More on Brutus
Ponderous and Unrealistic Words (2.1)
As I study Julius Caesar more and more, I become more focused on trying to understand Brutus. Though Caesar, who only speaks 130 lines, might dominate the play's actions because he is the focus of peoples' admiration, fear and resentment, Brutus seems to dominate the psychological movement of the play.
I have argued that the key to understanding Brutus's character is his protestation to Cassius in 1.2 not to apply his "mirror" to Brutus because, in fact, there is nothing internal to Brutus to see. Brutus therefore confesses he has no interior life. Yet, that is belied by Brutus's awareness of the "insurrection" taking place within as he tries to sort out conflicting loyalties (2.1.69).
The results of this lack of attention to self-knowledge, I have argued, are dramatic: (1) he puts too much emphasis on the mind and the reasoning process (2.1.10ff), even though that passage really focuses more on the result of his decision than the process of reaching a decision; (2) he deceives himself into thinking that he is "piecing it out" (interpreting freely a letter thrown it at his window) when he is simply filling in the blanks of Cassius' desired interpretation (2.1.47ff); (3) he ignores the repeated requests of Portia for some morsels of his mind while he is wrestling with his decision (2.1.235ff); (4) he takes charge of the conspiracy and brooks no disagreement (2.1.113ff.); (5) he misjudges the character of Antony badly (2.1.162ff.), thus leading to his ultimate defeat at Philippi a few years after Caesar's death. Misjudgment and self-deception flow directly from Brutus's fear (or unwillingness to undergo a process) of self-discovery.
There are yet other results flowing from Brutus's fear of self-discovery. Less harmful seems to be a ponderousness in speech that is an adjunct of his desire for control, which comes out in his first speech to the conspirators (2.1.114ff.). Brutus wants all to join hands in a common effort and Cassius, perhaps wanting to "second" Brutus while, at the same time, giving his own "twist" to Brutus's suggestion, says, "And let us swear our resolution (2.1.113)." Brutus receives this suggestion with alarm: "No, not an oath! (2.1.114)." The alarm probably arises more from the fact that his authority is subtly challenged by Cassius than a strong objection to oaths. Nevertheless, Brutus then launches into nearly 30 lines denigrating oaths.
If you examine the flow of this speech, it is just a five-fold trashing, from different angles, of the sacredness of oaths. First, the common suffering of the conspirators is sufficient (without an oath). Second, oaths don't spur us on any more than we are currently motivated. Third, there is a question to the effect that nothing is more powerful than words already spoken. Fourth, another question saying the same thing. Fifth, a final and long statement to the effect that oaths are unnecessary. He beats the issue senseless, much like Job's pounding insistence in Job 3 on returning to the darkness of nonexistence after his great distress. Even though there are some eloquent and memorable words in these lines, the stronger impression left with me is that Brutus is more offended by Cassius' attempt to carve out a slight degree of authority in the conspiracy once Brutus has arrived than anything else. His ponderousness in speech, therefore, is a strategy of domination, which itself arises from his lack of self-knowledge.
I guess I need one more mini-essay to explore his unrealistic words.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long