Our course will seem too bloody, Caius Cassius,
To cut the head off and then hack the limbs,
Like wrath in death and envy afterwards;
For Antony is but a limb of Caesar.
Let's be sacrificers, but not butchers, Caius. (2.1.162-166)
Although Brutus may be committing an otherwise "immoral" act, he attempts "vainly to transcend normal limitations" by protecting the life of Antony, whom he describes merely as a "limb."(Handbook to Literature, 261) In fact, it is in Brutus' virtue, and his "overweening" pride in his virtue, that he destines himself for misfortune. (Handbook to Literature, 261) Cocky by nature, Brutus sees no harm in allowing Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral, and repeatedly ignores the advice of those around him, especially Cassius. Brutus' blindness and pride in his virtue leads to his hubristic end.
In an effort to appease his mind, and his virtue, Brutus goes deceives himself repeatedly. As Ernest Schanzer states, "the need for self-deception, which drives Brutus to picture Caesar as a dangerous tyrant and to visualize his murder as a sacrificial rite, makes him afterwards try to persuade himself that they have done a benefit not only to their country but to Caesar himself." (8) Brutus becomes so disillusioned that he becomes almost insane in thought. Brutus rationalizes the assassination of Caesar by stating:
Grant that, and then is death a benefit;
So we are Caesar's friends, that have abrig'd
His time of fearing death. (3.1.103-105)
His efforts ultimately make him an example of the Stoic man that "possesses or sees in prospect a majority of contrary things," and according to Stoic beliefs, "it is appropriate for him to depart life." (Sacharoff, 117) Once settled in his unbalanced world of morality and justification, Brutus beings to lose rationality. Cassius bears the brunt of Brutus' growing incoherence when in Act 4, scene 2 he fights bitterly with Brutus only to have the argument end as suddenly and as it began. Brutus begins the argument by declaring, "Most noble brother, you have done me wrong," (4.2.37) and ends the argument with a sign of apology:
Cas. Hath Cassuis lived
To be but mirth and laughter to his Brutus,
When grief and blood ill-tempered vexeth him?
Bru. When I spoke that, I was ill-tempered too. (4.3.113-115)
In the end, Brutus' indecision and focus to calm his conscious leads him to the brink of insanity and creates a Stoic suicide in essence.
Brutus' suicide in Julius Caesar follows Shakespeare's commitment to Stoic and Roman tradition. A man that is as strong-willed as Brutus could not be expected to serve under a man like Antony, thus creating the natural and necessary scenario for a Stoic suicide. His virtue made his situation dire, and as a result, Brutus questioned his actions against Caesar repeatedly. The constant hammering and justification of Caesar's assassination led him to the brink of sanity, thus his mind became "feeble." Brutus' will, virtue, and failing sanity were all factors in his suicide.
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Harmon, William, Hugh Holman. A Handbook to Literature. New Jersey: Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2006.
O'Dair, Sharon. "Social Role and the Making of Identity in Julius Caesar." Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 33, No. 2 (1993). 14 Nov 2004 .
Rebhorn, Wayne A. "The Crisis of the Aristocracy in Julius Caesar." Renaissance Quarterly 43, No. 1 (1990). 14 Nov 2005 .
Sacharoff, Mark. "Suicide and Brutus' Philosophy in Julius Caesar." Journal of the History of Ideas 33, No. 1 (1972). 14 Nov 2005 .
Schanzer, Ernest. "The Tragedy of Shakespeare's Brutus." ELH 22, No. 1 (1955). 14 Nov 2005 .
Smith, Gordon Ross. "Brutus, Virtue, and Will." Shakespeare Quarterly 10, No. 3 (1959). 14 Nov 2005 .