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be killed. Brutus might well have concluded his soliloquy in the words of Iago: I know not if't be true; But I for mere suspicion in that kind Will do as if for surety.
Yet, however unconvincing this train of hypothetical reasoning may appear to us, we cannot for a moment doubt that it convinced Brutus of the righteousness of his cause, so that in Shakespeare, as in Plutarch, he is really regarded as taking part in the conspiracy for the sake of the general good and to satisfy his idea of justice, and this view of the unselfishness of his motives is confirmed by Antony's eulogy at the end of the play.
Virtuous characters are often more admired than loved, especially when they show themselves to be too clearly conscious of their superiority to the weaknesses of ordinary men. This pride of conscious virtue appears to have been expressed too plainly in the words and writings of the historical Brutus, for Cicero writes to Atticus: “Nullas unquam ad me litteras misit Brutus, in quibus non esset arrogans àkouvøvntov aliquid.” It is also very apparent in Shakespeare's Brutus, especially in the quarrel scene (IV. iii. 66–69). His earnest pursuit of virtue amounts to a refined kind of egoism. The great object of his life is to show himself worthy of the name he derives from his famous ancestor, who expelled the Tarquins from Rome, and to live up to his own high ideal of virtue. He is really as ambitious as Caesar, but his ambition takes a different form. He is ambitious, not of political power, but of personal honour, the honour to be derived from living a consistently virtuous life. He might therefore say, like Henry V.,
If it be a sin to covet honour,
The desire to satisfy his high sense of his own honour is the ultimate motive that leads him to do the great act of his life. His honour requires him to shrink from no virtuous act. He persuades himself that the consideration of the general good requires him to kill Caesar. Having once determined that the act is dictated by the virtues of justice and benevolence, he must do it or forfeit his claim to be regarded as a virtuous man. He is very different from Othello, as he is of a comparatively cold and passionless disposition. But he resembles Othello inasmuch as his high sense of honour is brought into conflict with strong personal affection, and gains the victory in the struggle. Like Othello, he might call himself an “honourable murderer,” since “nought he did in hate but all in honour.” He is ready to offer his life as a sacrifice to his honour (I. ii. 86), and it is to his honour that Cassius makes his strongest appeal. In his speech to the multitude he appeals to them to believe him for his honour, and to have respect to his honour, and such is the impression that he has made upon the world by his reputation for virtue, that they are not entirely deaf to his appeal. In his last moments he finds some satisfaction that the man who helps him to get rid of the burden of life has “some smatch of honour” (v. v. 46). He even goes so far in his high self-estimate of himself and his honour, as to think death at his hands an honour that any young man might reasonably be expected to desire (v. i. 59, 60). This high opinion of himself and what is due to his name and fame would be far from attractive, if it were not tempered by engaging courtesy towards his associates and by the tenderest consideration for his inferiors. Cassius is evidently intended to bring out the main features of the character of Brutus more distinctly by contrast. This contrast is clearly marked in Plutarch. Brutus, we read, “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 great things, methinks he was rightly made and framed unto virtue,” whereas Cassius was “not so well given and conditioned as he.” Further on we are told that it was reported that “Brutus could evil away with the tyranny, and that Cassius hated the tyrant”; and, again, that Cassius was commonly reputed “to be very skilful in wars but otherwise marvellous choleric and cruel,” but “Brutus in contrary manner, for his virtue and valiantness, was well beloved of the people and his own, because he was a marvellous lowly and gentle person, noble minded, and would never be in any rage, nor carried away with pleasure and covetousness, but had ever an upright mind with him, and would never yield to any wrong or injustice.” Shakespeare works into his play almost all the characteristics indicated in these antitheses. He makes Cassius himself confess his choleric nature in his dispute with Brutus (IV. iii. I 19, and compare 43, 46). He illustrates both his choler and his cruelty by inventing the incident of the slain standard-bearer (V. iii. 4), and his cruelty is implied in Brutus' remark that he could not wring from the hard hands of peasants their vile trash by any indirection. Shakespeare adds to the contrast by representing Brutus as finding solace in the strains of Lucius' instrument, while Cassius shows his fitness for stratagems and conspiracies by the fact that he “hears no music” (I. ii. 20.1). Cassius has more political foresight and more military skill than Brutus, but he is inferior to Brutus in force of will. Both Plutarch and Cicero quote a remark that Caesar is said to have made on Brutus, “Quidduid vult, valde vult”; and Plutarch adds that when his mind “was moved to follow any matter, he used a kind of forcible and vehement persuasion, that calmed not till he had obtained his desire.” The strength of Brutus's will and the forcibleness of his vehement persuasion are shown by the manner in which he overrules the wiser opinion of Cassius, with results ruinous to his party—firstly when he refuses to consent to the death of Antony, secondly when he permits him to deliver the funeral oration, and thirdly when he insists on giving battle at Philippi. The passionate excitable nature of Cassius, on the other hand, makes him less calm than Brutus at the moment of action, so that just before the time fixed for the assassination he is very near spoiling everything by precipitate action (III. i. 19–22). His harsh, choleric disposition makes him less amiable than the gentle Brutus, and this want of attractiveness gives pain to his nature, which was passionate and loving, and made him secretly hunger after the love of his fellow-men. He thus feels distress at the way in which Brutus appears to neglect him (I. ii. 31–34), and his hatred of Caesar may be regarded as
partly due to the affectionate relations in which Brutus and Cæsar stood towards each other and from which he was excluded (1. ii. 318; iv. iii. 105). It is his sense of unrequited friendship that makes him resent so bitterly Brutus's neglect of his wishes in the case of Lucius Pella, and feel so deeply the taunts of Brutus in the quarrel scene. Being prone to hero-worship, he has from constant association with Brutus come to regard him with a loving admiration for his noble character, which Brutus, being of a colder disposition, and seeing less to admire in the character of Cassius, by no means returns in an equal degree. For Brutus is as much less passionate than Cassius both in anger and affection, as he is superior to him in moral virtue. We must not, however, exaggerate the moral inferiority of Cassius. He is less unscrupulous in the employment of means for the attainment of his ends than Brutus is. But we cannot for a moment accept the interpretation of 1. ii. 313-315, which would make him out to be consciously trying to seduce Brutus from the path of honour. Cassius is evidently intended by the poet to secure a considerable portion of our interest and sympathy, and is very far indeed from being a villain. Too much is made of the passage already quoted from the Life of Brutus, in which Plutarch says that “Brutus could evil away with the tyranny, and that Cassius hated the tyrant.” This is not intended to imply that Cassius became a tyrannicide only through hatred of the particular tyrant whom he overthrew, for immediately after making this antithesis Plutarch tells an anecdote showing that “Cassius even from his cradle could not abide any manner of tyrants.” In Plutarch and still more