Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Cassius represents the man of passion and presents a stark contrast to the rational and philosophical Brutus. Unlike Brutus, who believes that morality is fluid if one's intentions are good, Cassius is only interested in the end and not the means. He craves power and devises strategies to obtain it. He serves as the mastermind and the motivational force behind the conspiracy to kill Caesar and persuades other people to join him through blatant manipulations and deceit, such as the forged letters. The main object of Cassius' manipulation is Brutus. He succeeds in persuading him that Caesar's overwhelming ambition poses a threat to the liberty of the Roman citizens.
Cassius' severe hostility towards Caesar arises from two motives; he has a personal hatred of Caesar, whom he views as inferior and weak and he possesses a strong republican sentiment, which is secondary to the personal animosity. Cassius repeatedly belittles Caesar by describing his weakness in swimming the Tiber, his deafness, and his epilepsy. He even mocks him for having had a fever. Ironically, Cassius neither exalts himself nor succeeds in demeaning Caesar; instead, he only reveals his personal malice. All his republican motives are made suspect by his apparent jealousy of Caesar. Cassius' attempt to belittle Caesar by using his physical weaknesses backfires. It only makes him seem like a small, envious man.
Throughout the entire play Cassius modifies his methods to suit different sets of circumstances without compromising or changing his ultimate goal of assassinating Caesar and gaining power. A perfect example of his adaptability is the manner in which he enlists support for the conspiracy by utilizing a different approach for each new member. For instance, in the case of the philosophical Brutus, Cassius adopts the painfully slow approach of planting forged letters over a number of days. Brutus ponders the warnings in the letters, supposedly written by Roman citizens, and decides Caesar must be removed. He thinks that he has arrived at this conclusion himself; in truth, Brutus has been cleverly manipulated by Cassius. In handling Casca, Cassius uses a completely different approach. He tells Casca that a fearful storm is a sign of displeasure over Caesar from the gods; he emotionally appeals to Casca to join him in taking immediate action against Caesar, before worse portents follow.
In Act I, Scene 2, Caesar accurately describes Cassius and states, "I do not know the man I should avoid/so soon as that spare Cassius." Caesar realizes that Cassius is a cynical and dangerous man, who "looks quite through the deeds of men." Caesar has recognized Cassius' most significant trait. His ability to understand his fellow man and then manipulate him is the personality trait that allows Cassius to assemble the conspirators and move them forward. It is ironic that his keen perception is betrayed by his poor eyesight. Unable to see for himself what is happening on the battlefield, he trusts the information given to him by Pindarus. Unable to see the truth and believing that his cause is lost, he decides to kill himself.
Although Cassius possesses keen political insight, he is not a good politician, for he is too motivated by personal feelings and gives up too quickly. He clearly understands that Antony is a risk to his conspiratorial plan, but he submits to the inferior judgment of Brutus and agrees to spare Antony's life. In the quarrel scene in Act IV, when Brutus refuses to yield over the issue of taking bribes, Cassius quickly changes the subject and turns the talk to other things. He again goes against his better judgement and allows Antony to address the mob, which results in a disastrous reversal of fortune for the conspirators. Finally, he accepts Brutus' fatal decision to fight the battle at Philippi in order to preserve their newly restored friendship. In the end, Cassius is led to his tragic ruin by not standing up for his beliefs and by allowing his personal feelings to override abstract political considerations. Like Brutus, he kills himself rather than to submit to the shame of capture by the enemy.