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Brutus is humorlessly good. If his duty is to know himself, his performance
fails. Nobility has numbed him until he cannot see himself for his principles.
When his principles are expressing themselves they are beautiful in their
clarity; but when he speaks to himself he knows not who is there; he addresses
a strange audience, and fumbles.... Shakespeare has done all that could
be done with such a man, but what could be
Shakespeare's sympathy with Brutus does not imply approval of the murder of
Caesar; it only means that he ultimately finds the spiritual problem of
the virtuous murderer the most interesting thing in the story. Brutus
best interprets the play's theme: Do evil that good may come, and see
what does come!
In Brutus, then, Shakespeare discovered the noble hero with a tragic flaw. By that discovery he made it possible for English tragedy to reach a greatness hitherto attained only by Greek tragedy. All his tragedies written after Julius Caesar benefited by the discovery.
Julius Caesar is a landmark not merely in the history of Shakespearean tragedy but in the history of English tragedy. Before Brutus there had been no tragic hero on the English stage whose character had combined noble grandeur with fatal imperfection.
William Farnham, "'High-minded Heroes' from Shakespeare's Tragic Frontier," reprinted in Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, 1969
Cassius, the man of passion, is set in strong contrast to Brutus, the philosopher.
An egoist certainly; yet not ignobly so, seeking only his own advantage. Convinced in a cause-as we find him convinced; that Caesar's rule in Rome must be free Rome's perdition-he will fling himself into it and make no further question, argue its incidental rights and wrongs no more, as Brutus may to weariness.
Egoist he is, yet not intellectually arrogant. He sees in Brutus the nobler
nature and a finer mind, and yields to his judgment even when he strongly
feels that it is leading them astray.
ON THE TWO FUNERAL ORATIONS
Editor after editor has condemned Brutus' speech as poor and ineffective, and most of them have then proceeded to justify Shakespeare for making it so. It is certainly not meant to be ineffective, for it attains its end in convincing the crowd. Whether it is poor oratory must be to some extent a matter of taste. Personally, accepting its form as one accepts the musical convention of a fugue, I find that it stirs me deeply. I prefer it to Antony's. It wears better. It is very noble prose.
One may so analyze [Antony's] speech throughout and find it a triumph of effective
cleverness. The cheapening of the truth, the appeals to passion, the perfect
carillon of flattery, cajolery, mockery and pathos, singing to a magnificent
tune, all serve to make it a model of what popular oratory should be.
In a school for demagogues its critical analysis might well be an item
in every examination paper. That is one view of it. By another, there
is nothing in it calculated or false. Antony feels like this; and, on
these occasions, he never lets his thoughts belie his feelings, that is
all. And he knows, without stopping to think, what the common thought
and feeling will be, where reason and sentiment will touch bottom-and
it if be a muddy bottom, what matter!- because he is himself, as we said,
the common man raised to the highest power. So, once in touch with his
audience, he can hardly go wrong.
[Brutus' speech] is one of the worst speeches ever made by an able and intelligent man. Its symmetrical structure, its balanced sentences, its ordered procedure, its rhetorical questions, its painfully conscious and ornamental style, its hopelessly abstract subject matter, all stamp it as the utterance of a man whose heart is not in his words. It is a dishonest speech.
The cry of the Third Citizen, "Let him be Caesar," measures its practical effectiveness. Those four words have often been pointed out as one of the most crushing ironies in the play. They are, and with the other comments of the populace show how hopeless the cause of the conspirators was. These people did not deserve liberty. They were ready for slavery.
Antony's speech, on the other hand, for all its playing on the passions of
the people, and for all its lies, is at bottom an honest speech, because
Antony loved Caesar. Because to that extent he has the truth on his side,
he is as concrete as Brutus was abstract. A sincere harangue by a demagogue
is better than the most "classic" oration from a man who speaks
only with his lips.