Honors English 9
10 October 2018
Betrayal in Julius Caesar
Betrayal is a common recurring theme throughout history and literature. This is especially shown in the book Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. In this play, when the general Julius Caesar begins to gain more and more power, a small group of Conspirators decides to put a stop to it. What follows is a struggle for power and revenge between the Conspirators and the people of Rome. Throughout the story, the character Brutus betrays and is betrayed, showing the theme of how betrayal can come from trusted people.
A prime example of betrayal is the famous assassination of Caesar – in which Brutus betrays Caesar for the good of all of Rome. When Caesar begins to gain more and more power over the people of Rome, Caius Cassius senses that it can only lead to bad things. He recruits a conflicted Brutus to help him put a stop to Caesar’s overwhelmingly quick rise to power, and that leads to Brutus’ betrayal of someone he loved dearly. To Brutus, Caesar was a close friend, and it took immense amounts of consideration before deciding to follow through with the plan. Brutus says, “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome / more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, / than that Caesar were dead to live all freemen? As Caesar / loved me, I weep for him”(JC 3.2.23-25). This shows that although Brutus held Caesar close to his heart, and Caesar likewise regarded Brutus as a trustworthy friend, Brutus betrays that trust by choosing the Romans over Caesar. Although for a noble cause, this betrayal is the one that is most controversial, even by the ones the sacrifice has been made for. It is, after all, what makes Caesar give up in the end.
However, not only does Brutus betray Caesar, he is also the victim of betrayal by Mark Antony. Brutus trusts Antony to speak nothing but good things at Caesar’s funeral, but instead, Antony turns all of Rome against the Conspirators, even though Brutus thinks he is innocent. As Brutus is trying to convince the other Conspirators that Antony is harmless, he says, “If he love Caesar, all that he can do / Is to himself, take thought and die for Caesar. / And if that were much he should, for he is given / to sports, to wildness, and much company” (JC 2.1.172). This shows that although Brutus does believe killing Antony is unnecessary, he also thinks that Antony is not a threat – that he can not or will not do anything to them once the assassination has been carried out except for kill himself in grief for Caesar. However, Brutus is quickly proven wrong when Antony asks to speak at Caesar’s funeral.
Not knowing what a mistake it is, Brutus allows Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral despite Cassius’ warnings. Cassius says to Brutus, “You know not what you do. Do not consent / That Antony speak in his funeral. / Know you how much the people may be moved”(JC 3.1.250-253). Brutus brushes off these warnings, and just as Cassius predicts, they are betrayed by Mark Antony. At the funeral, Antony turns the Romans against the Conspirators through the use of figurative language and persuasive elements, all while never directly telling the Romans to go after the Conspirators. In this way, Antony is able to say that the Romans decide the Conspirators were the ‘villains’ by themselves, and that Antony does not speak ill of the Conspirators in any way, thereby still within the bounds of Brutus’ previous guidelines about his speech. This allows him to still betray the Conspirators – especially Brutus due to the misplaced faith he has – and avert any blame away from himself.
In conclusion, a theme of betrayal was prominent throughout the book, displaying through Brutus how oftentimes, betrayal comes from one that is trusted. What follows Caesar’s rapid rise to power is a prime example of this, displaying both sides of betrayal.
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Prestwick House, 2006.