Julius Caesar the True Tragic Hero
Aristotle once said “A man doesn’t become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall. ” These words best describe what a “Tragic Hero” is and both Julius Caesar and Brutus displayed this characteristic, so the question is “Who is the real tragic hero in this story? ” This paper shall explore the reasons behind why each man is considered a hero in his own right and who the rightful owner to the title of the play truly belongs to. There have been countless tragic heroes in the works of William Shakespeare such as Macbeth and Hamlet, but the real question to ask is “What defines a tragic hero? A tragic hero is a person who is usually of noble birth with heroic qualities, who possesses a distinct characteristic called a Hamartia, which is a tragic or fatal flaw that eventually leads to his own death and downfall, in addition they also go through a Peripateia, or a reversal of fortune brought about by his own Hamartia and will then discover that this reversal was brought out upon by the hero’s own downfall. Julius Caesar was a noble leader of the Roman people; he was an undefeated general that deserved the respect of his followers.
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He was a good man who based all of his actions for the good of his people and his loved ones, his good friend Antony even described him as a “friend, faithful and just” (Act 3, Scene 2, Line 83) during his famous speech at Caesar’s funeral. However, it was his own pride and the fact that he would not listen to the divine fate predicted by the soothsayer “Beware the ides of March” (Act 1, scene 2, line 20) that brought by his own demise, despite being warned numerous times about the impending danger of the fifteenth of March, he persistently ignored the many warnings due to his belief of being “as eternal as the North Star”.
Yet due to his wife, Calpurnia, pleading him not to go to the Capitol on the fifteenth of March after she had a divine vision about the impending danger that awaited him, he decided to stay with her on that day, proving his value of his loved ones opinions. On the other end, a member of the conspiracy, Decius, managed to convince him that these predictions should not have even been a problem due to his “immortality”, once again portraying Julius Caesar’s colossal pride, arrogance and Hamartia.
As the ides of March came along, Caesar marched toward the senate and was confident that all of the predictions were false and that he truly was an immortal being, even going to the extent of mocking the soothsayer by saying: “The ides of March are come. ”(Act 3, scene 1, line 1). He then approached the senate meeting his good friend and loyal companion Brutus and at that moment Julius Caesar’s Paripateia occurred when his “loyal followers” began stabbing Caesar to the death.
Despite the agony and pain of the stabbing, his biggest grief was the split second before he died when he saw his most loyal companion Marcus Brutus as one of the conspirators murdering him, resulting in his final words “et tu Brute? ”-Then fall Caesar” (Act 3, scene 1, line 79). On the other hand, Brutus also displays the many characteristics of a true tragic hero; he was a noble man and was well respected by the entire Roman republic, he was also Caesar’s right-hand man and close companion.
Nevertheless, Brutus would do whatever it takes for the good of Rome, this trait was the reason why Cassius convinced Brutus into joining the conspiracy, with Cassius telling Brutus that Caesar was going to end the Roman republic and rule as king; consequently corrupting Rome. This moment showed off Brutus’ Hamartia which was that he was too trusting, although he was convinced of murdering his best friend, he was a great man with many morals even stating “I love/ The name of honor more than I fear death. ” (Act 1, scene 2, line 90-91) meaning that he stands by what he believes in.
Another example of Brutus’ fatal flaw was when he allowed Antony to stay alive and not be murdered by the conspirators, he trusted Antony to the extent of allowing him to speak to the crowd after Caesar’s death, which gave Antony the opportunity to let slip the true cause of Julius Caesar’s death and ultimately led to Anthony’s demise. Brutus then gets run out of town and eventually loses everything he cherished most, more than anything when his wife Portia commits suicide due to her being unable to handle all the stress that was caused by her husband and the conspiracy as a whole.
He would then take over the conspiracy, much to Cassius’ shock who only asked Brutus to join the conspiracy as a way of getting closer to Caesar but as Cassius had lost his position as the head man he no longer had any say in the decisions of the conspiracy. Brutus’ tragic realization of the effects of the conspiracy and the death of Caesar occur to him the moment he sees Caesar’s ghost right before the war in Philippi discovering, in an ironic twist that his killing of Caesar has not bettered Rome but rather it has made the roman situation deteriorate.
During the battle of Philippi, Brutus decides to commit suicide due to his inner conflict concluding his life with words that prove his remorse and guilt: “Caesar now be still/ I killed not thee with half so good a will” (Act 5, scene 5, line 51-52). Brutus was a man full of honor and virtue, even Antony, Brutus’ enemy for the majority of the play, himself knew of Brutus’ true intentions, that he committed these actions for the greater good, considering Brutus “the noblest Roman of them all” (Act 5, scene 5, line 68).
In addition, both Brutus and Caesar harbor a familiar flaw which is neglecting their own private lives in accord for what they believe to be the public good. Caesar for example lost his life due to his ignorance of his private life as he was convinced by Cassius to ignore his wife’s dreams so the public would not think lowly of him staying at home because of irrational fears. Brutus is also associated with this flaw as he was persuaded that murdering his most loyal companion would benefit the public condition and help Rome prosper as the end would have justified the means, in spite of their close friendship.
This grand tragedy has however been vastly criticized due to its own title, which has been named after Julius Caesar, and since most tragedies have been given the title of the tragic hero’s name, many critics see eye to eye that the true title of this play should be “The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus” as Brutus is the main character of the story and holds the numerous characteristics of the tragic hero, whilst Caesar, also showing these characteristics, dies early on in the play and scarcely has any dialogue.
While both characters have proven to be noble men and have the ability to be a true tragic hero, the title should rightfully belong to Marcus Brutus as he is the main character who filled the role of tragic hero exceedingly well, he is more tragic than Caesar since he lost everything precious to him through the course of the play, beginning with murdering his greatest companion, to his wife’s tragic death and ending with his own suicide, while Caesar did not lose as much, since his appointed heir eventually takes his previous position, and the roman people gain a greater admiration towards him after hearing his will.
Additionally Brutus’ many appearances and soliloquies allowed the audience to get emotionally attached to the characters and see his many different characteristics such as him being a dedicated husband, a great master to his servants, and a man with an enormous conscious. Yet Shakespeare gave the play the title of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” for a particular reason, Caesar is the catalyst of the entire play, he might have died early on in the play but all of the vents that take place in the play are caused by Julius Caesar, he might not have had as much of an active role as Brutus but he was responsible for the motives of all the other characters, furthermore every occurrence in the play occurred due to Julius Caesar, pre and post-death, which therefore makes him of great significance to the events and reasons behind this legendary play.
Shakespeare has created some of the greatest literary masterpieces of the English language and he has always left us with many unanswerable questions such as who the tragic hero of this great play truly is. Many critics may have their different opinions on this issue; however, Shakespeare’s brilliance has portrayed a very important theme in this play, that one mans hero is another man’s villain.