Updated September 10, 2022

The Meaning of Honor in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’

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The Meaning of Honor in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ essay
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Honor is perhaps one of the most complex and difficult ideals to live up to. By definition, honor earns respect, and is achieved only by committing deeds that are morally just. It is not determined by the intention of being honorable, but by the honorable action itself. Throughout the play “Julius Caesar”, William Shakespeare uses three primary characters to explore the central theme of honor. Shakespeare presents the characters of Cassius, Marc Antony, and Brutus, for the audience to analyze their actions as compared to their motivations and determine if their intentions match the final results of their actions. All of these characters spoke of honor and their high honorable intentions, yet in the final analysis, not all of their actions were deemed honorable.

Cassius was the leading character to commit dishonorable deeds. He was undoubtedly the most hypocritical characters in all of “Julius Caesar”. Cassius was the character who spoke the most about achieving honor, yet his actions completely contradicted everything he spoke for. At the beginning, Cassius tried to convince Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar, by stating, “Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world. Like a Colossus, and we petty men. Walk under his huge legs and peep about. To find ourselves dishonorable graves.” (1.2.142-145)

In this quote, Cassius was telling Brutus that if Caesar was not killed, that they would die known as dishonorable men for not killing a “future tyrant.” In reality, Cassius had an ulterior motive for killing Julius Caesar: ambition. Cassius truly was extremely envious of Caesar and wished to ascend to the throne himself. Cassius was actually using the concept of honor to manipulate Brutus into killing an innocent ruler. In the same conversation, he had told Brutus, “Ye gods, it doth amaze me a man of such feeble temper should so get the start of the majestic world and bear the palm alone.” (1. 2. 127-129).

These words reveal that Cassius is indeed jealous of Caesar and his power. He talks down Caesar for being an ‘ambitious’ person who is obsessed with power, but in reality, Cassius is the one who is power hungry. Although Cassius speaks highly of honor, his true motives were for selfish gain. By killing Caesar, Cassius wanted to simply seize control of Rome, believing that he would be a better ruler. Not only did Cassius use the concept of honor to motivate Brutus to kill his innocent best friend, but he also killed an innocent man to achieve his own personal ambitions out of greed and jealousy. Overall, Cassius had dishonorable intentions as well as actions.

Brutus was the most debated character in the whole play. He lived his life to a code of honor. Early in the play, Brutus showed his principles and said, “I love the name of honor more than I fear death.” (1.2.95-96) Clearly, Brutus was a man who would be willing to give everything just to commit the right action. After killing Caesar, he proved his true intentions by stating, “If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer: not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.” (3.2.24-27) Brutus shows his real motive of killing Caesar, was to honor his country instead of himself.

However, Shakespeare created complexity in Brutus’s character by making him flawed and human. Brutus’s flaw was that he had committed an unspeakable murder. There was not even any evidence to prove Caesar was ‘ambitious.’ In fact, Caesar refused the crown three times and had promised to give his wealth away to the people of Rome after his death. Brutus was much too easily manipulated and he had participated in an act that led to chaos. Brutus had killed a selfless leader, an innocent man, and his best friend. These actions were done with the intent to benefit the people of Rome, yet the action was clearly not honorable. Brutus gained no respect in what he had done nor did he do anything morally correct.

Regardless, murdering a loved one is not acceptable, especially if they have not committed any wrongdoing. In theory, if Caesar was actually an ambitious tyrant on the rise, there were numerous other options Brutus could have explored, such as imprisonment, banishment, and even simply demoting Caesar to a position with less power. There was absolutely no need for Brutus to assassinate his best friend. As a whole, Brutus murdered Julius Caesar with the purpose of benefiting the people, however, the action was not appropriate nor righteous.

Finally the character of Marc Antony served to explore the theme of honor from a different angle: justice. Antony was introduced in the first act as Caesar’s Master of the Horse, otherwise known as the second in command. Until Caesar’s murder, he had no power, but after Caesar’s death, he gathered an army and vowed revenge against the conspirators. The conspirators had committed an unrighteous deed and had killed Rome’s most beloved leader.

After discovering Caesar was dead, he calmly reasoned in front of the conspirators, yet when he was alone with the body he vowed revenge and quoted “… Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood… Domestic fury and fierce civil strife shall cumber all the parts of Italy;” (3.1.285-301). The vengeance that Antony wreaked on the conspirators was not out of anger, but out of the need to deliver justice. Antony was ultimately loyal to Caesar, unlike Brutus, and takes up the task of avenging an innocent man’s death. Marc Antony severed justice those who killed for their own selfish gain.

Of course, many may argue that killing a murderer is basically sinking down at a killer’s level. On the contrary, what Antony did was play by the rules. Technically, Antony had vanquished his enemy on the battlefield of a war, instead of the streets of Rome. Logically speaking, a warzone was the only appropriate place to kill the conspirators. Antony easily could have attempted to kill the conspirators at the Senate house where Caesar was killed, yet, that would not be an acceptable place for murder. If Antony had killed Cassius and Brutus at the Senate, it would almost be at the same as degrading to their level. Reasonably, Marc Antony was a honorable character. All the actions he committed were righteous and for a honest cause to avenge the death of his innocent, unambitious friend. By imposing justice to those who murdered Caesar, he achieved an honorable status.

Through three main characters of Cassius, Brutus, and Marc Antony, Shakespeare effectively shows that honor is a high ideal that cannot easily be reached. Unfortunately, humans are flawed and honor is perhaps too difficult to achieve, despite good intentions. The lack of perfection in people is what depletes ability to have the correct intention and action of honor. Though intentions of honor may be honorable, the action must also show righteousness and good morals. From this play, the audience can learn to choose their actions wisely and to not think solely for selfish gain. The meaning of honor is to follow through good intentions with righteous actions. From this play, the audience can learn to choose their actions wisely and to not think for selfish gain. In conclusion, the theme of honor teaches a very important lesson in “Julius Caesar,” which is that honest and ethical deeds are what will deem an individual honorable.

The Meaning of Honor in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ essay

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How does Brutus show honor in Julius Caesar?
Throughout the play, Brutus is described as honorable through his intentions, his treatment of others, and his loyalty to Rome . Brutus makes this speech to the Roman public and the audience soon after he and his fellow conspirators kill Caesar.
What does Brutus say about honor and death?
Throughout the play, Brutus sticks to his moral ethics closely. Moreover, Brutus affirms, “ For let the gods so speed me, as I love the name of honor more than I fear death ” (1.2. 88-89). In this quote, Brutus is saying that honor is the most important thing to him.
What does Brutus say about honor?
Brutus is a noble, honourable man and Antony was Julius Caesar's best friend, so they are respected citizens in Rome. Brutus starts out his speech by saying “ Believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour …” (III.
What does honor mean in Julius Caesar?
Honor in Julius Caesar is synonymous with bravery and selflessness . This is why Brutus is considered honorable by nearly every character in the play: he is earnestly committed to public service and the overall good of his country. It is precisely this virtue that Cassius exploits for his own aims.
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