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REVIEW
Schanzer, Ernest. "The Tragedy of Shakespeare's Brutus."
ELH 22 (1955): 1-15. Rpt. in Discussions of Shakespeare's Roman Plays. Ed. Maurice Charney. Boston: Heath, 1964. 65-76.


Thesis: Schanzer's topic is Brutus: "his divided mind, his self-deception, his final tragic disillusion" (65). Schanzer views Brutus as one who finds himself in a situation in which "his gentle, frank, and generous nature is in revolt not only against the deed itself, but against the whole conspiracy, with all the secrecy and deceitfulness that it entails" (68). Brutus evades this torment by self-deception; he "tries to free himself both from the guilt and from the sheer physical horror of the murder by adopting a ritualistic and an aesthetic attitude towards it" (69). However, everything turns against him:

News reaches Brutus that seventy senators, including Cicero, have been put to death. His wife has committed suicide. And, to cap it all, his own cause has been tarnished by Cassius's malpractices. These are the fruits of the assassination. Instead of benefiting his country Brutus has, from the best of motives and the highest of principles, plunged it into ruin.  (73)
Furthermore, Schanzer believes that Brutus is certainly the tragic hero of the play, in which "the main issue . . . is not a political but a moral issue, consisting in the conflicting claims of the world of personal relations and that of politics" (75). Schanzer, in support of this view, points out that Caesar, Cassius, and Antony all make crucial decisions in which they sacrifice or abuse their personal relationships for political expediency. And so the play's "central character is Brutus, in whom the moral issue is fought out" (76).

Bottom Line: Generally persuasive.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 5 July 2005
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