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Brutus is an intelligent and noble character and a philosophical leader who places ideas above people. He has truly tried to live all his life for the good of the state and in defense of his principles. He is guided in all his actions by a desire to do right and suffers in agony when he realizes his decision to murder Caesar was a faulty one. Unlike the static character of Caesar, Brutus undergoes a great change in the play; he also serves as the protagonist of his own subplot. Many critics feel he is the most complex and interesting character in the play.
Brutus clearly has a fatal tragic flaw (or hamartia); he believes himself to be perfectly principled and constructs for himself a faulty self-image as the preserver of Roman democracy; as a result, he even sees his part in the assassination as a noble cause. He is convinced that his friend, Julius Caesar, will be a tyrannical leader; therefore, to save Rome from a certain dictatorship, he decides Caesar must be destroyed. He willingly joins with the conspirators to accomplish his goal. His problem is that Brutus cannot realize that men like Cassius, are inherently self-seeking by nature, for he has never been a selfish man or sought his own self-interests; therefore, he is easily duped and falls victim to the other conspirators, who use him for their own purposes.
During the entire period before Caesar's assassination, Brutus is in a state of agonized indecisiveness. He states that he feels he is in some "hideous dream." On one hand, he prides himself on high political principles that do not allow him to tolerate even the possibility of a dictatorship. On the other hand, he is a sensitive moral being to whom murder is extremely distasteful, especially the murder of Caesar, who is his friend and patron. He is, therefore, torn between the conflicting claims of his personal love for Caesar and his political love for Rome.
Brutus must make a decision, and he contemplates every aspect of the issue. Unfortunately, he sees both his choices as bad; therefore, it becomes for him a decision based upon the lesser of two evils. He can either refrain from allying himself with the conspirators and, in turn, betray his republican principles; or he can join the faction and, in turn, betray the bonds of friendship with Caesar. Even when he idealistically decides to join the conspirators, he still attempts to find some way through which he can destroy Caesar the institution, without killing Caesar the man, remaining loyal to both his principles of republicanism and to his belief in friendship. He tries to escape from the guilt of committing a murder by adopting a ritualistic attitude towards it. He views Caesar's assassination as an act of religious sacrifice in order to purge Rome and tells Cassius:
"Let's kill him boldly, but not wrathfully, Let's carve him as a dish fit for the gods, Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds."
He makes Caesar's murder palatable by imagining himself to be doing a noble thing; but Brutus has always been an idealist.
Brutus' idealism causes him to make many miscalculations that prove to be politically fatal. He spares Antony in the assassination because he sees no need to make the act unnecessarily "bloody;" in the end, it is Antony who destroys Brutus. He makes a second disastrous decision by allowing Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral, for Antony incites the mob to rebel against the conspirators. Brutus makes yet another fatal decision, against the better judgement of Cassius, by resolving to move his army to meet the enemy, thereby fighting the final battle at Philippi. His army suffers a miserable defeat because of his wrong choice.
In spite of his idealism, Brutus possesses a great deal of self-control, which allows him to be calm and rational. He is even able to curb his emotions when he learns that his wife, Portia, has committed suicide. Later in the play, Brutus exercises control over himself and does not mourn Cassius' suicide publicly, for he does not want to demoralize his army. There are moments in the play, however, when Brutus allows his sensitive nature to show through. When his young servant, Lucius, falls asleep while playing and singing to his master, Brutus does not wake and rebuke him; instead, he tenderly takes the lute from Lucius and quietly bids him goodnight. He also shows his sensitive side when he chooses to take his own life to avoid the shame of capture and imprisonment.
By the end of the play, Brutus has changed. He is no longer the totally self-confident and rational man seen earlier in the play. Although he still remains the leader of the conspiratorial forces, he himself is haunted by fear after seeing the ghost of Caesar. He even questions if he has done the right thing in the assassination. He fears that the new leaders of Rome will be more tyrannical than Caesar ever would have been. He kills himself rather than face the ignominy of living under their rule. As he plans his own death, he is still idealistic enough, however, to believe that history will vindicate his actions.