“Et Tu, Brute?” are perhaps the most popular three words ever written, uttered in literature and then quoted in different contexts. This phrase also comes from the genius of Shakespeare. It occurs in his play, Julius Caesar, (Act-III, Scene-I, Lines, 77). Julius Caesar utters this phrase as his last words, addressing his close friend, Brutus, in the play. However, the history does not seem to support this, as it is a widely debated subject among historians and dramatists alike. Like so many other countless phrases, Shakespeare vouchsafed this phrase an everlasting life after using it in his play.
It is a Latin phrase meaning “and you, Brutus?” or “and you, too, Brutus?” In this phrase, these are not the words, but their background, which is important. Marcus Brutus had been one of the closest friends of Caesar. Caesar could least expect him joining hands with the people plotting his assassination. It is widely believed that when Caesar saw him among the assassins, he resigned himself to his fate. This phrase has come down a long way in history as an expression to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend; that means getting hit where you least expect it.
In today’s world, the phrase is extensively used to express one’s bewilderment when he is threatened or exploited by one of his close friends. The phrase is common to be heard in offices where seniors use this phrase in reply to the criticism of juniors. Parents can use this when their favorite child lets them down. Similarly, there are number of occasions where one can use this phrase to express that he was not expecting someone to do something.
This phrase is used in Act-III, Scene-I, lines 75-78 of Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. These are spoken as the dying words of Caesar; however, they are not historically proven. Shakespeare has the reputation of manipulating historical facts for dramatic effects. As Caesar approaches Senate, a group of hostile senators surround him. Among them is his close friend, Brutus. They rush to stab him and he, after seeing Brutus among them, succumbs to his fate.
Caesar: Doth not Brutus bootless kneel?
Casca: Speak, hands, for me! [They stab Caesar.]
Caesar: Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar! [Dies.]
Cinna: Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!
(Julius Caesar Act-III, Scene-1, 75–78)
Speaking in the context of the play, Caesar had a very soft and compassionate corner for Brutus. Some historians remark that he was his son. Though no reliable source has proven Caesar to be the father of Brutus. However, it is clear that Caesar had a strong liking for that person. He considered him friend. It is said that he had once engaged his daughter Julia to Brutus but later had given her to Pompey to strengthen his political position. Some historians believe that Julia was Brutus’ love, and marrying her to Pompey made Brutus to hold a grudge against Caesar.
In many historical plays of Shakespeare, certain historical facts are tempered to create stronger dramatic effects. Historical plays should not be rendered as true records of historical events. This phrase has already been used in plays written by other playwrights of Shakespeare’s era. Shakespeare only made it ‘eternal.’ Many scholars believe that the phrase is not complete. It could have meant something else, had it been completed by Caesar, like “You, too, Brute will face your end!”
This phrase is quite simple and no considerable literary device exists but only the pathos and surprise of the speaker.