The Role Of Honor In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

The recurring theme of honor plays an important role in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

The words and actions shown by Cassius in his exchanges with Brutus, in acts one and four, clearly define what the concept of honor is and what actions you must take to be honorable. Honor plays and important role throughout the play, for, as the conspirators say, they killed Caesar to better their country -- certainly, this, in these words, becomes an honorable task. However, through his words to Brutus, Cassius more clearly defines what his definition of honor is, and it is this definition that drives his actions and thoughts throughout the play.

In act one, Cassius plants into the mind or Brutus that it would not be honorable for Caesar to become king. In lines 89 - 96, Brutus explains to Cassius why he fears Caesar becoming the king. In Brutus' words, the "general good" must be protected, for this is the honorable thing for anyone in government to do. To this, Cassius agrees and backs up this agreement with a deeper description of what a person must do in life to be honorable (100 - 103). Cassius' idea of honor, while rooted in his own personal beliefs and disbeliefs is established in these lines, for he believes that it is honorable for any public official to work toward the general good.

In addition to public life, Cassius also tell as story, in act one, about an honorable action that he has taken. In lines 106 - 125, Cassius tells Brutus the story about when he saved Caesar from drowning in the Tiber. While Cassius uses this story to show that Caesar is no greater than Brutus, it also shows Cassius' selflessness, by risking his live to save a friend, and shows that the reason Caesar is still alive is because Cassius is an honorable person. The importance of this story, while it serves to lower Caesar in the eyes of Brutus, also serves as an outlet for Cassius to explain his principles of honor and show how he indeed practices what he preaches.

Through his conversation with Brutus in act one, Cassius is able to persuade Brutus that it is the honorable thing to do to kill Caesar. First, by putting himself at the level of a god, Caesar is bringing dishonor to their religion and dishonor to the Roman people. In order to persuade Brutus hat, indeed, he isn't a god, Cassius tells Brutus the story of when he had to save Caesar from drowning and the story of when Caesar was very ill on a visit to Spain. In addition to disproving the idea that Caesar is a god, thus showing he is honorable by keeping their religion pure, Cassius also shows Brutus that the only honorable thing to do, as a public official is to work for the public good, and no one's own personal interests. By explaining these things to Brutus in act one, Cassius is able to show the audience what his definition of honor is.

In act four, Brutus and Cassius dispute over who has done the right thing and what, in fact, the right thing to do is. At the beginning of scene three, Cassius is upset with Brutus that he condemned a man even after Cassius had sent favorable letters to Brutus. This, while twisting Cassius' viewpoint on honor also shows what he values more--public welfare or friendship.

In lines 1 - 5 of act four, scene three, Cassius is upset with Brutus because he condemned a friend of his. However, this puts into conflict his view of honor between the public and private sectors. While he explains in act one that a public official should act in the public interest, he was upset with Brutus for condemning a friend of his for taking bribes. In these few lines, Cassius' idea of honor is more clearly defined as he places personal friendships over what is good for the state.

However, this idea of having a friendship is practiced as he talks with Brutus about his problems. Instead of attacking Brutus and his men, Cassius sets up a private meeting with Brutus in order to overcome their differences. By trying, and succeeding, at talking things out, Cassius is able to salvage his friendship with Brutus and preserve his honor.

In Julius Caesar, Cassius' speeches in acts one and four help to solidify Cassius' stance on honor. By persuading, in act one, that killing Caesar is honorable because it is in the best interest of public good, Cassius is able to show the audience that something many people feel to be dishonorable -- murder -- could, if put in the right situation, become honorable. In the play, Cassius' speeches with Brutus are fundamental for the audience to understand the idea of honor in the mind of Cassius and how this idea of honor lead him to take the actions that he took.

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