Cassius and Brutus I
The Genesis of Manipulation
If Caesar shows that the active life provides no protection against being deceived, Brutus illustrates that the life of thought also provides no such protection. Brutus is "vexed" in mind because he is weighing the colossal conflict in his mind between his loyalty to Caesar as a friend and his loyalty to Rome. He thinks he can "sort it out" by himself; that is why he has been distant from his friend Cassius and will be uncommunicative to his wife Portia later in 1.2.
But Cassius knows his friend, and embarks on a strategy in 1.2.50-175 to wean Brutus from his indecisive mental musings and inspire him to action. By the end of 1.3, Cassius whispers to the co-conspirators that Brutus is 3/4 of the way to joining them. What Cassius does in 1.2 is to take words or hints that Brutus gives him and then use them as a wedge both to weaken Brutus' devotion to Caesar as a friend and to encourage Brutus' sense of civic responsibility.
Cassius, however, "primes the pump" in 1.2.51-78 by becoming Brutus' "mirror" and "reflecting" to him how much Rome needs him. Then, Brutus is disturbed by an off-stage shouting. He fears the people want to make Caesar their king. Cassius immediately picks up on Brutus' fear:
"Ay, do you fear it?/ Then I must think you would not have it so (1.2.80-81)."
This question serves as an invitation for Brutus to unburden himself of his fear, and Brutus, unreflectively, complies. And when he describes his fear he also reveals a word that is never far from his self-conception, which Cassius will exploit. It is the word honor. Twice in eight lines Brutus uses the word and thereby he lets Cassius know that this word is as essential to his self-definition as Caesar's near divinity is to his. Cassius is not slow to pick up on this admission:
"I know that virtue to be in you, Brutus,/ As well as I do know your outward favor. Well, honor is the subject of my story (1.2.90-92)."
Anyone who has read many of Shakepeare's plays knows that honor is as loaded a word as any in the Shakespearean vocabulary. The one claiming to act from honor is usually self-deceived and ends up destroying himself and others that he cares about. This will be the case here, too. The "honorable" Brutus will be "set up" by Cassius and "cut down" by Antony. As they deliver their speeches, in 1.2 and 3.2, respectively, Brutus' so-called honor will be on their tongues.
But, as we will see in the next essay, Cassius' reference to "honor" being the subject of his story is really a cover for his resentment at Caesar's meteoric rise to prominence. But, no matter. It will be effective in convincing Brutus that Brutus' honor is at stake in Caesar's rise.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long