Meeting Brutus I
If Caesar is a figure laced with contradictions whose distinctive characteristics are easy to spot, Brutus is no less contradictory, but he is more difficult to understand. He seems to be more preoccupied with interior concerns than Caesar, but is no less easily manipulated than was Caesar. As Decius Brutus was the instrument to flatter Caesar into appearing at the Capitol on the Ides of March, so Cassius is the means by which Brutus' resistance to a conspiracy is gradually eroded.
But Brutus has another problem which we learn about when we meet him early in 1.2. He is a person who prides himself on reasoning through issues in order to come up with what he thinks is a sovereign, independent approach to them. All the while, however, he doesn't realize his blindness and his predisposition to being deceived. As a result he makes several fatal misjudments in the play. But before we get to those misjudments, a word about our initial impression of Brutus.
First Conversation with Cassius
His conversation with Cassius covers more than 150 lines of 1.2. Caesar just appeared in his great authority and then left the scene. Cassius then gently chides Brutus for neglecting his duties of friendship with him (1.2.32-36). Brutus confesses he has not been as attentive to his friend's needs because of some interior confusion. Brutus' words bring us into his internal maelstrom:
Vexed I am/ Of late with passions of some difference,/ Conceptions only proper to myself,/ Which give some soil, perhaps, to my behaviors; (1.2.39-41)."
That is, something is bothering Brutus. But Brutus' use of these words shows both Shakespeare's cleverness as well as Brutus' misguided thinking process.
First, Shakespeare's cleverness. The historical Brutus was shaped by two schools of philosophical thought: Platonism and Stoicism. Plutarch, the first century biographer, refers to the former while many sources mention the latter. Characteristic of the Stoic philosophy are the concepts of living according to nature, cultivating imperturbability, and recognizing certain "common conceptions" that bind man to man and enable one to be a "cosmopolitan" or citizen of the world.
Note that Brutus words are meant to show that his current problem has upset his Stoic calm. Instead of being imperturbable, he is vexed; instead of celebrating common conceptions, he entertains "conceptions only proper to myself." By appealing to the special vocabulary of Stoicism, Shakespeare cleverly shows the extreme distress preoccupying Brutus.
Second, Brutus' confusion. The confusion of Brutus here is emblematic of misunderstandings and misconceptions that will lead him astray throughout the play. Here, he misperceives the fact that his interior confusion is something "only proper to myself." As Cassius skillfully extracts from him in the next several lines, Brutus' concern is a quintessentially public concern: he fears that the people want to make Caesar a king. Granted, there is a private dimension to it--Brutus has to weigh his personal friendship with Caesar against his duty to Rome, but his vexing concern is the future of the state in the wake of the powerful Caesar returning in triumph over Pompey's sons. Because he interprets his interior feeling as a matter "only proper to myself," he is less able to see what those outside of himself may be doing to manipulate him. He thinks he is guided by his own "reason," and because of this he acts brusquely and in an authoritarian fashion. His self-conception will lead to many unwise choices in the play.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long