Cassius: The Master of Persuasion
“For who so firm that cannot be seduced?” (1.2.312). Cassius’ muttered soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar immediately calls attention to his goal of manipulating people. A man well versed in rhetoric, he puts to good use his knowledge of persuading and convincing other men. Nowhere in this play is his ability more apparent than when he lures Brutus into joining his plot to assassinate Caesar. While presenting himself as a concerned friend, Cassius secretly manipulates Brutus using a firm knowledge of his desires and fears. Along with the juxtaposition of Brutus and Caesar and impelling word choice, Cassius successfully seduces Brutus to join his scheme to slay Caesar.
Cassius first establishes himself as a dependable, trustworthy ally of Brutus. After telling Brutus that he will be his mirror, Cassius asks Brutus to “hold [him] dangerous” if he were but a “common laughter” or if he did “fawn on men” and later “scandal them” (1.2.72, 75-78). This declaration is an open invitation for Brutus to challenge Cassius’ moral character. As John Dove remarks, “Clearly no man issues such a challenge unless securely confident that it cannot be taken up” (Dove). Brutus first judges if Cassius has performed any of the described deeds, as this syllogism requires men that do such deeds to be considered dangerous. Cassius knows that Brutus will not deem him treacherous once he determines false the minor premise—that Cassius has done none of these deeds. Brutus, who must judge Cassius’ morals, indeed gives these sentences much weight.
Through the ensuing 80 lines, while Cassius criticizes Caesar, Brutus barely utters a word. When finally he speaks, he replies “That you do love me, I am nothing jealous” (1.2.162). His words do not reference anything that Cassius had said immediately preceding Brutus’ entrance. They actually refer to Cassius’ original declaration of sincerity to him near the beginning of their conversation. Brutus has clearly spent much time pondering Cassius’ statements. Indeed, as Dove asserts, “It is as though he has not heard Cassius’ criticism of Caesar, as though he has spent most of the interim pondering Cassius’s bold assertion that his friendship, once given, is incorruptible” (Dove). Cassius has pressed Brutus to make a determination of Cassius’ loyalty, and Brutus consciously realizes that he can rely on him. After carefully addressing him, Cassius is now armed with Brutus’ trust.
However, Cassius still plans to present himself as a caring, humble friend. When first approaching Brutus after Caesar has left, he comments that he is worried about his companion; Brutus bears “too stubborn and too strange a hand” over Cassius, a “friend that loves” him (2.1.35-36). By presenting himself as a close friend concerned about Brutus’ behavior, Cassius makes Brutus feel guilty if he does not fully trust and confide in him. Along with his presentation, Cassius’ informal tone and amiable approach lower Brutus’ defenses—so Cassius proceeds with seducing him. He continues by stating that he will tell Brutus how others perceive him—Cassius will be his “glass” that will “modestly discover to Brutus / That of him which he yet knows not of” (1.2.68-70).
Not only does Cassius seem sincere in helping Brutus, but he also flatters him by revealing the high regard in which other citizens hold him. Additionally, Cassius’ logic—a glass will reflect Brutus’ self—appeals to the rational minded Brutus. Always alert to any opportunity gain Brutus’ favor, even after accomplishing his goal—Brutus promising to give consideration to his ideas—Cassius remarks that he is glad that his “weak words / Have struck but thus much show of fire from Brutus” . With utilization of understatement, Cassius averts Brutus thinking that he is a polished speaker enflaming Brutus to action. Instead, he is simply a humble man stating his opinion. Brutus, feeling comfortable making a decision based on his own ideas, is much more likely to side with Cassius. Having completed gaining credibility with Brutus as an unassuming friend, Cassius is ready to impugn Caesar’s leadership.
Cassius begins by taking advantage of Brutus’ belief in Stoicism. He remarks to Brutus that he has heard “many of the best respect in Rome” are “groaning underneath this age’s yoke” . By revealing to Brutus that some Romans have found Caesar’s rule oppressive and burdensome, Cassius forces him to reconsider his position as Caesar’s stalwart. If people are suffering, it is Brutus’ duty to help Rome to rid itself of the oppressor, as he must put the people’s will first and foremost. Then Cassius, anticipating Brutus’ belief that Caesar’s rule might be part of the natural order of the world, assures him that it is not so: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings” . Brutus’ philosophy subjugates him to the inherent order of the earth, so he might have felt obliged to submit himself to Caesar. By reassuring Brutus that Caesar has become a tyrant not because of fate, but only because of Brutus’ own inaction, Cassius liberates Brutus from accepting Caesar’s rule without question. Cassius reconciles Brutus’ Stoicism and assassinating Caesar, allowing Brutus to join his conspiracy without disregarding his philosophic principles.
Cassius then follows by juxtaposing both himself, Brutus, and Caesar to illustrate the inordinate disparity that exists among them. As Cassius prepares to recount Caesar’s physical weaknesses, he ponders that he “was born free as Caesar,” as was Brutus; “Both have fed as well” he declares, and both can “Endure the winter’s cold as well as he” (1.2.97-99). By drawing parallels between Brutus, Caesar and himself, Cassius reveals how similar the three really are. Brutus, observing that Caesar in fact holds no more physical prowess than he or Cassius, can conclude that Caesar has no more right to rule than he. Additionally, Cassius phrases this sentence in a way that pits both himself and Brutus against Caesar.
Finding such common ground between them makes Brutus feel like a partner of Cassius. Cassius continues, and after recalling Caesar’s physical frailty, rhetorically questions Brutus before juxtaposing Brutus’ and Caesar’s names. “Why should Caesar’s name be sounded more that yours?” he questions Brutus—his “is as fair a name,” as “heavy” a name , and “will start a spirit as soon” as Caesar’s name will (1.2.143-47). The parallel structure of this juxtaposition emphasizes each point of equality between Brutus’ and Caesar’s names. Just as each part of their names is equal, so should be each facet of their political power. Cassius’ rhetorical question additionally plays to Brutus’ pride, provoking him to consider why he, with all of his accomplishments, is judged inferior to Caesar. After demonstrating that Caesar is no more powerful than Brutus, Cassius is ready to appeal to Brutus’ emotions.
Cassius follows by emotionally invoking Brutus’ ancestor, who “would have brooked / Th’ eternal devil to keep his state in Rome / As easily as a king” (1.2.159-61). He appeals to Brutus’ feelings, knowing that upon remembering his ancestors who drove out Rome’s last tyrant, Brutus will feel guilty about letting this current one rule. Cassius’ assertion is almost a dare: will Brutus dishonor his ancestors or take part in Caesar’s assassination? Also, before Cassius lists Caesar’s faults, he proclaims to Brutus that “honor is the subject” of his story (1.2.93). Cassius uses the word “honor” because he knows that for Brutus, to whom honor and integrity are all important, this sentence will lend an air of legitimacy to his claims. If he appealed to any lower motive than Brutus’ honor and pride, Brutus would ignore him. Conversely, Brutus is likely to listen to Cassius if “honor” is indeed his subject, because to not do so would be to debase his own value of honor.
In this play, Cassius’ firm grasp of rhetoric and his ability to influence others make his speech convincing and cogent. He bases his persuasion of Brutus to join Caesar’s assassination not only upon his intimate understanding of him, but also upon moving speech that provokes Brutus’ emotion and pride. Cassius though, is merely one of many characters utilizing the power of rhetoric in this play. However, he can count himself among those who are able to present a compelling argument and successfully sway their audience.
- Dove, John, and Peter Gamble. “‘Lovers in Peace’ Brutus and Cassius: a Re-Examination.” English Studies 60.5 (2003): 543-554. Literature Resource Center. Gale Group. Kingwood HS Lib., Kingwood. 1 Feb. 2008 <http://galenet.galegroup.com>.
- Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. Elements of Literature: Fourth Course. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2000. 776-877.
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