Character Analysis of Brutus (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare)

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It is widely known that there is much more to an iceberg than what is seen floating in the ocean. What is often perceived as raw beauty being carried by the currents is only a small fragment of what lies beneath and represents the iceberg in its entirety. In order to see the whole iceberg, one must take into account both the seen and unseen. In ‘Julius Caesar’, the audience can see two sides of Brutus. Similar to an iceberg, only a portion of Brutus’ true personality is displayed. Brutus is a very determined character and this is one of the traits on the surface of his personality. However, it is obvious through his conversations with Portia, Cassius, and in his inner musings, that Brutus is often unsure of himself and greatly conflicted. After fleeing Rome, Brutus learns that his wife Portia has killed herself and he is very heartbroken and shares his true emotions with Cassius. Yet, when Brutus’ soldiers enter his tent, he acts as though he doesn't know, and when he is told the news of Portia’s death, he shows no emotion. In William Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’, Brutus displays a common theme of how pressure from one's public life can cause conflict in one's private life.

Brutus struggles greatly with how he acts in public versus in private regarding the choice of whether to kill Caesar or not. When Brutus is talking to the conspirators, he says things that make it seem like killing Caesar is in Rome’s best interest. Brutus and the other conspirators believe that Caesar’s ambition and power will grow too strong and Rome will suffer the consequences of it. The conspirators want to go through with the plan but they are worried about getting punished. Seeing this as an opportunity to be a leader Brutus steps up and reassures the conspirators that this is strictly for the good of Rome. In reality, Brutus is really just trying to convince himself that killing his friend is acceptable. As the idea of assassinating Caesar is first starting to develop, Brutus says to himself in private, “I know no personal cause to spurn at him,/ But for the general” (2.1.10). The fact that Brutus says this when he is by himself makes it obvious that he is having second thoughts. Even though Brutus is feeling torn about this decision in private he knows he must act powerfully and be smart with how he acts and speaks in public. The conspirators want to make an oath with Brutus but he pushes aside their offer and tells them that an oath is not necessary. Instead, Brutus makes a simple promise with the conspirators. Brutus tells the conspirators, “And what other oath/ Than honesty to honesty engaged” (II.I.131-132). Brutus reveals that he has very different feelings in front of the conspirators compared to the thoughts and feelings he keeps inside. He is clearly trying so hard to persuade himself that this is a good idea that he makes a promise for which he knows he will be held accountable. In his mind, he tells himself this might not be the best thing to do but in public, he acts like the idea is a good one and easily persuades the conspirators to feel the same. This is the first of many examples where Brutus acts differently in public than he does in private.

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Brutus is deeply saddened by the news of his wife’s suicide, but he only shows his true emotions to his trusted friends. We can see this through his conversation with Cassius about his dead wife compared to his conversation with Messala when he first receives the news of Portia’s death. Brutus appears as a very stoic character but he has a few moments in the play where he outwardly expresses his struggles. Knowing that the expression of hardship or sadness can make one look weak, Brutus tries his best to stay away from that action in order to maintain his public appearance as a competent leader. Brutus expresses this hardship when he opens up to Cassius privately and tells him: “O Cassius, I am sick of many griefs” (4.3.160). This indicates that at least a little part of Brutus is struggling, if not more. He trusts Cassius, which is the only reason he would tell him how he truly feels about Portia’s death. Although this quote may make Brutus seem like he is easily open with his peers, he is not. Brutus does not tell anyone else that it saddens him or that he was grieving about Portia’s death. For example, when Messala tells Brutus the news of Portia’s suicide, Brutus has a very unconcerned response. Messala informs Brutus that Portia has just killed herself and Brutus responds: “Why, farewell Portia. We must die, Messala” (4.3.213). Messala is not one of Brutus’s friends and is more of a minor acquaintance. Because Brutus is not alone and is joined by Cassius, Messala, and Titinius, he lies about his true feelings to maintain his robust appearance to his peers. He doesn’t want anyone thinking that he is too occupied in his private life to not have the time to take care of Rome and be a worthy leader. Brutus knows that he cannot talk about his feelings to people who could jeopardize that and make him look like anything less than a worthy leader of Rome. That is the main reason why Brutus is so cautious about what he says and who he says it to.

Throughout ‘Julius Caesar’, Shakespeare accentuates the conflict that lies within Brutus. In many situations, Brutus’ true emotions are hidden beneath the surface. What the reader sees is only a portion of his true personality. As has been noted, Brutus tends to act differently in private settings versus public ones to protect his public appearance. There is no question that Brutus cares about the way that the Romans view him. He is determined to properly lead Rome and not let anything get in the way of his goal.

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Character Analysis of Brutus (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare). (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/character-analysis-of-brutus-julius-caesar-by-william-shakespeare/
“Character Analysis of Brutus (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare).” Edubirdie, 15 Dec. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/character-analysis-of-brutus-julius-caesar-by-william-shakespeare/
Character Analysis of Brutus (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare). [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/character-analysis-of-brutus-julius-caesar-by-william-shakespeare/> [Accessed 21 May 2024].
Character Analysis of Brutus (‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare) [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 15 [cited 2024 May 21]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/character-analysis-of-brutus-julius-caesar-by-william-shakespeare/
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