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The Foundation of an Ideal Man in Julius Caesar, a Play by William Shakespeare

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Throughout all of history, men have had set standards of what they should be and how they should act. In medieval Europe and Feudal Japan, the codes of Chivalry and Bushido took the best characteristics of man and pushed these standards further. These codes have come in many forms and have kept men striving to go down in history as the “Ideal Man”, however, they failed more often than they succeeded. The issue at heart truly is that although many men exemplify parts of the ideal man,very few can actually be considered due to a separating flaw. In the case of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus is an “honourable man” and considered very noble but he is too naive to be considered the “Ideal Man”. The ideal man is a multitude of many ideas and is thoroughly hard to define. The complexity of becoming ideal is what makes it sought after and nearly impossible to achieve. Because the ideal man is imbued with certain characteristics, he strives to better and improve his character rather than just his image.

The true foundation of the ideal man is based around the characteristics that he carries with himself, and one of the most crucial characteristics to the ideal man is being honorable. Honor must be defined as doing the right thing no matter what and living a very moralistic lifestyle. In William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Brutus easily exemplifies the ideal man, in this regard. Although Brutus does betray his friend, it is done with only the most honorable intentions in mind. Brutus is trying to protect the people of Rome first and foremost over the needs of himself. In fact, Brutus’ honor is further shown here because although all of the people around him partook in the assassination for all of the wrong reasons, only Brutus truly remained true and moral regardless of the consequences. No one summed up the character of Brutus better than Mark Antony. In Antony’s words Brutus was “was the noblest Roman of them all:/All the conspirators save only he,/ Did that they did in envy of great Caesar”(5.5.70-73) which truly shows that after all of the issues caused by Brutus, Antony still respects him. Brutus himself can be admired for the fact that he “loves name of Honor more than [he] fears death”(1.2.89). Even noble Brutus’ suicide is what literary critic Jan Blits believes to be “more than just a last ditch effort to salvage some honor from defeat, even while he understands that suicide is the only honorable choice left to him”(Blits 6). Honor, in this way, is an important trait, and all men should strive for honor because it distinguished who is good and evil. Without honor, humanity is without morals and care nothing for one another. Honor gives respect and empathy to the world in a positive manner.

Honor also goes hand in hand with both loyalty and honesty. Brutus constantly stays loyal to Rome no matter the obstacle including death itself, and he always maintains his honesty in matters. He is loyal to his country over his wife and his best friend, even such to the point of danger. However, Brutus cannot be considered the ideal man in this instance because he does lie to Portia and doesn’t tell Caesar, however these are just Shakespeare’s attempt to humanize Brutus and show that everyone makes mistakes. Even “yond Cassius” with his “lean and hungry look”(1.2. 195) exemplifies the characteristic of loyalty because he stays loyal to Brutus and listens to him regardless of the situation. Even when Brutus makes obviously boneheaded decisions he still sticks by Brutus choice even to the point of death. He knows that “tis’ better for the emey to seek [them]”(4.3.197) however, he trusts his friend and allows his “will to go on” and orders his army to “along [themselves] and meet [Antony] at Philippi”(4.3.227-8). This decision has disastrous effects and Cassius knows it. Like Kusunoki Masashige, Roland the Frank, and many others, Cassius charges to his death for his friend’s bad choices, sheerly out of loyalty. Cassius is far from the ideal man however he still shows these traits of loyalty, and Jan Blits even admits in his criticism of Julius Caesar that “Cassius suicide is undoubtedly an act of friendship”(Blits 4). This attribute is very important in the ideal man and should be treated as such. Without loyalty and fealty no one could trust one another and this reflects a lack of honor as well. This trait creates lots of bonds and leads to a more enlightened society.

In addition to the bonds of loyalty that hold the ideal man together the ideal man is strengthened by compassion and care for others. Brutus cares for the people of Rome and deeply fears that “the people choose Caesar as their king”(1.2.78). Brutus wants Rome to return to the way of the people and stay of the old republic. This is because of his care for the people over himself. Compassion is a key characteristic to any man and it is important to empathy and allows men to realize when to be merciful and not. Brutus also shows this in the way that he is quite compassionate to Portia, his wife, and keeps his secret from her in an effort to keep her safe. In addition to Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Cassius also exemplifies the trait of compassion as he cares deeply for Brutus and places him over himself. We see compassion for others especially within the inner struggle of Brutus and his decision to kill Caesar. He feels bad and knows “no personal cause to spurn at him/But for the general.”(2.1.13). Even Caesar for a short glimpse, has compassion for his wife and friends and listens to his wife and puts her needs over his for a short while, albeit a very short while. Shakespeare is using these glimpses of Caesar to show that although Caesar is arrogant he does have some redeemable aspects. The importance of compassion in a man relates to how he treats women and compassionate men are often the champion of women and help all others. These characteristics are very admirable and exemplify the ideal man.

Many of the characters in Julius Caesar show great intelligence. Similarly to his ability to show compassion Caesar, who appears blind to all the signs of his death, still shows great intelligence. Therefore, intelligence should be defined as characters who have intelligence in all situations. Brutus might appear to be intelligent, but he continually makes bad decisions. In fact, many people analyze the point in which Brutus makes his largest mistake. Cassius shows intelligence throughout the novel, but he never manages to get Brutus to agree with him. When Cassius agrees with Brutus he is making his fatal mistake. Intelligence allows a man to have confidence in his ideas and not care how his opinion may look to some, but Cassius cares far too much about siding with Brutus. Cassius’ need to side with Brutus is culminated when Cassius and Brutus argue about their plan in the war; Cassius’ plan is “tis better the enemy seek us”(4.3.197). Brutus bases his argument on emotion; Cassius’ is based on logic, but he cannot make Brutus lose so he gives up. Cassius has intelligence, but his image must be improved upon, which is why Brutus and Cassius fail.

Persistence is omnipotent in all cases of one improving character. Persistence shows a lack of caring for others’ opinion of one’s goal. People persist because they want to achieve in their individual goal. Persistence is the manifestation of individuality and character. All the major characters persist in achieving their goals. Brutus is persistent in creating the best Rome for everybody, but he has other flaws. Anthony is persistent in gaining control of Rome after Caesar’s death, but he has other flaws. Persistence makes people great, but not flawless. Lloyd Davis, writer of “Embodied Masculinity in Julius Caesar”, says that the male body is the important symbolic figure in Caesar, while this is an abstract idea, persistence is the concrete form of this idea. Davis says that the entire play is based on the politics of the male body (Davis). Brutus says “There is tears, for his love: joy, for his fortune; honor for his valor; and death, for his ambition”(3.2.26-28). The whole conflict in the play is the ambition of Caesar, and the other characters’ ambitions as well. Although persistence makes one’s character better, it alone does not make this man ideal. All the characters fail in the end; therefore, there is no ideal man in Julius Caesar.

There are flaws that cause all the characters in Julius Caesar to fail. None of the characters succeed, and even Anthony fails later in Antony and Cleopatra. One would consider this notion nihilistic however, Shakespeare does this for a reason. In the way Julius Caesar is presented, he made a complex tragedy, in which more than one character can be the tragic hero. We can see this evidenced by the fact that Cassius, Brutus, and Caesar all share traits of the ideal man, however like all men in actual society, they all have a significant flaw that prevents this from occurring. By doing this, Shakespeare is actually making a point that there is no ideal man or person, or that all men have flaws.

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The Foundation of an Ideal Man in Julius Caesar, a Play by William Shakespeare. (2018, Jun 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 27, 2021, from
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