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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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LINES 1-34

The world admires Brutus as a man firm in his beliefs-a man who knows exactly who he is and what he wants. But the private man revealed here is so torn by doubts that he can hardly sleep.

Brutus has made up his mind: Caesar must die. "It must be by his death," he says-and then he searches for reasons to support his decision. How very human to choose a course of action, and then find reasons to support it!

Brutus' argument is based not on anything Caesar has done, but on what he might do. Is that sufficient grounds for murder? Cassius, at least, has real grievances against Caesar: The most respected men of Rome, he says, are "groaning underneath this age's yoke" (Act I, Scene ii, line 61). Brutus, on the other hand, can speak only of what Caesar might become.

Further weakening Brutus' argument are these controversial lines:

and to speak the truth of Caesar, I have not known when his affections swayed More than his reason.

Act II, Scene i, lines 19-21

Is Brutus so shortsighted or so blind to human nature that he can't remember a single time when Caesar was swayed by his emotions?

Shakespeare was familiar with historical records that portrayed Caesar's rule as a mixed blessing; why does Brutus ignore all of Caesar's faults in his speech? Is Shakespeare trying to emphasize how flimsy Brutus' argument is, and how groundless his fears? Perhaps he also wants to show how dangerous logic is, when cut off from feeling.

LINES 35-60

Brutus is motivated not just by his principles but by a sense of family pride. His ancestor, Lucius Julius Brutus, helped drive the Tarquins from Rome and establish the Roman Republic. Brutus believes that for him to sit by and watch Caesar destroy the Republic would dishonor his family name.

It would be unfair to Brutus to say that he is motivated solely by a sense of pride. He is obviously deeply concerned about Caesar's threat to Roman institutions-just as we would be upset by a President, no matter how capable, who tried to undermine the power of the Senate. But pride plays a part in his decision-and thus his motives are less pure than he himself would like to believe.

LINES 61-68

Brutus blames Cassius for stirring him up against Caesar:

Since Cassius first did whet me against Caesar, I have not slept.

Act II, Scene i, lines 61-62

Is this true? Go back over the text-doesn't Brutus admit his fears of Caesar before he discusses them with Cassius? Brutus may be deluding himself to keep his conscience clean-blaming Cassius for what is essentially his own decision.

Brutus compares the state of man to a "little kingdom." In Shakespeare's world nothing exists in isolation. The insurrection affects everything and everyone: the minds of the conspirators, Rome, the heavens themselves. The harmony of the individual mirrors the harmony of the state-which in turn mirrors the harmony of the universe. All are interrelated. When something happens to disturb this harmony, the whole structure comes tumbling down.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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