in this scene, calling him an array of insulting words and phrases. He calls Cassius a “madman”, “slight man” and even “waspish”, which is an imaginative use of language since it likens Cassius to a small annoying, yet harmless creature, which would be insulting to Cassius. Brutus is even more kind to his servants in this scene!
While he accuses Cassius of many crimes, he offers his men, Varro and Claudius to “lie in tent and sleep”. This show of generosity contrasts with the way he treated Cassius earlier, and shows him to be hostile towards Cassius (since he even treats servants better) and shows change where he was friendly towards Cassius earlier in the play. But one aspect of Brutus which has not undergone change is that he is still after honour, though a hypocritical side of him has come to light since Brutus asks for “vile trash” from Cassius to pay for his armies yet he does not get the money from the peasants himself.
This shows him to appear honourable since he does not wish to snatch the money himself though it is like asking Cassius to do the job for him. Brutus is also proven to still have honour since he “condemned and noted” Lucius Pella even though Cassius pointed out that it should not be that every “nice offence should bear … comment”. The general impression we obtain is that Brutus is blinkered as one might say since he wants to win the war honorably even though the enemy won’t and giving himself a serious disadvantage.
From these scenes, we learn that Brutus takes on the stoat philosophy, in which they grieves not for events for which they have no influence over for Brutus only allows himself the words, “Why farewell Portia” while Cassius grieves more for Brutus’s wife. Overall, Brutus is on the way to becoming a new Caesar where his personality is concerned, having enjoyed having dominance over Cassius and being so arrogant as to ignore Cassius’s dire threats though they probably will come to nothing.
However, despite such a change in personality, Brutus will be always one notch down from Caesar’s tyranny for he will be forever honourable at heart and though he may enjoy power over Cassius, he is a republican and is not one to change such views. But despite Brutus being shown to be honourable, their petty squabbling in several places in their argument shows signs of childishness which we contrast to the characters of Cassius and Brutus who have led an influential conspiracy against Caesar. Brutus: You are not, Cassius
Cassius: I am Brutus: I say you are not If we had not known these two characters have once played the leading roles in a conspiracy against Julius Caesar, one would have thought they were children, arguing over some small matter, since they give on reason or backing to their comments which contrasts with the intelligent Cassius and the restrained Brutus that we saw in act 1. On the receiving end of Brutus’s dominance, arrogance and rudeness is Cassius who we are made to feel sorry for near the end of this play.
One of the biggest changes we see for Cassius is that during their argument, Cassius abandons tact, intelligence, his quick wit, etc which was so apparent in act 1. Whereas previously he would have thought up clever replies or a good argument to win back Brutus, now he just says, “Is it come to this? ” or “Is’t possible” as if pleading with Brutus. Shakespeare contrasts this Cassius with the one we know in act 1 to show us the difference and the way that the roles of Brutus and Cassius have changed.
Since Cassius no longer has his quick wit and intelligence, he draws the sympathy of the audience, a weeping man who is “hated by one he loves” and who is “aweary of the world”. Such signs of depression again are contrasted with the once confident Cassius who persuaded the noble Brutus with his psychological insight, cleverness and quick wit, which he now no longer bears, or uses. Along with his abandonment of tact is the loss of his ability to contain himself.
In the beginning of the play, he showed great mastery in reading the motives and feelings of others but now, he even fails to conceal his own emotions. He openly portrays the extent of his sadness near the end of their argument where he says, “I could weep/ mine spirit from mine eyes”. Cassius is saying he could cry so much his spirit could flow out of his eyes with his tears and therefore shows the extent of his sadness and the way he openly shows it, whereas before he might have hidden it. Come Antony, and young Octavius come, Revenge yourself alone on Cassius,
For Cassius is aweary of the world We can imagine Cassius wailing as he says this, out of genuine grief, unlike the veiled emotions of Cassius, as we are used to. Notice how Cassius uses the words “alone” to draw sympathy from the audience, so that Cassius thinks he will die from uncontrollable sadness, without company, while he is “hated by one he loves” to bring guilt to Brutus. Despite such changes, the practicality of Cassius still remains undisputed. He recognizes that in times of war, bribes and other “dishonorable” things are necessary if they will bring victory.
Where Brutus said it was wrong of Cassius to have written for Lucius Pella for taking bribes, Cassius understands little is honourable in such times, having written “letters, praying on his side”. It is also pointed out by Cassius that it would be better to stay and since the conspirators lose in the end, it is suggested by Shakespeare that it was wrong for Brutus to disagree, and that Cassius’s ability as a practical general is proven. Many changes have been made to the characters of Brutus and Cassius throughout the play, most notably their reversal in roles.
While in the beginning, Cassius dominated Brutus in their relationship, with well thought out dialogue, at the end, he is reduced to a grievous state, deep in depression. In this transformation, Shakespeare shows friendship as a driving force, where Cassius sinks to this state, out of lack of compassion from Brutus. Where we had once seen quick wit, cunning, eloquence and traces of deviousness from this man, it seems that it has been washed away from him after the murder of Caesar, to be replaced by the lack of tact, especially in his argument from Brutus, whose lack of respect reduces him to a wailing wreck.
Shakespeare shows how the lack of compassion, respect, and friendship destroys this man, having no-one to share his griefs about his world. But Brutus takes a less negative transformation as he develops in the play, changing from passive to being active, as he pushes Cassius under him and starts to take control of the conspiracy, leading it to its downfall, due to his inexperience and need for honour.
It is quickly discovered that Brutus’ need for honour will always be present, and it is this which draws him into the conspiracy and leads it to its downfall. Shakespeare explores how Brutus goes to crazy lengths to satisfy this honour lust as he abandons his loyalty to Caesar, all for honour, which can be seen as the driving force of the play and though we still respect him, he is no-longer the humble man he was towards the end of the play. But Brutus will always be remembered for his honour. Even his greatest rival said, “This was a man”.