A tragic hero often has three important characteristics; his superiority which makes his destruction seem more tragic, his goodness which arouses pity, and his tragic flaws. In the Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Brutus is an excellent example of a hero with tragic flaws. Brutus is superior because of his close friendship with powerful Caesar and because of his popularity with the people.
The conspirators need Brutus to join the conspiracy because of his friendship with Caesar and his popularity among the people. Brutus’ idealism and goodness are evident throughout the play; he sees only the goodness in people and naively believes others are as honorable as he. Even his enemy, Mark Antony, comments on these traits at the end of the play: “This was the noblest Roman of them all.” Brutus’ tragic flaws are idealism, honor, and poor judgment which are taken advantage of at first by Cassius and later by Mark Antony. Brutus’ major flaw is his idealism, his belief that people are basically good. His first misjudgment of character is of Casca who he believes should not be taken too seriously. Cassius disagrees and states that Casca just puts on this appearance:
“However he puts on this tardy form. This rudeness is a sauce to his good wit, which gives men stomach to disgest his words with better appetite.” Brutus’ next miscalculation of character involves Cassius’ motives. Brutus believes that Cassius wants to assassinate Caesar for the good of Rome, while Cassius truly wants power and a Rome not under Caesar’s control.
Cassius manipulates gullible Caesar with flattery of Brutus’ ancestors and of his honor. At the same time, Cassius points out Caesar’s weaknesses: his deafness, his epileptic fits, and lack of swimming ability. Brutus continues his misjudgment when he reads the bogus letters and believes that these express the true feelings of all of Rome.
The letter opens with this quote: “Brutus, thou sleep’st; awake, and see thyself.” Had Brutus been a perceptive man, he would have remembered Cassius telling him to allow others to serve as mirrors. Brutus’ idealism continues to surface when he does not deem it necessary to take an oath of unity to the cause. He says, “No, not an oath. If not the face of men, the sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse if these be motives weak, break off betimes.” Brutus tries to cover the conspiracy with honor and virtue. He is only fooling himself, because the other conspirators do not share his motives.
The turning point of the play and Brutus’ major tragic flaw concerns his judgment of Mark Antony. Brutus perceives Antony as “gamesome” and harmless without Caesar while Cassius sees Antony as a “shrewd contriver.” When the other conspirators want to kill Antony along with Caesar, Brutus declares, “For Antony is but a limb of Caesar. Let’s be sacrificers, but not butchers.” Brutus wants to be honorable which leads to the conspiracy’s destruction.
Another one of his mistakes is allowing Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus sees no harm in allowing Antony to speak after he has already spoken. Antony effectively arouses the crowd’s emotions with Caesar’s body and will. His final fatal errors are meeting Antony’s and Octavius’ army at Philippi and the mistiming of his army’s attack, an event which jeopardizes his armies. Brutus’ idealism leads to his downfall. His innocence and purity of motives cause him to trust the motives of others. He believes he is doing the right thing: what is best for Rome and the Roman people.
The traits that allow him to be a successful private man are the very ones that hurt him in public life. He does not make quick and good judgments because of his ethical and moral views.