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behaviour, are formed upon Plutarch's description of Brutus' own conduct.* The biographer is fertile in instances of the command maintained by Brutus over himself when the execution of his enterprise arrived. Shakspeare confines himself to one, that in which Popilius Lena displays his knowledge of the conspiracy.t
Deficient in that nobleness of mind which conferred on the most questionable of Brutus' actions the character of virtue, the enterprising spirit of Cassius gave him an importance to which the purity of his motives by no means entitled him. “Marvellous cholericke and cruell,” he himself panted for the possession of that uncontrolled
to which he was a declared enemy in others, it being “ certainly thought that he made warre, and put himself into sundrie dangers, more to have absolute power and authoritie than to defend the liberty of his countre." His hatred of Cæsar was rather the result of personal pique than patriotism,
66 hating Cæsar privately, more than he did the tyrannie openly :” so that whereas Brutus hated the tyranny,
“ Cassius hated the tyrant.” #
*“Good gentlemen, look fresh and merrily," &c.
Act II. sc. 1. + “I wish your enterprize to day may thrive."
Act III. sc. 1. # Life of Brutus, p. 994. 1003.
Shakspeare has very artfully contrived to give a more favourable portrait of Cassius than that which the page of history warrants, without, however, so misrepresenting him as to destroy the identity of his character. With reference to dramatic effect, indeed, some change was necessary: Brutus could only, with propriety, be associated, in private friendship and in public undertakings, with a man who, in outward appearance at least, possessed some claims to equality with him. The poet, therefore, suppressed the vindictiveness, cruelty, and tyranny of Cassius, and gave the utmost effect to the fire and energy which characterised him, and particularly marked his abhorrence from living under the control of an arbitrary monarch. * Shakspeare has made Cassius' hatred of Cæsar suffciently apparent; but so repeatedly is his love of liberty enforced, that the patriot, rather than the malignant avenger of his own wrongs, appears to strike against the tyrant.
The great political error of the life of Brutus was his gross mis-estimation of Marc Antony. To the mistake of sparing his life, in the first instance, and of suffering him to speak at the
* “ Indeed, they say,” &c. to the conclusion of the scene.
Act I. sc. 3.
funeral of Cæsar, in the second, his subsequent reverse of fortune is entirely attributable. Plutarch ascribes this forbearance on the part of Brutus to honourable motives, and a want of foresight and penetration.*
The humanity of Brutus might probably have been unproductive of much evil if due precaution had been adopted; but still acting under the delusion that Antony wanted both inclination and power to prove a dangerous enemy, the fatal error was committed of permitting the funeral of Cæsar to be conducted agreeable to Antony's wishes.
“ When this was done, they came to talke of Cæsar's will and testament, and of his funerals and tombe. Then Antonius thinking good his testament should be read openly, and also that his bodie should be honourably buried, and not in hugger-mugger, lest the people might thereby take occasion to be worse offended if they did otherwise : Cassius stoutly spake against it. But Brutus went with the motion, and agreed unto it: wherein it seemeth he committed a second fault. For the first fault he did, was when he would not consent to his fellow-conspirators that Antonius should be slaine ; and therefore he was justly
* Life of Antonius, 917. Life of Brutus, 998.
accused, 'that thereby he had saved and strengthened a strong and grievous enemie of their conspiracy. The second fault was, when he agreed that Cæsar's funerals should be as Antonius would have them, the which indeed marred all.” *
The superior penetration of Cassius, a circumstance extremely curious in itself, has not been overlooked by Shakspeare, who, in his judicious use of it, has reaped the twofold advantage of raising Cassius to something like an equality with• Brutus, and of adhering strictly to historic truth. +
The dramatist hazarded much of the respect so skilfully obtained for Cassius by touching upon so delicate a point as the rapacity of a man “ that would oftentimes be carried away from justice for gaine.” # In the celebrated scene of Cassius' quarrel with Brutus, he has, however, risked its introduction. The fact of
* Life of Brutus, p. 999.
I think it is not meet,
Act III. sc. 1. « Brutus, a word with you," &c.
Act III. sc. 1. | Life of Brutus, p. 1003.
the angry encounter of the chieftains, with several particulars of their altercation, Shakspeare learned from Sir Thomas North, who relates the circumstance in his usual simple language. “ Now, as it commonly happeneth in great affaires between two persons, both of them having many friends, and so many captaines under them, there ranne tales and complaints betwixt them. Therefore, before they fell in hand with any other matter, they went into a little chamber together, and bade every man avoid, and did shut the dores to them. Then they began to poure out their complaints one to the other, and grew hot and loud, earnestly accusing one another, and at length fell both a weeping.”
The exalted eulogium pronounced by Brutus over the dead body of Cassius, though very difficult to reconcile with Plutarch's account of the man, is a testimony in his favour as imperishable as honourable. Some of Shakspeare's lines are almost literally from Plutarch. when he was come thither, after he had lamented the death of Cassius, calling him the last of the Romanes; being impossable that Rome should ever breed againe so noble and
* Life of Brutus, 1005.