Problem Passages II
Brutus's Insight; Vehemence of the Quarrel (4.3)
Thus far in the play we have been impressed with Brutus's inability to seek and gather self-knowledge. He protests early to Cassius not to press him to look inside himself for "that which is not in me (1.2.65)." The only thing Brutus confesses about his inner life is that it is like "an insurrection (2.1.69)." Indeed, between the "acting of a dreadful thing/ And the first motion, all the interim is/ Like a phantasma or a hideous dream (2.1.63-65)." Roiling waves of unstable forces are loose within; perhaps that is why Brutus hesitates to try to look inside himself and weigh his conflicting feelings.
Granted, in one passage we get an unexpected insight into Brutus's feelings. At Caesar's home, on the early morning of the assassination, Caesar innocently, but blindly, invites the conspirators inside his home to "taste some wine with me (2.2.126)." Then he concludes, "And we, like friends, will straightway go together (2.2.127)." Brutus then says in an aside, "That every like is not the same, O Caesar,/ The heart of Brutus earns (grieves) to think upon (2.2.128-129)." In other words, Brutus is having second thoughts, even grief, about the course he has chosen to take.
But this is the only indication we get of Brutus's introspection. Then, in the middle of the quarrel with Cassius, after Cassius complains that Brutus makes his faults greater than they are, Brutus says, "I do not, till you practice them on me (4.3.88)." Shakespeare's use of "practice" here and in other plays (Oth. 1.2.73; Henry V 2.2.99) suggests a strategem, artifice or ruse used to trick someone. Thus, Brutus here displays significant insight into himself and Cassius and suggests that part of his anger at Cassius came about because he realized how Cassius played him and manipulated him.
While this is an interesting insight, it then conflicts with Brutus's final assessment at the end of the play: " Countrymen,/ My heart doth joy that yet in all my life/ I found no man but he was true to me (5.5.33-35)." Granted, we are not necessarily to expect that one's last words perfectly sum up one's entire life, but when it sounds so contrary to words just quoted in 4.3., we have an unconvincing portrait. Maybe we could argue that Brutus has a "breakthrough" insight in 4.3, but then it would be like a bolt of lightning and darkness returning. It confuses rather than clarifies.
The Vehemence of the Quarrel
It also seems to me that the vehemence of the quarrel and the ease of reconcilation is stretched a bit far in 4.3. Shakespeare has really not clearly portrayed the reason for Brutus's wild anger at Cassius, other than that a Lucius Pella is extorting money from peasants in Sardis which presumably Cassius will get and then send to Brutus for supplying troops. One can understand Brutus's pique at this, but it becomes an issue that is the moral equivalent of war between the two. In addition, when Brutus declares his own righteousness (4.3.67-69), he immediately follows it with the complaint that Cassius has not supplied him money. Brutus's hypocrisy is stunningly and obviously evident. Only a person fully blind to himself might speak this way, and even such a person probably would not. That is, it is almost impossible to have any respect or regard for Brutus' so-called "idealism" or "principle" after such a passage. Well, perhaps Brutus is bothered by Portia's death, but that theme, as I argued in the previous mini-essay, is not well-developed by Shakespeare in this scene.
In addition, the reconciliation, which takes place between lines 80 and 123, is not convincingly portrayed. Things get too hot too quickly and then cool off too suddenly. The reader is simply not prepared for the vehemence of Cassius' threats to kill Brutus, and Brutus's characterization of Cassius as a "slight" (i.e., worthless) man (4.3.37). Granted, one can assume that bitterness had been brewing (4.2.37), but all we really know is that the relationship between the two had cooled somewhat (4.2.17-20). Shakespeare's economy has stretched our credulity.
Though this mars the effectiveness of 4.3, it does not diminish the power of some of Shakespeare's language in the scene, especially as it concerns the death of Portia, the love of Cassius and Brutus's reflection on the "tide in the affairs of men (4.3.218)."
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long