Stoicism in Julius Caesar

Topics: Roman Republic, Julius Caesar, Augustus Pages: 4 (1178 words) Published: March 1, 2007
In Roman times, suicide was not the shameful, taboo act that it is today, but was once viewed as honorable and praiseworthy. The ultimate sacrifice was being able to take one's own life. Brutus, in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, is a man driven by will, virtue, and disillusionment all in the name of the Republic. On the eve of his defeat by Antony, Brutus runs upon his own sword to preserve his honor as a Roman man. Brutus "embraces a Stoic attitude towards suicide, seeing it as the supreme form of self-possession, the achievement of worldly glory."(Rebhorn, 89) Stoicism, a philosophy followed by many Romans, states that "death by one's own hand is always an option and frequently more honorable than a life of protracted misery."(Sacharoff, 116) Stoics believe that "[suicide] springs from a feeble rather than a strong mind." (Sacharoff, 119) Being of week and conflicted mind, Brutus was right in taking his life, according to Stoicism. The will of Brutus, his virtue, and disillusionment were the cause of his feeble mind, and ultimately the cause of his suicide. While Brutus may not be the most intelligent of Shakespeare's characters in Julius Caesar, Brutus' will surpasses that of his peers. Brutus refuses to take orders from others, valuing his opinion above those of his peers. (Schanzer, 4) Gordon Ross Smith states that the "central quality of Brutus is not his virtue. It is his will." (367) Smith also points out that "Brutus… had not been accorded [his] leadership unless he had been ready, willing, and more than willing to exercise it." (Smith, 370) Brutus "wills," or believes himself to will much of what happens around him. Firstly, in the case of the great Caesar, "Brutus feels Caesar must die, and justly, for he would destroy the Republic, the public means of private authorization," and therefore goes about planning his downfall. (O'Dair, 298) In knowing that Brutus' will is strong, one can "surmise that Brutus agreed upon the assassination because he...

Cited: Bowden, William R. "The Mind of Brutus." Shakespeare Quarterly 17, No. 1 (1966). 14 Nov 2005 .
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 .
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