Cassius' One Tune
Caesar knows that Cassius is the dangerous one. "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look,/ He thinks too much; such men are dangerous (1.2.194-195)." Even so, Caesar believes that he need have no fear of him because of his semi-divine stature: "I rather tell thee what is to be fear'd/ Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar (1.2.210-211)." Yet Cassius dedicates himself to bringing down Caesar. His one and only "tune" is the destruction of Caesar, but he approaches this end through several different methods.
Method 1-- Eliminating Caesar: The Mirror
Cassius needs Brutus's participation in the conspiracy. So, in his first words to Brutus, he says that he would supply a mirror to let Brutus see his "hidden worthiness" and his "shadow (1.2.57,58)." Brutus protests that Cassius is leading him to seek into himself "for that which is not in me (1.2.65)." Yet, Cassius persists in his desire to assist Brutus to "modestly discover to yourself/ That of yourself which you yet know not of (1.2.69-70)." Before this conversation can go any further they are interrupted by shouts of the crowd, which turns the conversation to another theme: honor.
Method 2-- Eliminating Caesar: Faulty Reasoning
When Cassius picks up from Brutus that he is concerned with honor, he leaves off images of the mirror and eagerly says, "Well, honor is the subject of my story (1.2.92)." He then goes on to give three examples in the next sixty lines of how Caesar is unworthy of wearing the crown. Not only do these examples have little to do with honor, but they make little sense as reasons for denying Caesar the kingship.
In unforgettable lines, Cassius first tells a story of his youth in which he and Caesar challenged each other to a cold winter swim in the Tiber. They swam toward a proposed point, but Caesar's strength gave out, and he called for Cassius' help. Then Cassius, recalling the vivid Virgilian picture of Aeneas carrying the aged Anchises from the burning Troy, says that he likewise carried Caesar from the Tiber. Cassius then nearly spits his resentment. 'This weakling Caesar, whom I had to rescue; this wimp is now bearing the crown and I, the strong one, have to bow to him.' Of course there is no real reason why a person who needed to be rescued should be disqualified from leading Rome several years later. Cassius' resentment has overcome him.
If Caesar's physical weakness was one ground for Cassius' resentment, his tendency toward sickness is another. During the campaign in Spain, one of Caesar's most illustrious campaigns, he got a fever. He shook and in a quivering voice, "as a sick girl," asked Titinius for a drink. Cassius plays with that image; we can almost see and hear him mocking the great Caesar, who needed to beg a cup of water in an unsteady feminine voice from a compatriot. With disgust he concludes, "Ye gods, it doth amaze me/ A man of such a feeble temper should/ So get the start of the majestic world/ And bear the palm alone (1.2.128-131)" Cassius' faulty reasoning here adumbrates Brutus' nonsequiturs in Act 2.1
Method 3-- Eliminating Caesar: Rome's Femininity/Rome's Past
The final basis of Cassius' plea to Brutus is based on the latter's illustrious past. One of the reasons for Brutus' ponderosity in speech and manner in the play is that he seems to be carrying the "weight" of tradition with him on his shoulders. Indeed, his "Ur"-ancestor of the same name expelled the Tarquins from Rome when they had royal pretensions. And Cassius is aware of that: "There was a Brutus once that would have brook'd/ Th' eternal devil to keep his state in Rome/ As easily as a king (1.2.159-61)." In other words, Brutus' ancestor would have tolerated royalty with as much eagerness as the devil. Both would be expelled. Hence, Brutus needs to expel this latter day Tarquin.
Finally, in 1.3., when talking to Casca, Cassius makes the basis of his appeal the femininity of the Romans: "And we are govern'd with our mothers' spirits/ Our yoke and sufferance show us womanish (1.3.83-84)." Now is the time for the real men to arise to replace the man who cried out "as a sick girl," to replace the man who couldn't even swim midway into the Tiber, to replace the man who would be king. Cassius' tune is the same (Caesar must be replaced) but he plays it with different instruments.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long