The Tragedy of Julius Caesar highlights the moral crisis of Caesar’s best friend as he participates in the assassination of Caesar and deals with his grief and the subsequent civil war that eventually leads to his own death.
Brutus is an honorable, patriotic man, and the best friend of Julius Caesar. Caesar is now the last of the Triumvirate, and the people want to make him king. Cassius, a greedy nobleman, sees an opportunity to manipulate Brutus’ patriotism into action against his best friend. Cassius and other conspirators convince Brutus that the people of Rome are fearful of Caesar’s ambition, and they resolve that they must kill him.
Despite many supernatural omens, dreams, and warnings, Caesar ventures out to the Capitol on the Ides of March, and there he is stabbed 33 times by six conspirators, including his best friend Brutus. When he sees that Brutus has also betrayed him, he says, “Et tu, Bruté? Then fall, Caesar.” In other words, he acknowledges that Brutus’ betrayal is the sharpest cut of them all, and it is that which bursts his heart and kills him. While Brutus is determined to let the people of Rome know that what the men did was out of love for their country in a long speech, he also agrees to allow Marc Antony, Caesar’s right-hand man, to give a eulogy for the fallen leader. Antony uses his clever rhetoric to stir the crowd into mutiny, showing that Caesar was not ambitious, and that he had left gifts to the Roman people in his will. Brutus, Cassius, and the other conspirators are driven out of Rome, while Antony teams up with Caesar’s nephew Octavius, and civil war breaks out.
Brutus sees Caesar’s ghost the night before the final battle at Philippi, and his spirit is avenged on the battlefield. In a misunderstanding, Cassius thinks his best friend Titinius is captured and he kills himself. Brutus, upon hearing of his partner’s death and seeing the tide turn against his soldiers, asks a friend to hold his sword while he runs into it. Upon discovering his body, Antony declares that Brutus was the noblest Roman of them all.
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Date Published: 1599
Major Themes: Betrayal and loyalty; honor; greed; ambition
Famous Quote: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”