Essay, Research Paper: Brutus' Tragic Flaw

Shakespeare

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A tragic hero often has three important characteristics; his superiority which
makes his destruction seem more tragic, his goodness which arouses pity, and his
tragic flaws. In the Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Brutus is an excellent example of
a hero with tragic flaws. Brutus is superior because of his close friendship
with powerful Caesar and because of his popularity with the people. The
conspirators need Brutus to join the conspiracy because of his friendship with
Caesar and his popularity among the people. Brutus’ idealism and goodness are
evident throughout the play; he sees only the goodness in people and naively
believes others are as honorable as he. Even his enemy, Mark Antony, comments on
these traits at the end of the play: “This was the noblest Roman of them
all.” Brutus’ tragic flaws are idealism, honor, and poor judgment which are
taken advantage of at first by Cassius and later by Mark Antony. Brutus’ major
flaw is his idealism, his belief that people are basically good. His first
misjudgment of character is of Casca who he believes should not be taken too
seriously. Cassius disagrees and states that Casca just puts on this appearance:
“However he puts on this tardy form. This rudeness is a sauce to his good wit,
which gives men stomach to disgest his words with better appetite.” Brutus’
next miscalculation of character involves Cassius’ motives. Brutus believes
that Cassius wants to assassinate Caesar for the good of Rome, while Cassius
truly wants power and a Rome not under Caesar’s control. Cassius manipulates
gullible Caesar with flattery of Brutus’ ancestors and of his honor. At the
same time, Cassius points out Caesar’s weaknesses: his deafness, his epileptic
fits, and lack of swimming ability. Brutus continues his misjudgment when he
reads the bogus letters and believes that these express the true feelings of all
of Rome. The letter opens with this quote: “Brutus, thou sleep’st; awake,
and see thyself.” Had Brutus been a perceptive man, he would have remembered
Cassius telling him to allow others to serve as mirrors. Brutus’ idealism
continues to surface when he does not deem it necessary to take an oath of unity
to the cause. He says, “No, not an oath. If not the face of men, the
sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse if these be motives weak, break off
betimes.” Brutus tries to cover the conspiracy with honor and virtue. He is
only fooling himself, because the other conspirators do not share his motives.
The turning point of the play and Brutus’ major tragic flaw concerns his
judgment of Mark Antony. Brutus perceives Antony as “gamesome” and harmless
without Caesar while Cassius sees Antony as a “shrewd contriver.” When the
other conspirators want to kill Antony along with Caesar, Brutus declares,
“For Antony is but a limb of Caesar. Let’s be sacrificers, but not
butchers.” Brutus wants to be honorable which leads to the conspiracy’s
destruction. Another one of his mistakes is allowing Antony to speak at
Caesar’s funeral. Brutus sees no harm in allowing Antony to speak after he has
already spoken. Antony effectively arouses the crowd’s emotions with
Caesar’s body and will. His final fatal errors are meeting Antony’s and
Octavius’ army at Philippi and the mistiming of his army’s attack, an event
which jeopardizes his armies. Brutus’ idealism leads to his downfall. His
innocence and purity of motives cause him to trust the motives of others. He
believes he is doing the right thing: what is best for Rome and the Roman
people. The traits that allow him to be a successful private man are the very
ones that hurt him in public life. He does not make quick and good judgments
because of his ethical and moral views.
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