Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar is a western literature piece that is rich and heavy with literary forms. Most conspicuous are the many interlocking themes that come out to show the complexity of the play. In the play, some of the main themes that Shakespeare brings out are the themes of fate, misinterpretation of signs, the power of persona, the tragic hero, patriotism, the super natural, fear and masculinity. But perhaps the themes that stick out most prominently are the themes of betrayal and revenge, manipulation and friendship. This paper is going to discuss the themes of betrayal and the friendship between Julius Caesar and Brutus. On the same note, it is going to try to expound on how these two themes led to the eventual assassination of Caesar by his good friend Brutus. The paper will conclude by giving some of the possible motives that Shakespeare alluded to as the reasons for the betrayal by Brutus.
Themes of Friendship and betrayal between Caesar and Brutus
Friendship is at the center of Shakespeare’s vision of an ordered and harmonious world. To Shakespeare, disloyalty and distrust cause this world to disintegrate. Relationships deteriorate when people positiontheir principles ahead of their affections, and when they allow their positions as public officials interfere with their personal lives (Spring, 1984, p. 26).Throughout, William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, the theme of friendship develops into a very delicate and manipulative element. This theme would be the very entity that would stamp Julius Caesar’s fate. Brutus and the other conspirators make use of friendship to their advantage, and to Caesar’s weakness. It was used as a façade to blind Caesar from the truth and theschemes against him. According to Habib (1993, pp. 159-160) adulation along with manipulation by his friends was employed as a way of persuasion to soothe any feelings of doubt or weariness. These basics would help them gain Caesar’s trust, a fundamental prerequisite to all friendships. This trust would be dishonored and malformed into betrayal. Despite the fact that Caesar was plotted against and murdered by Brutus and his conspirators, friendship still proved a strong theme because it clouded the conspirator’s intentions. Caesar was exposed to the influence of friendship and was blinded by the cunning and crafty but judicious ways of Brutus and all the other conspirators.
A strong friendship existed between Caesar and Brutus. However, although, they were friends, Brutusbetrayed him by being part of the conspirators and eventually stabbing him in the end.Brutus and the other conspirators knew they had to draw closer to Caesar, proving to Caesar that they had a strong friendship that would secure their situation leaving Caesar completely unaware of his fate. Brutus loved planning things and he was always imagining the scene of exactly how they were going to kill Julius. The irony is that Brutus stabbed Caesar in the back and Caesar had to turn around and face him and say “et tu Brute?”(3.1.77) before he fell to the floor and died. Thus the origin of the expression “you stabbed me in the back”. Brutus was regarded as an honorable man, but this doing made him appear as a coward and an underhanded person.
Perhaps the most unexpected betrayal in the play occurs when Brutus, one of Caesar’s closest friends, stabs him in the back. When Caesar realizes that even Brutus has betrayed him, he accepts his death. Brutus’ actions, however, do not go unpunished. He is haunted by Caesar’s ghost, the physical manifestation of his betrayal to the man, until his own tragic death. In the pre-Christian world of Julius Caesar, Brutus action is the ultimate betrayal of friendship. Perhaps if Brutus had challenged Caesar openly, it would not have been so. If Brutus had retired from Rome and informed Caesar that he could no longer take part in the destruction of the roman polity, he would have been considered nobler than by being part of the conspiracy to assassinate Caesar.
As it is, Brutus gave no sign to Caesar that he considers their friendship at an end, drops no hint of dissatisfaction with Caesar’s behavior, but determines to do what is “ not an office for a friend” without warning, and so breaks their friendship off in the most brutal and complete manner possible.
Brutus and his betrayal of Caesar
In Julius Caesar the growing power of Caesar threatens the Roman republic. What was at stake was not simply a transfer of authority between different rulers but a dangerous shift in the type of government that controls Rome and the way power is exercised.
Brutus is a well-loved roman citizen (5.5.68-72). He is torn between his inner and outer self, which causes him to struggle greatly. On one hand, he is Caesar’ close friend and has a strong respect, even love for the man. The high standing of Brutus amongst his friends, followers and enemies alike, has the effect of casting the killing of Caesar in virtuous light. It suggests that the assassination was not a base deed carried out for selfish motive. When Brutus dies he observes “Caesar, now be still, /I killed not thee with half so good a will” (5.5.50-51) which conveys his reluctance to kill Caesar. This suggests that the assassination was a difficult decision, but a justifiable and legitimate one. What was at stake was nothing less that the ideal of Rome itself (Bladen, 2011, pp. 54-55). From the play, there can be some motives that can be presumed as having been the reason for the betrayal of Caesar by Brutus.
First, his love and loyalty to Caesar not withstanding, Brutus believed Caesar to be capable of great evil because of his ambition. He fears that, Caesar threatens to undermine hundreds of years of republican (representative) rule and that in Caesar’s reign, Rome would cease to be a democracy and it is his love of Rome above his personal feelings for Caesar.Brutus betrayedCaesar for the greater good and welfare of the romans. Brutus wanted a democratic country, and this he felt was not going to be possible with Caesar. He loved liberty and this love prompted him to join the conspiracy(Shakespeare, 2013).
Secondly, Brutus betrayed Caesar because he was manipulated by Cassius for his own personal benefit. Cassius told Brutus that Caesar was a greedy man, who would take over the kingdom and become a tyrant(Habib, 1993, pp. 159-160). However, this was not the real reason why they wanted Caesar killed.They were jealous of Caesar’s growing influence over the people of Romeand they were not pleased with this. Eventually Brutusis convinced and comes over to Cassius side and joins the plot to assassinate Caesar but out of honorable reasons.This is exacerbated by the nature of his character. Brutus is proud of his reputation for honor and nobleness. He is intensely committed to fashioning his behavior to fit a strict moral and ethical code.
Thirdly Brutus felt betrayed by his good friend Caesar. Caesarhad great success. He was happy for Caesar, but had some feelings of jealousy. He questioned why Caesar was destined for greatness over him. He was unhappy, and the fact that Caesar did not notice his frustration made him doubt the genuineness of their friendship. He found no explanations for this gap in their friendship (Bladen, 2011, pp. 55-56). Brutus also thought that by Caesar being crowned king, he would forget who his real friends were and he would not pay attention to them. This is shown when Portia says,”…Brutus hath a suit / that Caesar will not grant…” (2.4.41-42). He, therefore, opted to adopt the negative approach, to conspire against Caesar.
Although Brutus attempted to frame the assassination as an honorable act, carried out for the good of Rome, Shakespeare’s language constantly undermines this idea. The plays structure also suggests that the assassination was wrong. Caesar is assassinated relatively early in the play, in 3.1, yet the drama continues for another two acts to play out the consequences of the deed. In killing Caesar, the conspirators do not liberate Rome from tyranny and restore democracy, on the contrary, it resulted to civil war and chaos. By the end of the play, the action of killing Caesar appears misguided and all in vain. When Cassius and Brutus die, they construct their own deaths as revenge by Caesar. Cassius says “Caesar, thou art revenged” (5.3.45) and Brutus observed “Caesar, now be still” (5.5.50). Thus, the play seems to present the conspirators as paying with their lives for the wrongful act of the assassination.
The theme of friendship was evolving throughout the entire play andthere were several calculating, persuasive and manipulative moments. Caesar’s biggest flaw was his love for adulation and his connivers, having known this, exploited it in their gain to win his trust. With this this theme, Shakespeare was demonstrating how people manipulate and use each other, even in the context of friendships.
Bladen, V. (2011). William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Insight Publications.
Habib, I. H. (1993). Shakespeare’s Pluralistic Concepts of Character: A Study in Dramatic Anamorphism (illustrated ed.). Susquehanna University Press.
Shakespeare, W. (2013). Making Sense of Julius Caesar! a Students Guide to Shakespeare’s Play. BookCaps Study Guides.
Spring, M. (1984). William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Barron’s Educational Series.
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