Patriotism in Julius Caesar


Page Author:
REBECCA FIL

The play opens with a parade for Julius Caesar. Murellus, a tribune, chides some passing commoners for taking a holiday to celebrate the defeat of their leader, Pompey: "You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless things! / O you hard hearts, you cruel men of Rome, / Knew you not Pompey?" (1.1.35-37). Once the commoners celebrated Pompey for his victories in foreign battles, and now they celebrate with the same fervor and seeming loyalty for Caesar, who has brought Rome no international victory, but has only won a civil war: "Wherefore rejoice? What conquest brings he home? / What tributaries follow him to Rome / To grace in captive bonds his chariot wheels?" (1.1.32-34). To Murellus, a great leader deserves to be celebrated for the glory he brings to Rome from wars of conquest in foreign lands, and a good citizen is loyal to a great leader, instead of following at the heels of a mutineer such as Julius Caesar.




After the parade for Caesar, Cassius tries to convince Brutus to join him in a plot to overthrow Caesar. Cassius flatters Brutus by saying he's overheard many noble Romans wishing that Brutus could see—as they see— that supposedly "immortal Caesar" has brought tyranny to Rome: "I have heard, / Where many of the best respect in Rome, / Except immortal Caesar, speaking of Brutus / And groaning underneath this age's yoke, / Have wish'd that noble Brutus had his eyes" (1.2.58-62).

Cassius is frustrated by the Romans worshipping Caesar, a man who he knows to have human weaknesses. The same Caesar who couldn't even beat Cassius is a swimming race across the river Tiber is the one who "bade the Romans / Mark him and write his speeches in their books" like a god (1.2.125-126). Cassius is bitter about the Roman opinion that Caesar is a figure of strength, when Cassius has been witness to Caesar's unmanly weaknesses.

Cassius laments, "Rome, thou hast lost the breed of noble bloods!" (1.2.151). Cassius believes that Rome has lost her ability to raise great men. Cassius goes on to describe the past age, where there were many great men who brought Rome glory: "When went there by an age, since the great flood, / But it was famed with more than with one man? / When could they say till now, that talk'd of Rome, / That her wide walls encompass'd but one man?" (1.2.152-155). Now, there's only "room enough" in Rome for "but one only man"—Julius Caesar (1.2.156-157). Cassius reminds Brutus of his ancestor for whom he was named: "O, you and I have heard our fathers say, / There was a Brutus once that would have brook'd / The eternal devil to keep his state in Rome / As easily as a king" (1.2.158-161). In other words, in the past, great men of Rome, including Brutus' ancestors, would have rather let the devil rule Rome than one person, as Julius Caesar is now trying to do. In this speech, Cassius is emphasizing that Julius Caesar's ascension to power looks like monarchy, which is contrary to the past greatness of the Roman Republic.

Brutus responds, "Brutus had rather be a villager / Than to repute himself a son of Rome / Under these hard conditions as this time / Is like to lay upon us" (1.2.172-175). He would rather call himself a poor villager than a citizen of Rome if Rome is indeed headed toward monarchy.

Caesar enters and remarks to Marc Antony that Cassius makes him nervous; Cassius has a hungry look about him and his tendency to brood could be dangerous. Antony responds, "Fear him not, Caesar; he's not dangerous; / He is a noble Roman and well given" (1.2.196-197). Antony seems to believe that any nobleman of Rome will naturally follow Caesar. In the scene's conclusion, Cassius says in an aside that he will write several letters that seem to be from different people and throw them in Brutus' window, "As if they came from several citizens, / Writings all tending to the great opinion / That Rome holds of his name. / Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at" (1.2.317-320). Cassius sees that Brutus can be influenced via his patriotism. Brutus' definition of patriotism lies in nobility, doing what is honorable, and being considerate of the Roman public. If Caesar's ambition seems unsuited to Brutus' patriotic ideals, Brutus will aid Cassius in Caesar's downfall.




During a terrible storm, Cassius meets Casca. Casca identifies himself as a Roman citizen (1.3.41). Cassius tells Casca he's been walking around without fear in the storm, baring his chest to the lightning bolt. When Casca questions Cassius about putting himself in danger, Cassius replies, "You are dull, Casca, and those sparks of life / That should be in a Roman you do want" (1.3.57-58). To impress Casca, Cassius equates being a Roman with being brave. Cassius says that he bares his chest to the lightning storm in the same way that he stands up to a powerful tyrant overtaking Rome like a storm. Casca asks Cassius if he's talking about Caesar. Cassius replies, "Let it be who it is: for Romans now / Have thews and limbs like to their ancestors; / But, woe the while! our fathers' minds are dead" (1.3.80-82). In other words, Roman citizens (like Casca) today have the bodies of men like their fathers, but the spirits of their mothers: "And we are govern'd with our mothers' spirits; / Our yoke and sufferance show us womanish" (1.3.83-84).

Continuing his rant against Caesar and his followers, Cassius says, "And why should Caesar be a tyrant then? / Poor man! I know he would not be a wolf, / But that he sees the Romans are but sheep: / He were no lion, were not Romans hinds" (1.3.103-106). Caesar wouldn't act the tyrant like a lion if the Roman people weren't so easily tyrannized like sheep. He continues,
Those that with haste will make a mighty fire
Begin it with weak straws: what trash is Rome,
What rubbish and what offal, when it serves
For the base matter to illuminate
So vile a thing as Caesar!  (1.3.107-111).
Cassius says that Rome is worthless if it works to glorify such a terrible person as Caesar.

Cassius tells Casca he has "moved already / Some certain of the noblest-minded Romans / To undergo with me an enterprise / Of honourable-dangerous consequence" (1.3.121-124). Once again preying upon Casca's sense of patriotism and bravery, he calls the overthrowing of Caesar honorable; honor lies in its danger. And the people who decide to join Cassius in overthrowing Caesar must be of the noblest minds.




When Brutus receives the letters written by Cassius, he remarks: "Shall Rome stand under one man's awe? What, Rome? / My ancestors did from the streets of Rome / The Tarquin drive, when he was call'd a king" (2.1.52-57). The letters call Brutus to wake up and right the wrongs in Rome; Brutus recalls his ancestor's actions in dealing with a situation similar to the one that Rome is in now with Caesar. Brutus reads on: "'Speak, strike, redress!' Am I entreated / To speak and strike? O Rome, I make thee promise: / If the redress will follow, thou receives / Thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!" (2.1.55-58). Thus Brutus has just vowed to deliver justice to Rome if it is within his power.

Cassius enters with the faction against Caesar and once again flatters Brutus, saying "no man here / But honours you; and every one doth wish / You had but that opinion of yourself / Which every noble Roman bears of you" (2.1.90-93). Cassius plays on Brutus' confidence; he won't act unless he knows he has the support of the noblest in Rome, because the noblest in Rome make the well-being of Rome their highest priority.

Brutus agrees to join the faction. Cassius suggests swearing by a blood oath, to which Brutus responds: "No, not an oath: if not the face of men, / The sufferance of our souls, the time's abuse—If these be motives weak, break off betimes, / And every man hence to his idle bed; / So let high-sighted tyranny range on" (2.1.114-117). If the injustice to Rome and democracy which Caesar is getting away with isn't enough to incite Brutus and the others to action, then the faction should immediately disband, and every man be killed by Caesar's whim. Brutus continues:
                                    what other bond
Than secret Romans, that have spoke the word,
And will not palter? and what other oath
Than honesty to honesty engaged,
That this shall be, or we will fall for it?    (2.1.124-128)
To Brutus, all valorous notions that go into swearing are surpassed by the honor in patriotism. Discreet Romans who have made up their minds to do the honorable thing or die trying need no other bond. Swearing is for the weak and overly cautious; making a promise to act is only for those who can't be trusted to act anyway. And a good Roman doesn't need any other reason to do the right thing, because, Brutus warns, if any of the faction does not act, "every drop of blood/ That every Roman bears, and nobly bears, / Is guilty of a several bastardy, / If he do break the smallest particle / Of any promise that hath pass'd from him" (2.1.136-140).

When the sun rises, Cassius and the conspirators leave Brutus; Cassius entreats everyone in the room to "show yourselves true Romans" (2.1.223). Brutus tells them to look happy, covering up the knowledge on their faces of dark act they must commit, "But bear it as our Roman actors do, / With untired spirits and formal constancy" (2.1.226-227).

Caius Ligarius visits Brutus in the morning. He is feeble from sickness. Brutus wishes he were well so he could join him in a brave endeavor, and Ligarius immediately responds: "By all the gods that Romans bow before, / I here discard my sickness! Soul of Rome! / Brave son, derived from honourable loins!" (2.1.320-323). To Ligarius, a Roman citizen is reverent to the powerful gods he worships and his brave and honorable ancestors, and uses their power to triumph over human sickness or anything that would keep a citizen from serving his country.




Caesar confesses to his soothsayer, Decius, who is also one of the conspirators, that his wife Calphurnia had a terrible dream which may predict his demise: "She dreamt to-night she saw 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" (2.2.76-79). Even though the dream foreshadows the many stab wounds of Caesar and the conspirators washing their hands in his blood, Decius says the dream "Signifies that from you great Rome shall suck / Reviving blood, and that great men shall press / For tinctures, stains, relics and cognizance" (2.2.87-88). Based on his earlier experience with the Roman people (1.2.245-250), it appears Caesar has some misgivings about his ability to deal with the Roman people; he is a little afraid of them. Decius flatters Caesar by turning the foreboding image of his death into one of sustenance and sovereignty.




After the conspirators stab Caesar, Brutus tells Publius, "There is no harm intended to your person, / Nor to no Roman else: so tell them, Publius" (3.1.90-91). Brutus wants to make sure everyone knows that the murder of Caesar was only to put power back into the hands of the Roman people, so that no other Roman citizen will be harmed.

Once Publius leaves, Brutus commands the conspirators: "Stoop, Romans, stoop, / And let us bathe our hands in Caesar's blood / Up to the elbows, and besmear our swords" (3.1.105-107). A criminal murderer would be loath to be caught red-handed, because it would prove them guilty of their injustice to another. The conspirators, in dipping their hands into the blood of Caesar and showing them to the Roman public, state that they have nothing to hide in the murder of Caesar; they are not criminals, they were executing justice on Caesar, who was the real criminal. To the conspirators, a true Roman has nothing to hide.

As the conspirators wash their hands in blood, Cassius remarks ironically, "So oft as that shall be, / So often shall the knot of us be call'd / The men that gave their country liberty" (3.1.116-118). This scene will indeed be reenacted by many people for centuries, but the conspirators will not exactly look heroic. However, in this line, Shakespeare points out in this play that history has many grey areas: even the most villainous in history should be seen with an objective lens, acting out of their good conscience.

Cassius says to the conspirators, "every man away: / Brutus shall lead; and we will grace his heels / With the most boldest and best hearts of Rome" (3.1.119-121). They are stopped by Marc Antony's servant, who kneels before them and asks if Marc Antony may come to Brutus safely and be convinced that Caesar deserved to be murdered. Though Cassius wanted Antony murdered as well, Brutus was against it; Rome was in danger of being a monarchy, so the conspirators' only qualm should be with Caesar. It is because of this trust and mutual respect that Brutus says to the servant, "Thy master is a wise and valiant Roman; / I never thought him worse" (3.1.138-139). Even though Antony and Brutus may be fierce killers on the battlefield (or in Brutus' case, in the Senate), they are both rational men who can step back from action and discuss the motive peacefully. Patriotism also means citizenship in democracy, which rests on mutual respect and discussion over action.

Brutus says to Antony, "Our hearts you see not; they are pitiful; / And pity to the general wrong of Rome— / As fire drives out fire, so pity pity— / Hath done this deed on Caesar" (3.1.169-172). Brutus says they killed Caesar not out of malice, but out of pity for Rome.

When the conspirators leave, Antony speaks with Octavius' servant. Octavius is within a few miles of Rome, and Antony tells the servant: "Post back with speed, and tell him what hath chanced / Here is a mourning Rome, a dangerous Rome, / No Rome of safety for Octavius yet" (3.1.286-289). Rome is in mourning for Caesar and the people can be easily swayed in opinion; but whatever their opinion is, if it is against Caesar, then it is not safe for Octavius.




Brutus approaches a crowd of plebeians to explain his actions. He begins: "Be patient till the last. / Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, / and be silent, that you may hear" (3.2.12-14). "Romans" and "countrymen" are the same thing, so when Brutus includes "lovers" in his address to the plebeians, he means Romans are lovers of their country. Addressing his fellow lovers of Rome, he begins his famous lines, repeating the word "love":
                                                    Not that I loved
Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you
rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that
Caesar were dead, to live all free men? As Caesar loved
me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice
at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was
ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy
for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a bond-
man? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who
is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any,
speak, for him have I offended. Who is here so vile
that will not love his country? If any, speak, for him
have I offended. I pause for a reply.    (3.2.21-34)
The easily-swayed plebeians reply, "None, Brutus, none!" Even though there are many grey areas in history, as just explained in the previous scene, Brutus easily controls the impressionable public by setting up dichotomies: good or evil, slavery or freedom. If Caesar were to live, it would mean slavery. If anyone is for Caesar, he wants to be enslaved. Brutus continues:
Then none have I offended. I have done no more to
Caesar than you shall do to Brutus. The question of
his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not
extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences
enforced, for which he suffered death . . . .
With this I depart, that, as I slew my best lover for the
good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself,
when it shall please my country to need my death    (3.2.36-47).
Brutus says he killed his best friend for the love of Rome. If any of the plebeians find fault with Brutus' actions, if they think he put Rome in harm's way, then Brutus is willing to do the same service he did to Caesar to himself. Anyone who threatens Rome and what it stands for—liberty, equality, democracy—deserves to die, enactors of justice included.

The irony of the play is that even though Rome stands for democracy, for the rights of the common people, the common people are portrayed as base, foolish, gullible, and given to rash actions. They do not deserve the rights which those in command work so hard to give them, and those in command seem to believe that as well. Caesar was overcome by the public's strong adulation of him; he was overcome by a fit of epilepsy, his human weakness, after being exposed to the magnitude of their foul breath. Symbolically, he couldn't handle being the god they had so quickly made him; adulation is made disgusting by foolish worshippers. (1.2.246-250).

The plebeians call Caesar a tyrant, when yesterday they worshipped him, and are certain that Rome is better off without him. They want to elevate Brutus to the same position as Caesar, but they are willing to listen to Antony (3.2.68-74). Antony makes his famous speech:
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious.
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men—
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And, sure, he is an honorable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause.
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.    (3.2.73-107)
Now the plebeians are for Antony. One plebeian says: "There's not a nobler man in Rome than Antony" (3.2.116). It is clear Antony is disgusted by how easily the people are swayed, but he still holds immense power over them. He plays on their guilt and finally shows them the will of Caesar, which dictates: "To every Roman citizen he gives, / To every several man, seventy-five drachmas" (3.2.241-242). If Caesar had so little loved the people, he wouldn't have left them all money and recreational parks for free use after his death. This sends the plebeians into a wild frenzy, and they carry off Caesar's body to give it a proper funeral. Antony, disgusted by the stupid plebeians and pleased with his own powers of rhetoric, goes to meet Octavius to take back control of the government.




Cassius confronts Brutus angrily on the battlefield. They accuse each other of accepting bribes and cronyism. Brutus reminds Cassius that the only reason Julius Caesar was stabbed was for justice to Rome, not a power grab. Brutus says, if they murdered the most powerful man in the world, only to contaminate their hands with dirty bribes, "I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon, / Than such a Roman" (4.3.27-28). To Brutus, who practices the self-denial of Stoicism, patriotism means putting self-interest last.

Cassius responds angrily: "If that thou be'st a Roman, take it forth; / I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart" (4.3.103-104). As seen in Brutus' earlier offer to commit suicide for his country, suicide was an honorable practice in Rome, as was offering one's heart to be cut out. This offer foreshadows the death of the two conspirators.

Messala tells Brutus he has some bad news. Brutus says, "Now, as you are a Roman, tell me true" and Messala replies, "Then like a Roman bear the truth I tell: / For certain she [Portia] is dead, and by strange manner" (4.3.187-189). The reaction to Portia's death is in contrast with Caesar's: the conspirators and Antony are deeply, emotionally moved by his death., but when Brutus learns his wife has killed herself, he does not outwardly show emotional turmoil, bearing it "like a Roman" with strength. Therefore, Roman patriotism places an emphasis on brotherhood and paternity: it is only socially acceptable for men to weep for other brothers in arms.




When it is becoming evident that Cassius and Brutus will lose the battle against Antony and Octavius, Brutus feels ill at ease about killing himself before he is taken captive. Cassius asks him, "Then, if we lose this battle, / You are contented to be led in triumph / Thorough the streets of Rome?" (5.1.107-109). Brutus replies: "No, Cassius, no: think not, thou noble Roman, / That ever Brutus will go bound to Rome; / He bears too great a mind" (5.1.110-113). To Brutus, it is cowardly to kill oneself to prevent later suffering, even though many Romans in this battle have done so because it is the honorable way for a Roman warrior to die. Stoic Brutus would rather suffer for what he has done, knowing it was right. However, Brutus cannot bring himself to return humiliated to Rome in chains. After all, Brutus killed Caesar for liberty.




Cassius kills himself by having his servant Pindarus hold his sword while he runs into it. Once Cassius dies, Pindarus says, "O Cassius, / Far from this country Pindarus shall run, / Where never Roman shall take note of him" and escapes (5.3.48-50). Unlike Brutus and Cassius, who kill themselves because of their Roman identity, Pindarus feels he has lost his citizenship, and puts as much distance between himself and his country as possible.

Messala and Titinius come upon Cassius' corpse, and Titinius says, "O setting sun, / As in thy red rays thou dost sink to-night, / So in his red blood Cassius' day is set; / The sun of Rome is set! Our day is gone" (5.3.60-63). In the same way that the sun turns red when it sets, so does Cassius' life end in a pool of red blood. Titinius regards Cassius, his commander, as the sun of Rome—the guiding light. Cassius is representative of Rome, and without Cassius/Rome, Titinius has lost his identity as a Roman. Roman citizenship is his livelihood; therefore, Titinius kills himself, and says, "And see how I regarded Caius Cassius. / By your leave, gods!—this is a Roman's part. / Come, Cassius' sword, and find Titinius' heart" (5.3.88-90). "A Roman's part" means killing oneself in battle is a noble Roman tradition.

Brutus finds the bodies of Cassius and Titinius and says, "Are yet two Romans living such as these? / The last of all the Romans, fare thee well! / It is impossible that ever Rome / Should breed thy fellow" (5.3.98-101). Brutus' comment parallels what Titinius said about Cassius being the sun of Rome, which has now set and ended this age for the present Romans.




Brutus decides to take his own life, and runs upon his sword. The victorious Antony says of Brutus:
This was the noblest Roman of them all:
All the conspirators save only he
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them    (5.5.68-72)
Being a Roman transcends politics or sides in battle—where the rest of the conspirators murdered Caesar out of envy, Brutus was earnest in his best wishes for Rome. Whatever side Brutus had taken, it would have been because he wanted to ensure Rome remained a free country. Therefore, even though he technically committed treason and murder, he receives an honorable burial.