Characters make up the skeleton of a story. They convey the author’s ideas and beliefs about and relationships with the world as well as the human beings around them. Some of the major characters from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar are discussed below.
Characters in Julius Caesar
One of the most popular characters of all time and the tragic hero of Julius Caesar, Brutus is the major character of the play and dominates it from the very first to the last scene. He demonstrates the complexities in his character through his soliloquies. A towering and powerful figure in the Senate of Rome, Brutus proves a god husband, a good master, a towering leader, and a loving but betraying a friend. He betrays his friend, for logical reasons including his arrogance and abuse of status, but Brutus stays controversial not only in friendship but also in statecraft, for despite killing him by the end, Mark Antony continues to praise him.
The hubris of Brutus lies in his idealism, which is also his virtue. Despite having shown his tragic flaw and betrayal to his friend, he is the “noblest of Romans.” Even a common suggestion of killing Antony with Caesar ignored by him proves fatal for his own survival. The second miscalculation that he commits is to ignore the eloquence of Mark Antony that he displays at Caesar’s funeral, which proves highly inimical to him. In the end, it seems that he is doomed to fail in the cause that he initiates for the goodness of the plebeians and Rome.
Although the titular character and protagonist of the play, Julius Caesar seems too arrogant to be placed at the top, above Brutus. His haughty judgment about his own character and his desire for absolute power prove fatal. His miscalculation is in his own ambition – he not only thinks himself loyal to the principles but also very much righteous to strengthen the public institution. He not only refuses the warnings of his wife, Calpurnia but also rebuffs the soothsayers’ prediction of the Ides of March in an effort to prove all others wrong exactly like he has done in the past in the battlefield.
His hubris lies in that he mistakenly perceives his public image has endowed security upon his mortal body, making it somehow immune from mortals like Brutus and his ilk. Brutus, too, attributes his downfall to his absolute power and its absolute use. However, Mark Antony’s final speech tries, though too late, to exonerate Caesar for this hubris.
A great character and one of the most loyal friends of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony proves his loyalty not only in his absence but also in the period after Caesar’s death. Despite his impulsivity and improvisations, he perfectly behaves and takes up the role of an avenger – true to Roman traditions. The masquerading of his true intentions wins hearts and minds of the conspirators in that they allow him, miscalculating that he would pacify the plebeians but he proves too cunning for them to evaluate his persona. His consummate political acumen wins him a place among the great logicians. He not only facilitates the plebeians in their rebellion against the conspirators but also raises the goodness of Caesar in their eyes. However, his real goodness of character lies in that he makes Brutus be less brutal than he seems through Caesar’s short and pithy remark about him, “et tu Brutus”.
A central member of the conspirator gang and the shrewdest character of Julius Caesar, the play, Cassius has the ability to lead from the front and give way to someone better able if the need arises. That is why he lets Brutus take charge of the attack on Caesar. The prejudice of Cassius against Caesar is undignified and motivated by resentment, as opposed to Brutus, who fears rather than resents Caesar’s absolute power-wielding ability. His ability to manipulate others helps him excel in intrigues against Caesar.
However, once he manipulates Brutus through flattery and other means, he takes the second seat, which is quite esoteric for characters like Cassius. Proving a petty and cowardly fellow at various stages of his life in the play, he still seems pragmatic when he voices his concern about Mark Antony’s ability to sway the plebeians during his speech at Caesar’s funeral. This leads to complexity in his character, impressing the audiences more than is required.
Calpurnia, a paragon of virtue, beauty, and loyalty, is Caesar’s wife. She is true to her husband in that she had had dreams about his bad fortune and she constantly nudges him to be careful, but he dismisses her concerns as a common woman’s wild imaginings. Although Caesar pays some heed to her words saying that he would pretend that he is sick, her power to see beyond shadows of time in the future seems correct. Her ominous warnings second the soothsayer’s Ides of March prophecy. However, when put into contrast with Portia, the wife of Brutus, she seems to hold some sway over Caesar that he stays even if for a short time, while Brutus does not give any importance to his wife’s advice.
The character of Octavius is significant in that he is Caesar’s adopted son and likely successor. After Caesar’s death, he joins hands with Mark Antony to fight against the leading conspirators, Brutus and Cassius. Having learned combat tactics from Caesar, he quickly outsmarts seasoned Mark Antony and eliminates the conspirators within a short time frame. Shortly after that, he takes charge of the Roman government and proves true to his predecessor.
Casca, though he is opposed to Caesar and his rise to power, relates the event of Caesar’s coronation to fire the emotions of the conspirators. He relates to Brutus and Cassius how they flattered Caesar by offering him the crown that he refused three times. He thinks that it was an act of showing his pretense for Caesar and act as if he did not want that power just to deceive the public.
Portia is another secondary but significant character in that she is the wife of Brutus, the confidante of Caesar, and is the daughter of a Roman noble who is also against Caesar. After finding her husband involved in intrigues, she becomes upset and commits suicide after Octavius comes to power.
A tribune by status, Flavius dislikes public cheering for everyone who comes to power. He judges this to be public fickleness. As he has been involved in removing Caesar’s decorations during the parade, he is also subjected to punishment later.
Cicero is one of those famous Senators who have the skill to sway the public through oratory. He also happens to speak at the triumphal parade for which he faces the wrath of Mark Antony and is later punished for this crime.