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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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Your reaction to the quarrel between Cassius and Brutus will say as much about you as it says about them. If you are the sort of person who compromises his values to get what he wants, you will probably sympathize with Cassius. If you are a person who sticks to his principles at all costs, you will probably sympathize with Brutus. Many readers find their sympathies shifting at this point in the play to Cassius, since Brutus treats him coldly, and Cassius tries so hard to remain friends.

LINES 1-27

Cassius feels wronged because Brutus has ignored his letter seeking pardon for his friend Lucius Pella. Brutus has disregarded Cassius' plea and publicly disgraced Pella for taking bribes. In times like these, says Cassius, we can't afford to pay attention to such minor crimes.

Brutus, in turn, scolds Cassius for being no better than Pella-selling positions to men who don't deserve them. Let's not debase ourselves by taking bribes, says Brutus; we killed Caesar because he abused his power-his death was pointless if we stoop to the same crimes.

Brutus thus refuses to compromise his principles. Should we admire him for being so steadfast? Or criticize him for being inflexible and not consulting with Cassius before disgracing Pella? Accepting bribes in times of war seems trivial-not important enough to risk dissension between the two top generals. Brutus may be high-minded, but at times like this he also seems smug and self-righteous.

LINES 28-68

What begins as a discussion between two grown men soon becomes a kids' squabble:

Brutus. You are not, Cassius.

Cassius. I am.

Brutus. I say you are not.

Act IV, Scene iii, lines 33-34

Brutus. Peace, peace, you durst not so have tempted him [Caesar].

Cassius. I durst not?

Brutus. No.

Cassius. What? Durst not tempt him?

Brutus. For your life your durst not.

Act IV, Scene iii, lines 59-62

By this point, there are no principles at stake-only pride. Brutus, the man of high moral standards, steps out from behind his mask of stoic resignation, and what does he do? He baits, threatens, and insults his friend. Is this the "real" Brutus, at last?

Brutus now retreats again behind high-minded phrases. Wearing his words like armor he says:

There is no terror, Cassius, in your threats; For I am armed so strong in honesty That they pass me by as the idle wind

Act IV, Scene iii, lines 66-68

Brutus is honest, yet there is something offensive about his boasting about it. Would he need to, if he believed it himself? He seems as sure of himself as Caesar, when Caesar compared himself to the Northern Star, moments before his death.

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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