Classification of the Main Characters of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar

May 25, 2019 by Essay Writer

Although the characters of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar can not be easily classified because of their emotional depth and mental complexity, one can draw certain conclusions about them based on the attributes that they possess. Shakespeare uses the intricacy of the characters’ personalities to develop the plot. The motives of some characters are often quite obvious, while other characters intentionally or subconsciously mask their intent to maintain an appearance of loyalty or to deceive their adversary. Few of the characters match perfectly one of the four character descriptions; protagonist, antagonist, anti-hero, or heroic anti-hero, but rather are a composite of different aspects of each. Mark Antony is probably the easiest of the characters to classify. He is quite clearly an antagonist. Before the assassination Antony makes only four brief appearances and speaks as many lines. Three times, twice at the games and once at Caesar’s house, Antony affirms his allegiance to Caesar as a ruler and as a friend. After the assassination; however, Antony hastens to fill the void made by Caesar’s absence and he becomes a prominent player in the struggle for power. Beginning with Antony’s use of his servant to flatter Brutus prior to Antony’s arrival at the Capitol, Antony attempts to appeal to Brutus’s self-perceived senses of honor and nobility. He successfully convinces Brutus that he would be able to agree with the conspirators if their cause was explained to him. He shakes hands with all of them to prove the integrity of his claim. He gains the right to speak at Caesar’s funeral by playing on Brutus’s sense of righteousness. At the funeral Antony effects his plan by turning the mob of fickle plebeians against the conspirators, forcing them to flee Rome. Antony gains the support of Octavius, and together they pursue Brutus and Cassius to Philippi where Antony skillfully directs his army against them. The defeat resulted in the suicides of Brutus and Cassius. Caesar plays the part of a heroic anti-hero. Although he had attained military triumphs prior to the beginning of the play, he was not satisfied with them. He craved absolute power but his inclination to be easily flattered and his disregard of the omens led to his demise. From the first glimpse of Caesar at the Lupercal in Act I Scene II it is quite clear that he is a man to be revered and would have it no other way. When he tells Antony to touch Calpurnia, Antony replies, “When Caesar says, ëDo this,’ it is performed.” Caesar foolishly dismissed the soothsayer who warns him to “beware the Ides of March” as a “dreamer.” Caesar considers himself to be one with the gods and believes himself to be invincible against mere humans. The night before the Ides of March Caesar is given many indications of his impending doom, but he heeds none of them. Among other things Calpurnia told Caesar that she had envisioned a lioness whelping in the streets, graves that unearthed their dead, and “fierce fiery warriors” that “fought upon the clouds.” Caesar also ignored the meteor shower and scorned the advice of the augurers who failed to find a heart within a slaughtered beast. When Calpurnia insisted that it would be dangerous to venture to the Capitol, Caesar said that he and danger were “two lions littered in one day, / And I the elder and more terrible.” He allowed Decius Brutus to appeal to his Achilles heel, egotism and honor. Decius told Caesar that the Senate was going to crown him, and they would perceive his absence as cowardice. On the way to the Capitol, Caesar once again ignores the soothsayer and he disregards Artemidorus’s letter. Once in the Senate House, Brutus and the other conspirators plead with Caesar to repeal the banishment of Metellus Cimber’s brother. While they are kissing his feet and fawning over him, Casca stabs him in the back and the rest follow suit. Even until the very last Caesar allowed himself to be deceived by flattery and by his own perceived invulnerability. Cassius is the definitive anti-hero. He fails in almost everything he undertakes and has a massive inferiority complex. Caesar recognizes this in Act I Scene II when he says, “Such men as he (Cassius) never be at heart’s ease / Whiles they behold a greater than themselves.” Cassius makes bad decisions and constantly allows Brutus to persuade him into agreeing with courses of actions that are based on faulty logic. Cassius yields to Brutus three times during the planning of the murder. Brutus overrules Cassius on the matter of swearing an oath, whether to kill Antony as well as Caesar, and whether or not they should include Cicero in the conspiracy. Cassius deeply resents being subservient to Caesar. He fails to comprehend why Caesar, not he, is the one in power. In Act I Scene II Cassius says to Brutus, “I was born as free as CaesarÖ / We both have fed as well, and we can both / Endure the winter’s cold as well as he (Caesar).” He is engulfed with feelings of loathing and animosity, and he is frustrated because there is little he can do about them. The most grievous of his many errors was to bow to Brutus’s will that they should fight at Philippi rather than holding their defensive position on elevated terrain. Cassius became so accustomed to failing that he did not question Pindarus when he mistakenly reported that the enemy had captured Titinius. Believing that he had caused the death of Titinius and lost the battle, Cassius beseeched Pindarus to kill him. Despite the various bad decisions Brutus made throughout the course of the play, he is the hero. He has strong moral convictions and an unwavering sense of nobility. He is the only character in the play who governs his life according to these principles. The other characters in the play recognize these traits and they are the primary reason that Cassius recruits him. In Act II Scene I Cauis Ligarius says, “I am not sick if Brutus have in hand / Any exploit worthy the name of honor.” In the same scene Cassius states, “no man here / But honors you; and everyone doth wish / You had but that opinion of yourself / Which every noble Roman bears of you.” Cassius believes that Brutus will provide an honorable front for his own selfish deeds. Brutus measures all of his actions on his own scale of ethics and righteousness. He is slow and deliberate when making moral decisions, but quick to respond to questions about the conspiracy. Brutus contemplates the necessity of an assassination for over a month. He is forced to weigh his unbending values against his love and friendship for Caesar. He realizes that it is necessary to rid Rome of Caesar in order to prevent his power from growing too great, but he finds himself wrestling with the emotional stress of condoning the murder of a good friend. In Act II Scene I Brutus wishes that they could “come by Caesar’s spirit / and not dismember Caesar.” Brutus wants to “carve him (Caesar) as a dish fit for the gods, / Not hew him as a carcass fit for hounds.” To Brutus’s dismay this does not prove to be the case. When Antony petitions Brutus to allow him to speak at Caesar’s funeral, Brutus consents against the will of Cassius. Brutus sees it fit that someone should recount the positive side of Caesar’s life because he never considered Caesar to be a bad person, only a threat to freedom. After the assassination, Brutus second-guesses his motives and confronts the reality that he participated in a murder. He can no longer justify it to himself. He lives by his sense of honor until the very end when he commits suicide to prevent the disgrace of being taken “bound to Rome.”

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