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Examining Julius Caesar The Protagonist Debate English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2429 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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A protagonist is the main character in a drama, or any other literary work. Most protagonists are clearly visible from the start of a novel, or play. In Julius Caesar however, the protagonist can vary differently, for each reader. In Julius Caesar, the tragic flaw of both Brutus and Caesar, ultimately lead to their death, but Brutus’s tragic flaw makes him a more diverse, and effective character. The failure to listen to advice is a very common concept that keeps repeating itself in Julius Caesar, and we can see that both Brutus and Caesar fail to listen to this advice, but ultimately Brutus’ failure effects the development of the play more effectively. Both characters fit into the structure of Shakespearean tragedy, but Brutus follows the structure more correctly, then Caesar. Brutus is the protagonist in Julius Caesar, because of his tragic flaw being naivety, his failure to listen to advice, and because of the structure of Shakespearean Tragedy.

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In this short play we stumble upon tragic flaws that both Brutus and Caesar posses. Although they are very different in nature, they ultimately affect both of the characters in the play. From the beginning to the end of the novel we come across many situations were Brutus expresses his tragic flaw. For instance, at the beginning scenes of the play Brutus starts believing in Cassius’ words (I.ii), which will further drag him into the conspiracy, and then later make him believe that realistically the only way to free Rome from tyranny, or dictatorship is by killing Caesar, (II.i.) “It must be his death: and, for my part, I know no personal cause to spurn at him, but for the general. He would be crown’d: how that might change his nature, there’s the question. It is the bright day that brings forth the adder; and craves wary walking. The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power: and to speak truth of Caesar, more than his reason. But ’tis a common proof, that lowliness is young ambition’ ladder, whereto the climber-upward turns his face; but when he once attains the upmost round, he then unto the ladder turns his back, looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees by which he did ascend: so Caesar may; then, lest he may prevent, augmented, would run to these and these extremities. The importance visualized in this quote is that Brutus easily changes his views on Caesar, just some time after hearing Cassius’ opinion on Caesar’s power, it is quite clear that Brutus is experiencing the beginning of many changes to his character, in the play. Caesar on the other hand also demonstrates his tragic flaw, being arrogance, inn the beginning of the play, for instance he says, (II.ii.44-48) “Danger knows full well that Caesar is more dangerous than he: we are two lions litter’d in one day, and I the elder and more terrible: and Caesar shall go forth”. The significance of this quote is very plain, it is shows how overly proud, hubris Caesar really is. Just basing the opinion on this quote it is safe to say that Brutus’ tragic flaw makes him into a more complex, diverse, and effective character in the play, compared to Caesars’ tragic flaw which doesn’t psychologically change his character throughout the play in any serious way. As one moves on in the book these tragic flaws keep reappearing in the play, signaling to the reader that something is up, foreshadowing what is to come. For instance, Brutus’ naivety comes up again (III.i), he tells Antony, the most trustworthy, and loyal bodyguard of Julius Caesar, to not blame the conspirators in the killing of Julius Caesar at Caesar’s funeral, but Antony lies to Brutus and betrays there agreement. It sounds very stubborn for anyone to do that, but then again the protagonist usually has to have a tragic flaw in Shakespearean tragedies, in order for the reader to understand who the protagonist really is. Caesar’s arrogance does not go away either, but rather it appears several times before Caesar’s death. It is quite clear that whenever Caesar is in the scene there is always a statement he makes regarding his pride, for instance (II.ii.10-12) “Caesar shall go forth: the things that threaten’d me ne’er look’d but … on my back; whenthey shall see the face of Caesar, they are vanished”. This quote is again affirming Caesar’s arrogance much like (I.ii.208-212) “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease whiles they … behold a greater than themselves,

And therefore are they very dangerous.

I rather tell thee what is to befear’d than what I fear, for always I am Caesar”. These examples aren’t meant to compare their tragic flaws, but rather to show which tragic flaw affects the development of the character, and the play more. Brutus’ tragic flaw takes into consideration this idea and has a bigger impact on Brutus himself, rather than the arrogance of Caesar. For instance, it is clearly seen that through the play Brutus’ tragic flaw makes him more of a diverse, complex character, and it helps the reader understand the very depths of Brutus’ psyche. Brutus is very complex, because of his mistakes that are made through his tragic flaw, which directly change him throughout the play. For example Brutus first appears as Caesar’s close friend, then he develops into the member of a conspiracy from believing Cassius, then he becomes entangled in a civil war with Antony and Octavius, and finally at the end it is seen that his character is shattered and he loses everything he lived for, his principles, his wife, and also his life. For example even Brutus’ men recognize Brutus’ loss and grief, (V.v.13-14) Clitus: “Now is that noble vessel full of grief, that it runs over even at his eyes”. Not only does Brutus’ men say, this but Brutus himself declares that he has nothing to live for anymore, it’s over, and he just wants to rest, we can see this through his quotes, “Our enemies have beat us to the pit: it is more worthy to leap in ourselves, than tarry till they push us”, also saying “Night hangs upon mine eyes, my bones would rest, that have but labor’d to attain this hour”. Although, one character clearly takes the throne of effectively demonstrating how the tragic flaw is supposed to change a character in order to highlight him as a protagonist, both Caesar and Brutus’ tragic flaws inevitably lead to their tragic deaths.

Another very important concept, that the reader should grasp, which ultimately differentiates on who the protagonist is between the characters Brutus and Caesar, is the reoccurring idea of the failure to listen to the advice that close ones and others tell them repeatedly. In Brutus’ case we can see this type of ignorance occurring in the beginning stages of the play, (II.i) were Brutus fails to explain the situation or the conflict that Brutus is internally struggling with, to his wife Portia. She demands he explain his changing behavior, and attitude. The significance of this situation in the play is that, if Brutus did tell Portia of what was on his mind, she would’ve most likely talked him out of joining the conspiracy, since she loved him and didn’t want any harm to befall him. Brutus isn’t the only one ignoring advice; in fact Caesar also ignored important advice that would’ve saved him from tragedy. For example, Caesar ignores the Soothsayer in the early stages of the play, (I.ii) when he says, “Beware the Ides of March”, Caesar doesn’t take this early advice seriously, and simply dismisses the Soothsayer, calling him a dreamer. Later in the play the Soothsayer comes back once again, this time on the Ides of March, and Caesar tells the Soothsayer that the Ides of March have come, but the Soothsayer reminds him that the day is not yet over, but Caesar once again, ignores the advice. Not only is the Soothsayer’s words the only advice given to Caesar, oh no, in fact Caesar’s own wife, Calpurnia conveys important advice, the terrible nightmare of Caesar dieing, (II.ii 76-79) “My statue, which, like a fountain with an hundred spouts, did run pure blood: and many lusty Romans came smiling, and did bathe their hands in it”. With conveying her dream to Caesar she didn’t want him to leave to the capital, but at the end of the argument he ignores her and goes to his death. If Caesar wasn’t so ignorant he would’ve been saved from the conspirators, because in fact another character tries to warn Caesar, by giving him a letter. (III.i) Artemidorus tries to give Caesar a letter to save him from death, (III.i.6-8) “O Caesar, read mine first, for mine’s a suit. That touches … Caesar nearer. Read it, great Caesar. CAESAR: What touches us ourself shall be last served.”This quote shows us how Caesar arrogance and his failure to listen to others gets in the way of his survival; it also shows how when challenged Caesar is most arrogant. The importance behind these examples is that if Caesar listened to at least one of the many words of advice that characters told him, he wouldn’t have been murdered. Brutus’ tragic flaw, being naivety, also comes back to haunt him, for instance Brutus does not agree on killing Antony along with Caesar, he describes the conspirators in the quote (II.i.166), “Let us be sacrificers, but not butchers”. Sure enough this failure to listen to killing Antony, further leads to the civil war, between the conspirators and the army of Antony and Octavius, and we can see that Cassius later blames him for this, (V.i.45-47) “Now, Brutus, thank yourself: this tongue had not offended so to-day, if Cassius might have rules”. Finally, although they are both ignorant to advice, it is most importantly Brutus’ failure to listen that actually sparks the action in the play, because his action in joining the conspiracy sparks the story in the play, and if it weren’t for Brutus accepting to join the conspiracy, Caesar wouldn’t be killed, and if Brutus were to agree on killing Antony, there wouldn’t be a civil war at the end of the play. This is then affirming that only the protagonist’s actions can have such momentous implications in changing the whole story of the play, therefore saying that again Brutus is the visible protagonist over Caesar.

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A final way to determine the protagonist in the play is to refer to the structure of Shakespeare tragedies. First we must understand how both characters fit into the structure, and then it will be clear which character fits in better. In the first stages of tragedy or the encroachment, we can see how Brutus takes on too much by (II.i) accepting Cassius’ offer into the conspiracy. If the protagonist is changed to Caesar, then in the encroachment, it is safe to say that Caesar takes on too much, in terms of power, he becomes too powerful, (I.ii.149-150) “Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he is grown so great?”. Both of these perspectives fit in clearly into the first stages of tragedy, but if one were to move along in the stages then it would be quite clear, who is a more visible protagonist, in terms of fitting into the structure more clearly. For instance, in the rising action, there is the building up of opposite forces, often led by the villain, eventually leading to the tragic ending. If one were to apply Brutus to this stage, then the villain would be Cassius, but if Caesar were fitted in then the villain would be Brutus. In the climax, where Caesar, is murdered and the forces are released, Cassius and Brutus against Antony and Octavius. If Caesar were said to be the protagonist in this stage, (III.i) Caesar dies in the climax, which doesn’t quite follow the structure of the tragedy. From this stage we can see how Brutus is emerging as the protagonist, because once the forces are unleashed against each other, he becomes the centre of the subplot. In the next stage, being the falling action, it is clearly highlighted that the protagonist dies, because of his own folly, his punishment is worse than his crimes merit, and also the villain dies. This stage is clearly proving that Brutus is really the protagonist, because in fact he does die along with the villain, Cassius, towards the end of the play. Not only that, but also in the conclusion of the play social order is restored and the protagonist is usually praised, ending of with a funeral or the protagonist being carried away. It isn’t right to say that at this stage Caesar is the protagonist, because in fact Brutus does die at the end, and is praised along with a funeral that follows, (V.v.76-79) “According to his virtue let us use him, with all respect and rites of burial. Most like a soldier, order’d honourably”. Not only does this quote help show that Brutus is the protagonist, because he does have a praising and funeral at the end, but also as a side note it shows how respected Brutus is, in fact he is understood as the “noblest”, because he fought for what he thought was right. Even though they both die from their tragic flaw, Brutus dies near the end of the play which follows the structure of Shakespearean Tragedy, more clearly then Julius Caesar’s early death.

In conclusion, with the tragic flaw, the failure to listen to advice, and the structure of Shakespearean tragedy, one would clearly argue that Brutus emerges as a protagonist in all aspects and structure in the play, Julius Caesar. These aspects and structure make up the building blocks of a tragedy, and are very important in the effectiveness of character, and development of the play. Throughout the play we can see that tragic flaw brings a sort of uniqueness to Brutus and Caesar, but in the end this tragic flaw leads to their deaths. The failure to listen to advice plays a role in sparking the conflict and story of the play. The structure of Shakespearean tragedy brings together an organized outline for the play, keeping the story interesting and organized. Although both characters fit these categories, Brutus portrays them more effectively, in the development of the character and the story, and fits the structure more clearly and visibly better then Caesar.


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