Julius Caesar was written in 1599, a time in which the monarchy was in power in Britain. Shakespeare would have to be very careful what to put in his plays; he had to stay in favour of the royalty. If for example, Brutus was portrayed as the overall hero for procuring the safety of Rome through the assassination of someone who was going to rule Rome as a monarchist, Shakespeare would have been in trouble. Therefore, he had to ensure that this assassination was seen as unnatural, something that unsettled the natural order of things.
For this reason, he made the night before the assassinations one of strangeness and peculiarity:
” Men, all in fire, walk up and down the streets.
And yesterday the bird o night did sit
Even at noon-day upon the market place,
Hooting and shrieking when these prodigies
Do so conjointly meet let not men say
‘These are their reasons, they are natural’
For I believe they are portentous things
Unto the climate that they point upon.
Shakespeare had also intended his portrayal of leadership to capture the audiences attention as England herself was having leadership issues at that period of time. Queen Elizabeth was old and she didn’t have an heir. He links this in a way as the Julius Caesar depicted in the play also doesn’t have an heir. His wife was shown as having conceivement problems.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare has woven through important themes; the most prominent being friendship and leadership. Within these two themes, Brutus and Mark Antony show completely different stances.
Their close friendship to Caesar makes them interesting to compare as they react in different ways to the apparent growing ambition of Caesar and afterwards, his death. It is their reactions, which allows Shakespeare to use them to make the audience contemplate on the themes of friendship and leadership.
In friendship or personal matters, Brutus places state before self. He had considered Caesar a true friend:
“It must be by his death. And for my part,
I know no personal cause to spurn at him
But for the general.” – Brutus
Brutus honestly held no personal grudge against Caesar. In spite of this, his values bound him to assassinating Caesar for what he believed to be the good of Rome. During his speech to the citizens of Rome, he justifies his assassination Caesar by saying :”Not that I loved Caesar less, but I loved Rome more”.
Mark Antony’s view however, is the complete opposite. He puts personal matters above state. However, Mark’s Antony’s view on friendship isn’t all that easy to interpret. On one hand, he is the loyal friend to Caesar, seeking revenge. From this point of view, he seems to be using himself as a medium to channel Caesar’s revenge upon the conspirators-
“And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell” – Mark Antony
– and thus, why he’s bring civil strife to Rome. On the other hand however, it may be that Mark Antony has always been after the power; yet clever enough to stay and work from the background. Before Act 3, he has never been an major character. On the contrary, he is one to be almost dismissed. Yet after his ‘real arrival’ in scene 3, the audience begins to remember vital, albeit small roles he played earlier on. For example, he was the one who offered Caesar the crown at the Lupercal: “I thrice presented him a kingly crown.” From this, we can see that far from fearing that Caesar will rule Rome, he fully supports the idea.
This could be due to the fact that if Caesar was the one who would be king, he, Mark Antony, in Caesar’s favour, would also be at the receiving end of this power. It can be said that before Caesar’s death, Mark Antony already had a perfect future secured for himself. He was the favourite of a man who was sighted to be the ruler of Rome and had nothing to worry about. In this circumstance then, he can be the “Antony that revels long a-nights”. But after Caesar’s death, he needs to work out how to get back into a position which is favourable. This is when the real Mark Antony, the consummate politician, comes into play. He then fights for the power, bringing civil strife upon Rome in the process. It’s him against the conspirators and he doesn’t care what stands in his way. He knows very well what civil war would bring about:
“over thy wounds do I prophesy-…
… Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infant quartered by the hands of war.” – Mark Antony
Shakespeare uses these words to conjure up vivid images. Phrases like “infant quartered by the hands of war” are meant to horrify and give an ominous feel for what is to come.
When it comes to leadership, the contrast has never been clearer. Brutus does anything he thinks would benefit the state. He doesn’t however, ever do anything that goes again his values. This is then his short coming. His greatest virtue brings about his downfall as it is his very idealism, his very naivetï¿½ that blurs his sight of his surroundings. He is only able to see a single path for himself, the one of goodness and purity. This then causes a problem as he can’t see the alternative routes by which other men might take- ones that are not as scrupulous. For example, when Mark Antony asked to speak at Caesar’s funeral, he agreed. The politically astute Cassius strongly protested against this but Brutus said:
“What Antony shall speak, I will protest
He speaks by leave and by permission” – Brutus
Brutus at this point doesn’t understand how this move would endanger their position politically. He doesn’t get the fact that although he might be able to convince the Romans that they had done a the right thing by assassinating Caesar, Mark Antony would be able to turn that all around in an single speech because of his oratory skills. In a way, this is the pivotal point in which Brutus seals his fate. If he had not given Mark Antony this opportunity, Mark Antony would have never been able to even fight for the rule of Rome. The power would have been in the conspirators hands.
Mark Antony works in an completely different way from Brutus. At points where Brutus is weak, Mark Antony is strong. He isn’t exactly unscrupulous but he is able to spot, and then exploit the various short comings of other men. In this way, he is politically set up to go a long way. Again using the example of Act 3, Scene 1, Mark Antony appeals directly to Brutus for permission to speak at Caesar’s funeral by directing Brutus’ attention to providing reasons for Caesar’s death, to which he knows full well that Brutus will be the one who answers. Mark Antony does this as he is able to see that out of them all, Brutus’ naivetï¿½ and unconsciousness of underlying political meanings would be an trait to play on. He sees that Cassius would see through his ploy but Brutus wouldn’t. Brutus wanted Caesar to have “all true rites and lawful ceremonies.”
Comparing the inner selves of the two men through looking at the ways they treat people, Brutus is kind and caring, while Antony, cruel and manipulative. Examples depicting this would be Brutus asking his servants and guards to rest in his personal quarters (“call Claudio ad some other of my men,
I’ll have them sleep on the cushions of my tent”), – Brutus
and Antony purely and simply using Lepidus as someone to do his dirty work-
( [My horse] is a creature that I teach to fight,
To wind, to stop, to run directly on,
His corporal motion governed by my spirit;
And in some taste is Lepidus but so.) -Mark Anthony
A direct contrast of Brutus and Mark Antony can be made as Brutus refuses to kill Mark Antony along with Julius Caesar even as Cassius almost predicts the future by saying that Antony is a “shrewd contriver”. Brutus however, spared Mark Antony:
“Our course would seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs.” -Brutus
Mark Antony in contrast, isn’t as merciful. He condemns his own sister’s son to death at a meeting of the ruling triumvirs: “He shall not live- look, with a spot I damn him.” However, we can’t say whether this is the real Mark Antony, someone who’s cold and heartless. It might have just been sheer bravado which led him to utter those words.
Mark Antony is able to read people in a way Brutus just simply can’t. Mark Antony says as one of the closing lines,
“This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators, save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar
He only, in general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.” -Mark Antony
Brutus didn’t do as well with his interpretation of Mark Antony. This is yet again another shortcoming of Brutus that makes him vulnerable in politics. He is unable to peel back the masks that various figures in politics, especially Mark Antony, puts up. He assumes that Mark Antony wouldn’t be a threat after Caesar was removed:
“And for Mark Antony, think not of him,
for he can do no more than Caesar’s arm
when Caesar’s head is off.” -Brutus
This was one his greatest faults of all. It ties in with his insistence in believing in the essential good of those around him.
Similarities between the two characters are few but one of them is their ability to put aside or hide emotion. Both characters are stoic. Brutus doesn’t grieve openly after Portia’s death. He says:
“Why, farewell Portia. We must die Messala
With meditating that she must die once
I have the patience to endure it now.” -Brutus
And after this point, he never mentions her again. This isn’t normal behaviour nowadays. Mark Antony does the same after Caesar’s death. He allows himself a singular point over which he releases his pent up grieve and after that, Caesar’s name was never mentioned by him in mourning again. He does however use his emotions to his advantage. For example, at his meeting with the conspirators after the death of Caesar, he plays the role of an distraught, grieving friend to make Brutus believe that he only wanted to speak at Caesar’s funeral as a friend; and to try and make Cassius think that he was too embroiled in emotional turmoil at the time to be scheming for anything:
“That I did love thee, Caesar, O, ’tis true.
If thy sprit then look upon us now,
Shall it not grieve thee dearer than thy death
To see thy Antony making his peace,
Shaking the bloody fingers of thy foes-
Most noble- in the presence of thy corse?
Had I as many eyes as thou hast wounds,
Weeping as fast as they stream forth thy blood
It would become me better than to close
In terms of friendship with thine enemies.” -Mark Antony
One other point of similarity between the two men was their skill at rhetoric. Both men’s speeches after the assassinations of Caesar, made to move and sway the thinking of the crowd were amazing ones. For instance, Brutus used ordinary prose instead of the normal blank verse he used to speak to the people with the intention that it would be easier for him to get through to them. He also used plenty of rhetorical questions.
“…If any, speak, for him I have offended. Who is here so rude
that would not be a Roman? If any, speak for him I have offended.
Who is here so vile that will not love his country?
If any speak for him I have offended. I pause for a reply.” – Brutus
His speech is simple, so simple that it pangs with it sincerity whereas, Mark Antony’s on the other hand, is much more manipulative and devious. He starts off by saying that he wasn’t going to praise Caesar and by saying that Brutus was “an honourable man”. His drift gradually changed though; and gradually steers the mass towards the idea that Brutus and the conspirators were to be punished. He slowly turns the tide, so as not to startle the crowd and to ruin his chances of winning them over. He works them up by dangling Caesar’s will under their noses and then pulling it away and refusing to read it to them. In this way, he manages to get the crowd up to a real state.
Through their speech methods, we are able to see the differences in their characters Brutus speech is calm, and contained. His peace and tranquillity is meant to rub off onto the crowd whereas Mark Antony’s is dramatic and fast flowing, meant to excite the crowd. And that does in a way, convey their characters. Mark Antony is able to detect subtleties in his opponents action and react accordingly to them. He’s like a chameleon, changing to suit the mood and aims of the people. Brutus doesn’t have this particular trait, he is much more subdued and this shows through in his speech. Although he’s not lacking in determination to get his point across, he isn’t overt with his actions or dramatics.
Another similarity they share is their love for Caesar. Mark Antony says:
“Caesar was mighty, bold, royal, and loving, ….
… I feared Caesar, honoured him and loved him.” – Mark Antony
Brutus said when he killed himself:
“I killed not thee with half so good a will” -Brutus
But even at this point of similarity, there is disparity. We can be certain that Brutus did love Caesar; but as for Antony, it can be said that he did indeed like Caesar. We can’t however, be sure about his intentions where Caesar was concerned when he was alive.
If the presentations of the characters are taken at face value, Mark Antony can be seen as the ‘villain’ and Brutus, the ‘tragic hero’. However, one of Shakespeare’s themes is the relativity of goodness. Brutus assassinated Caesar allegedly for the ‘good of Rome’. And Brutus himself did believe in this a 100%. But nevertheless, this was betrayal. Caesar fell at his stab with the words: “Et tu Brute?- Then fall Caesar!”. Caesar said it perfectly. A friend whom he had trusted, completely and totally, was stabbing him. And this is perhaps, the most tragic thing of all. Mark Antony apparent stance is perfectly paraphrased by E.M Forster: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
But, this view seems rather selfish. To be loyal to one friend, causing the downfall of the entire country seems to be almost securing your own future by compensating it with others. And yet, admiration can’t be not shown as Mark’s Antony unwavering loyalty to Caesar is portrayed. Then again, admiration can’t not be shown as Brutus places nation before self. Both stances require equal amounts of courage. Courage to betray your friend, and courage again, to betray your country.