Compare And Contrast The Characters Of Brutus And Cassius

The character of Cassius is a foil to that of Brutus and is intended to throw into relief the features of the latter’s character by contrast. They are a study in contrast.

In the first place Brutus is a philosopher and idealist, ignorant of human nature and the world, while Cassius is a politician a practical realist and a shrewd man of the world, gifted with a thorough insight and a good judge of men and situations. Brutus is a man of books a theorist who comes out of his anchorage only to find that he is miserably out of place in the world of practical affairs. Brutus is studious, of moral perfection and is guided by abstract principles of morality and not by personal considerations but those of public good only. Cassius is actuated by worldly motives – personal envy and malice – one of those men who can “never be at heart’s ease while they behold a greater than themselves.” Brutus is the noblest Roman of them all – the leader of the conspiracy, but without the necessary qualifications for such leadership.. After the assassination the whole body of conspirators throws the entire responsibility on Brutus, for everyone is conscious of his mental gifts of head and heart though nobody is perhaps more conscious of it than he himself. It is this conceit of his own virtue-his intolerance of other’s views born of nature ingrained in honesty, high moral purpose and nobility of character, which makes him reject the practical suggestions of Cassius who gives way to Brutus much against his will and better judgement. Cassius is a more careful student of human nature than Brutus who tends to judge men by outside appearance only. Brutus sets a high standard of honesty and morality even in politics while Cassius, a man of the world, felt no hesitation in taking to dishonest means for the attainment of his political ends. Brutus’s colossal ignorance of human nature is the main cause of his failure. He is capable of successful action and commits a series of mistakes. Cassius is, on the other hand, “a man of superior practical sense and worldly wisdom, a great observer who looks through the deeds of men.” As Gervinus remarks of Cassius’s character; “The difference between his nature and the character of Brutus comes out on every occasion. Brutus appears throughout just as human and noble as Cassius is politically superior; each lacks what is best in the other and the possession of which would make each perfect.” Another critic, Knight, sums up the distinction between the two characters – “The leading distinctions between the two remark- able men, as drawn by Shakespeare, appear to us to be these: Brutus acts wholly upon principle, Cassius upon impulse. Brutus acts only when he has reconciled the contemplation of action with his speculative opinions. Cassius allows the necessity of some action to run before and govern his opinions. Brutus is a philosopher; Cassius is a partisan; Brutus therefore, deliberates and denounces. Brutus is the nobler instructor. Cassius, the better politician.”

There is, however, some element of truth in Caesar’s statement about the envy, ambition and malice of Cassius when he says to Antony-

“Such men as he be never at heart’s ease

Whiles they behold a greater than themselves.”

But Caesar does justice to the practical sense, worldly wisdom and knowledge of human nature and character when he says elsewhere-

“He is a great observer, and he looks

Quite through the deeds of men.”

But the rest of his remarks on Cassius confiding to Antony his suspicion of the lean and hungry-looking Cassius and suggesting that he is a villain, lacking in imagination and aesthetic sense, is partly true.

On the other hand, Brutus is incapable of successful action, and the root of his incapacity is his ignorance of human nature. He knows not how other men will act nor what effect his own actions and words will have on them. He misreads the characters of almost all with whom he is brought in contact. Thus, he misjudges Antony, not perceiving that the pleasure-loving habits of the masker and reveler are compatible with astute energy in affairs, a mistake sufficing in itself to bring about the utter downfall of the conspirators. He misjudges Casca. He misjudges the crowd and addresses them in a laboured, argumentative style as though each individual had the trained and dispassion- ate intellect of a philosopher. He misjudges his own wife, vainly supposing that he can conceal his disquiet from her. And he does not see that Cassius is “humouring” him and using his influence as an instrument for wreaking personal spite upon Caesar.- (Verity).

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Even in theoretic wisdom Brutus is an deficient as in practical sagacity. He justifies the murder of Caesar, not on what he is at the moment but on what he might be in future, this is the reasoning which Brutus considers as “so full of good regard, that even Caesar’s son would be satisfied”! We do not find the least trace of such inconsistent reasoning in Cassius. Cassius is the originator of the conspiracy, and as a thoroughly practical man of action he is well able to fight the world with its weapons, as he is by his character, unhampered by sensitive scruples, and bring it to a successful issue. But out of his veneration. for the high integrity and the unquestioned nobility of the character of Brutus, he submits to him and falls a victim to the series of mistakes committed by Brutus. Cassius is not an amiable man like Brutus but is choleric, short-tempered and “hears no music”. Brutus, on the other hand turns to study, like a cultured man, in intervals of rest and to music for solace and comfort to his troubled heart. It would be a travesty of facts to suggest that Cassius was set to start the conspiracy for personal jealousy of Caesar alone. Cassius was as much a lover of liberty as Brutus. Had he been actuated by no higher motives than malice and envy, he would neither have won the devotion of his followers, who were faithful to death, nor the friendship of Brutus. Cassius also shared to some extent the Sonic philosophy of Brutus but he was too short-tempered to make Stoicism the principle of his life. In many respects the two characters are really complementary to each other.



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