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Shakespeare's conception of Brutus does not present so much difficulty as his conception of Julius Caesar. Nevertheless here, too, there must be some grounds of controversy, for, while most commentators find a strong family likeness between Brutus and Hamlet, Gervinus is of opinion that he closely resembles Hamlet's opposite, the matter-of-fact Horatio. The opinion of Gervinus on this subject may be dismissed as a paradox, which would be hardly worth mentioning except to illustrate the extraordinary difference in the estimates formed of even those who are seemingly the plainest of Shakespeare's characters, by the wisest commentators. There can, however, be no doubt that there is a close resemblance in two important points between Hamlet and Brutus. Both of them were primarily students and philosophers, and were suddenly called away from their books to do in the eyes of the world a great act of violence that seemed imposed upon them by imperious necessity. Hamlet wavered under the burden of the task that he had to fulfil, and postponed it again and again with fatal irresolution. Brutus, on the contrary, as soon as he had convinced himself that Caesar ought to be slain, took the earliest opportunity of killing him. Still, to some extent, it may be said that in the case of Brutus, as Goethe said of Hamlet, “a lovely, pure, noble, and most moral nature, without the strength of nerve which forms a hero, sinks beneath a burden which it cannot bear and must not cast away.” His failure as a political leader is brought into clear light by the contrast made between him and Cassius, who is in every way better fitted to be the leader of the conspirators. Brutus is taken into the conspiracy in order that his high reputation for virtue may convince the world of the purity of the conspirators' motives. So great is the deference paid to his honour, that he is immediately allowed to take the first place. His idea of conducting a conspiracy for assassination on strictly moral principles is found to be impracticable. He cannot himself exact money by unjust means, but the money is necessary for his troops. He has therefore to ask supplies from Cassius, who is less scrupulous in his financial measures, and, when Cassius cannot give him all he wants, he is indignant and unjust to his friend. The natural feelings that he has violated by assassinating this benefactor oppress his mind, and make him conjure up the dread spectre that visits him at Sardis and before the battle of Philippi. His career ends in premature despair of success, followed by defeat and death. But his life, though politically a failure, is from a

moral point of view triumphant. Just before his death he proudly declares—

I shall have glory by this losing day,

More than Octavius and Mark Antony

By this vile conquest shall attain unto. His glory is that he has lived a virtuous life, and carried out in action the precepts of his philosophical guides with unswerving constancy. Shakespeare and Plutarch agree in describing Brutus as one of the most virtuous men that ever lived. Plutarch, after mentioning his promise to reward his soldiers for their valour by allowing them to sack the cities of Thessalonica and Lacedaemon, remarks that “in all Brutus' life there is but this only fault to be found.” Shakespeare does not even refer to this promise, lest it should detract from the flawless perfection of his virtue. Modern historians have accused Brutus of covetousness, on the strength of an account given in one of Cicero's letters of how he lent money to Ariobarzanes and the Salaminians at an enormously high rate of interest, and how eager he was that Cicero should exert his official power to exact payment from his debtors to the uttermost farthing. Plutarch, on the contrary, represents him as being free-handed to excess. He contrasts the moderation of Brutus in Asia Minor with the grasping exactions of Cassius, and the liberality of his gift of fifty silver drachmas to each soldier with “the misery and niggardliness” of Octavius. Again, when he heard that his soldiers had lost all their baggage, he “promised every man of them two thousand drachmas in recompense,” a promise which made them “cheer again, wondering much at his great liberality.” Shakespeare, no doubt, intends us to believe that he really felt the contempt for money that he expresses in the quarrel scene. In fact, whatever the historical Brutus may have been, the Brutus of Shakespeare and Plutarch is as free from the vice of covetousness as he is from all other vices. It has been truly said that no other Shakespearian hero rises to such a high pitch of moral perfection. It does not follow from this that Brutus always did what was absolutely right. Moralists distinguish between subjective and objective rightness. Subjective rightness consists in doing what you believe to be right, objective rightness is determined by a standard of eternal law independent of the opinion of the agent. We may say

that Brutus in the great act of his life was subjectively C

right, but objectively wrong. This is evidently the opinion of Plutarch. Though his biographer holds up to our admiration the moral excellence of Brutus, as of one who “having framed his manners of life by the rules of virtue and study of philosophy, and having employed his wit, which was gentle and constant, in attempting of great things, was rightly made and framed unto virtue,” he nevertheless clearly condemns the assassination of Caesar. He shows in his comparison between Dion and Brutus, that the latter had less justification for conspiring, as Caesar's tyranny was rather nominal than real, and such was the condition of Rome that it evidently required a master, and Caesar was no more than a tender and skilful physician appointed by Providence to heal the distempers of the State. Again, at the end of the life of Caesar he points to the ghost that appeared to Brutus as “showing plainly that the gods were offended with the murder of Caesar.” Yet in this action he gives Brutus the credit of being actuated by the highest motives, the good of the community and justice. “For the good of the community,” he remarks, “Brutus, though an enemy to Pompey, became his friend; and though a friend to Caesar, he became his enemy. His enmity and his friendship arose from the same principle, which was justice.” How then does Shakespeare, who entirely agrees with Plutarch's high opinion of Brutus's moral excellence and also with his condemnation of Caesar's murder, account for the action of Brutus? The answer to this is the soliloquy in which Brutus discusses with himself the question of the necessity of Caesar's death P. The general

tenor of his reflections on the subject is somewhat remarkable. He has no personal motive for killing Caesar, and if he had, he is not the man to be swayed by personal considerations. He therefore carefully considers whether he cannot derive adequate motives for the contemplated deed from a consideration of the general good. Iago's soliloquy in Othello, I. iii., has been called by Coleridge “the motive-hunting of a motiveless malignity.” The soliloquy of Brutus might almost be described as the motive-hunting of a motiveless benignity. Yet one would think that Brutus had a distinct enough motive for killing Caesar. He was a republican, and Caesar had overthrown the republic. The title of king that Caesar was about to assume would merely be the verbal expression of his sovereignty that had already become an accomplished fact. He had therefore already committed what was in the eyes of any strict republican an unpardonable crime, which could not be atoned for by the excellence of his exercise of the power he had usurped. This is the view of Plutarch's Brutus, who remonstrates with Cicero because “he chose to be subject to a mild and courteous bondage,” and indignantly reminded him that “their predecessors would never abide to be subject to any masters, how gentle or mild soever they were.” Nevertheless Shakespeare's Brutus thinks that no justification for the assassination can be derived from what Caesar actually was. He therefore goes out of his way to seek a justification in what seem to be improbable possibilities. Caesar as virtual ruler of Rome had committed no excesses, but the title of king might possibly transform him into a cruel tyrant. Therefore he must

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