by Maria Rioux
It is hard to decide who is the tragic hero in this play, although the title tempts us to favor Caesar. He does have a tragic flaw, but he does not recognize it or struggle to overcome it.
Ambition and a sort of recklessness rooted in pride.
Mark Anthony claims that Caesar was not ambitious, but history does not support the claim. Caesar crossed the Rubicon with his army, against Roman law. Perhaps he would have been untouched by power and not abused it. He did enjoy having it, he did wield it, and he was feared for it. I think Casca reads matters aright when he says, “he put it by once, but for all that, to my thinking, he would fain have had it; then he put it by again, but to my thinking, he was very loath to lay his fingers off it….”Act I, ii, 237
As evidence to support this, it is the mention of being crowned that causes Caesar to reconsider his decision to stay home.
“…: the senate hath concluded to give this day a crown to mighty Caesar. If you shall send them word you will not come, their minds may change.”
Lastly, while Caesar did wish to conquer, he conquered for Rome, not for himself. Would he have wished to rule Rome as a tyrant? It seems doubtful considering the type of general he was. Shakespeare seems to be of like persuasion:
“O Caesar, read mine first; for mine’s a suit that touches Caesar nearer: read it great Caesar.”
“What touches us ourself shall be last served.”
Act III, i, 15
“I must prevent thee, Cimber. These crouchings and these lowly courtesies might fire the blood of ordinary men..”
Act III, i, 40
As to recklessness, Caesar had ample warnings to beware the ides of march, a written warning detailing the plot which remained in his hand, unread, at his death. He dismisses his wife’s premonition and dream, as well as the violent storm and strange natural, or rather unnatural, occurrences.”Caesar shall forth: the things that threatened me ne’er look’d but on my back; when they shall see the face of Caesar, they are vanished.” He almost forgets that he is, indeed, mortal.
On the other hand, Brutus is said to be the “noblest Roman of them all” by Mark Anthony, which would place him above Caesar. His tragic flaw would be a kind of unreasonable trust and naivete; his incapacity to understand that not all men are as noble as he.
“Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet I see thy honorable metal may be wrought form that it is disposed: therefore it is meet that noble minds keep ever with their likes; for who so firm that cannot be seduced?”
Act I, ii, 275
We find this to be true, for Brutus’ own opinion of Caesar gives no cause for concern:
“and to speak truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections swayed more than his reason.”
Act II, i, 21
All the other conspirators had motive for hating Caesar, and yet Brutus sees only what their words declare: they desire the common good of Rome.
“All the conspirators, save only he, did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up and say to all the world ‘This was a man!’
He does seem to come to an understanding of the wrong that has been done:
“Do not presume too much upon my love; I may do that I shall be sorry for.”
“You have done that you should be sorry for.”
Act IV, iii, 63
Not only does Brutus allow Anthony to speak at the funeral,he makes a further error in judgment in allowing him to speak last. He is all to trusting.
The tragedy of Brutus is that he was too noble to be adept at politics.
Mark Anthony might be considered a sort of tragic hero, except for the fact that he is one of the few left breathing at the end of the play. Tragedies, in Shakespeare, leave us unhappy. Caesar’s death is avenged, but Rome has lost her noblest citizens. The fact that Brutus is not shamed, and will be afforded all respect and honors at his burial does little to comfort us in our loss of a truly great man.
A more interesting question is what is Shakespeare saying about power, rule, and law? We find Brutus impugning motives to Caesar and justifying assassination for the common good of Rome. The result is that Rome is plunged into civil war, and countless senators die. Isn’t tyranny better than chaos? The French Revolution would be a case in point. However loyal, noble and clever Anthony appears to be, Caesar would not be proud of a subject so willing to create chaos and disorder as portrayed in Anthony’s soliloquy, when he states: “Mischief, thou art afoot, take thou what course thou wilt”(Act III, ii, lines 26o). Anthony’s mischief proves to be a unifying force. Society demands order and rule; order and rule require a ruler. Whether it be a tyrannical dictator or a democratic assembly of nobles, the need for a unifying force is pertinent to a successful society. Caesar was destined to become king and found an empire in Rome. It is ironic that although Caesar was murdered in the flesh, the spirit of Caesar survived, which resulted in an empire born under Octavius and Anthony in the spirit and name of Caesar.