TW: mentions of death
Shakespearean tragedy, an entire designation of tragedy named after a single playwright. Shakespeare had many famous works that dealt with tragedy, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Romeo and Juliet, and the piece I’m going into today, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.
Julius Caesar is a staple in most US English classes, at least it was in mine just this last year. I had to dissect this play line-by-line to ultimately argue why Julius Caesar is labeled a tragic hero. As you’ve probably experienced in English, it’s common to argue for something you disagree with, this was the case for me. So, this is a mini character study on Brutus, and why he was more of a tragic hero than Caesar.
Before delving into the quotes, a critical first step is pinpointing what defines a tragedy, then more specifically a tragic hero. Well, a tragedy is an inner battle between a protagonist and their fatal flaw — also known as hamartia — which acts as the means to a tragic hero’s undoing. For example, a Greek soldier may hold excessive pride. This then acts as fuel for the said soldier to do something rash to get himself killed. Similar to the domino effect, sometimes it isn't always obvious because said flaw is an integral character trait. That’s why when labeling tragic heroes, it’s important that the flaw itself was the cause behind an undoing, direct or indirect.
To help identify it easier, a tragic hero will progress through three core stages: an elevation of status or ability, a critical mistake, and their pivotal downfall. It’s also important to note “undoing” isn’t just death but includes loss of power, loss of a loved one, or even loss of self. While these stages are somewhat present in both Caesar and Brutus, the play itself builds upon the mistakes of Brutus to come to the true ending — his death.
Truthfully, this entire argument rests on a few questions.
Notably in Act II scene 1-2, this is where both Caesar and Brutus are talking with their wives Calpurnia and Porcia about their troubles. This pans between both Caesar and Brutus’ relationship which develops them both as rounded characters. Unlike some other characters, Antony and Cassius, who aren't entirely explored nor developed throughout.
After Caesar dies, notice how the perspective mostly stays with Brutus and not the other senators. In literature, we know that the protagonist is the leading character of the plot. This definition disregards motives, plot points, or anything else, it’s simply the overall screen time and how we as the audience experience the character’s thoughts and development. From this, we can conclude that Brutus is indeed the protagonist of the play, while the death of Caesar is more of a plot point for Brutus instead of Caesar.
Therefore, if Brutus is the protagonist he’s the tragic hero, right? Well, following all definitions and logic, yeah. But, it wouldn’t be a character study without delving into the characters themselves. So, instead of looking at this through Brutus, I’m changing the perspective onto Cesar.
As mentioned before, tragic characters have to go through certain stages.
Yes, the play is called The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, but after Caesar is assassinated in Act 3 there are still 2 whole acts to get through focusing on Brutus. While Caesar does have the potential to be the tragic hero, he’s just not the main lens we see and therefore doesn’t build up the tragic hero identity as well as Brutus.
is a high school sophomore with aspirations for digital storytelling. She always seemed to understand things better if she could read it, versus videos or lectures, so English and History quickly became her favorite subjects. She volunteers for both Juven and The Meraki Organization to tell stories.