Brutus and the Honor Meter
The Golden Rule is to treat others how you would like to be treated.
In this way, people who act honorably towards others are often treated with the same honor, just as those who give generally receive. People have a metaphorical “honor meter” where they store trust and respect gained by doing honorable acts. When this meter is full, a person is safe from dishonorable acts done by others. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, while looking through the formalist lens, one idea that can be found is that throughout the play, Brutus attains enough respect and honor that Antony and his army would not have taken him prisoner. Brutus makes his initial decision to join the conspiracy based on honor.
When he is alone in his house Brutus mulls over what Cassius has asked him to do. He becomes agitated as he debates against himself, trying to decide which course of action is the best. Should he opt to kill Caesar or should he stay loyal to his friend? Brutus says, “It must be by his death; and for my part, I know no personal cause to spurn at him, but for the general.” (II,i,10-12). Brutus knows that Caesar has done nothing to wrong him, but Brutus thinks that if the public feels that they were in some way at risk because of Caesar, action should be necessary. Later in the evening, Brutus receives a message he believes is from a simple villager which tells how the people of Rome are afraid of Caesar becoming king.
Brutus responds by saying, “If the redress will follow, thou receivest thy full petition at the hand of Brutus!” (II,i,57-58). Brutus decides that since the public is so afraid that they are willing to address him directly, the honorable thing for him to do is offer his assistance. Brutus realizes that the welfare of the general population is more important than his own feelings. These are the thoughts of an honorable man. Later, after Brutus made his decision to join the assassination plot, he makes honorable decisions for the entire conspiracy. After Brutus welcomes everyone into his home, they begin to plan.
Cassius proposes three ideas: taking an oath, inviting Cicero, and killing Antony. Brutus disregards these ideas. When talking about the oath Brutus lets the others know that if they are going to kill Caesar for some reason other than the honorable one of saving Rome, there will be consequences. He also says, “To think that our cause or our performance did need an oath; when every drop of blood that every roman bears, and nobly bears, is guilty of severe bastardy if he do break the smallest particle of any promise that hath passed from him.” (II,i,135-140.
) Brutus knows that there will be sacrifices required for many people if the conspiracy kills Caesar. He wants to make sure that the least amount of blood is spilled and he knows that if the conspirators can’t trust each other, their plan has no hope. By refusing to take an oath, Brutus proves his trust in others because he values honorability in them as much as he does in himself. Soon after these discussions, the time comes to act on their plan. The conspirators kill Caesar and Rome is in chaos, but Brutus has an honorable plan to make sure no one else is blamed for the conspiracy’s actions. The conspiracy members realize that many people have fled from the senate, fearing blame for the death of an almost-king.
Brutus sees that answer to this problem and tells his companions, “Let us bathe our hands in Caesar’s blood up to the elbows, and besmear our swords, then we walk forth, even to the marketplace, and waving our red weapons o’er our heads, let’s all cry, ‘Peace, freedom, and liberty!'” (III,i,106-110). Brutus recognizes the fact that many people are scared and worried over what they have just seen. He also knows that people will want an explanation and perhaps a punishment for those who have killed their beloved Caesar. By having all the conspirators cover themselves with Caesar’s blood, Brutus is ensuring that no unjust punishment will be exacted upon innocent people. Brutus is honorably accepting the blame and the consequences that will fall.
Brutus later proves his honor further by refusing Cassius’ way of finding finances. Brutus and Cassius are arguing in Brutus’ tent as they are about to go to war, and need money to give to their soldiers. Cassius has suggested that they take the money from the villagers because—after all—the armies are fighting for their protection. Brutus tells him no, saying, “For I can raise no money by vile means. By Heaven, I’d rather coin my heart and drop my blood for drachmas than to wring from the hard hands of peasants their vile trash” (IV,iii,71-74).
Brutus has already accepted the consequences for killing Caesar and he realizes that this is just another of the things they have to face. Brutus says here that he’d rather die than take from the peasants money that they have worked hard to earn. He knows that it is dishonorable to steal and by snatching pennies from the people of Rome for use in a war that the conspirators have brought upon themselves, he would be breaking an unwritten code of honor. Finally, the war is raging. At the end of Brutus’ life, Antony tells of the honorable man Brutus was. Antony, Octavius and Messala find Brutus and Strato, Brutus having run himself down with his sword.
Strato tells them that Brutus ran onto the sword while Strato held it for him. Then Antony says of Brutus, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he did that they did in envy of great Caesar; he, only in a general, honest thought and common good to all, made one of them…Say to all the world, ‘This was a man!'” (V,v,68-75). Even Antony—as angry and grieving as he is—recognizes that Brutus acted in an honorable way. Antony knows that Brutus, unlike the other conspirators, was trying to do the right thing for the good of Rome. Antony even declares that the fact that Brutus is honorable should be proclaimed across the country.
Octavius says too that Brutus should have a proper burial because of his honor. If these men had planned on killing Brutus, this would not be the way he would have been treated. Brutus would have been spared because of his honor. Brutus’ life and actions are based on honor and respect. He doesn’t let his emotions or his human attachments get in the way of his sense of duty. Brutus could have lived a free and enriching life because his actions throughout the play grew his sense of respectability and honor in the community.
Antony’s last statement about Brutus gives the truth—Brutus would not have been killed or taken prisoner because he truly was an honorable man.