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Thread: A New Twist on Cassius?

  1. #1
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    A New Twist on Cassius?

    I find Cassius to be an extremely captivating character, and I would love to discuss any alternative interpretations of him that you might have. I think it is possible to view him as a very sympathetic and complex character, and I am not convinced that he is truly more villainous than the "noblest roman of them all." As a starting point, I would like to share one theory that several scholars hold (Johnson, Capell, Furness and Hunter) that I came across and which I find crucial in assessing Cassius. Cassius' soliloquy at the end of act one, scene two is often believed to reveal Cassius as a heartless Machiavellian, aware of his own corrupting influence but fully committed to killing Caesar at any price, even the honor of his friend. The words, at first glance, certainly suggest this:

    Well, Brutus, thou art noble; yet, I see,
    Thy honourable metal may be wrought
    From that it is disposed: therefore it is meet
    That noble minds keep ever with their likes;
    For who so firm that cannot be seduced?
    Caesar doth bear me hard; but he loves Brutus:
    If I were Brutus now and he were Cassius,
    He should not humour me. I will this night,
    In several hands, in at his windows throw,
    As if they came from several citizens,
    Writings all tending to the great opinion
    That Rome holds of his name; wherein obscurely
    Caesar's ambition shall be glanced at:
    And after this let Caesar seat him sure;
    For we will shake him, or worse days endure.

    When he says "Therefore it is meet, that noble minds keep ever with their likes," it seems that Cassius is admitting to lacking nobility and acknowledging that he is "seducing" Brutus. It is possible, however, to read Cassius' comments regarding Brutus' ability to be seduced as an expression of concern that Caesar is seducing Brutus. There is a passage in Plutarch, one of Shakespeare's main sources for this play, that could echo this.

    Howbeit, Cassius's friends did dissuade him [i.e. Brutus] from it ... and prayed him to beware of Caesar's sweet enticements, and to fly his tyrannical favours: the which they said Caesar gave him, not to honour his virtue, but to weaken his constant mind, framing it to the bent of his bow. (Brutus, pp. 110-11)

    Therefore, Cassius would still be showing a willingness to manipulate Brutus, but it would be because he truly cared for Brutus and did not desire him to be corrupted. I find this very compelling, but wondered what you thought. Is it too revisionist?

    Any other theories that you might have regarding Cassius would be very welcome . I just love his character.

  2. #2
    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    Julius Ceasar is a complicated play. There is no natural villain, but one's sympathies depend on whether you side with the Ceasar camp or the Brutus camp. I tend to side with the Ceasar camp, so I'm always put off by Cassius. But I can understand your reading of his character. Cassius is much more practical than Brutus.

    "Love follows knowledge." St. Catherine of Siena

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    Thanks for replying. I agree completely that there there are no clear cut heroes and villains in the play. Do you sympathize with Caesar and Antony because of history, or because of Shakespeare's portrayal of the characters? I also wonder whether you think that Shakespeare paints a more attractive portrait of the conspirators than historical fact seems to support, given that you seem to favor Caesar.

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    Yes, I like Cassius too, and the actor playing him would have to have a valid and just intention, and not some villainous tone.

    That later scene between him and Brutus, he falls apart after having a temper fit and threatening Brutus with his sword, then nearly starts crying: "Did I say better, no I meant older." He knows he's been wheeling and dealing with money and Brutus is calling him on the carpet over it. Then he blabs on about his mother, how Brutus won't treat him kind like his mother or something. He admits he's been bad.

    Then again when he hears from Brutus that Portia swallowed coals, and realizes that Brutus is in pain about that, he sympathizes with him.

    Later when they shake hands and wish each other good luck in the day's war -- that parting is very noble.

    He's got a lot of good character traits - but mixed in are some detrimental ones. Hmm, sounds familiar.

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    im a high school student n i would like to know what is referred to as the "watch" in scene 2 act 2:
    Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
    Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.

  6. #6
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    I have to admit Cassius is also my favorite character in the play.

    He is really the only one who does not change throughout the whole course of the play, and is therefore true to his own character. In comparison, Caesar changes, Brutus himself becomes overconfident at times, Antony reveals himself strongly, even becoming arrogant and self seeking in terms of removing Lepidus from the triumvirate and modifying the will.

    Cassius, who has a passionate character, is very cunning (the forged letters..) yet has a much stronger ability for strategic decisions than Brutus. This includes making an oath, killing Antony alongside Caesar, and most importantly, not meeting Antony's army early. Even Antony see's why Brutus met them, and mocks this: "and come down with fearful bravey, thinking by this face to fasten in our thoughts that they have courage, but 'tis not so."

    Cassius is amazing overall. We do give him sympathy during his argument with Brutus, as Brutus portrays a cold character, insulting his friend to great lengths: "itchy palm, testy humour, rash choler, shall I be frightened when a madman scares, you shall digest the venom in your spleen, I'll use you for my mirth, yeah, for my laughter, I do not like your faults..."
    Even after this, Cassius expresses deep sympathy when he hears his friend's wife has died: "O insupportable and touching loss!"

    That Cassius died on his birthday, that he committed suicide by thinking his friend was gone (without absolute certainty, as it turns out Titinius was alive and well at the time)..

    I could talk about him all day. Under his wickedness (which was mainly only to rid of Caesar), he has a wonderful persona.

  7. #7
    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by yhost View Post
    im a high school student n i would like to know what is referred to as the "watch" in scene 2 act 2:
    Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
    Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
    The word "watch" refers to watchmen or guards who have been patroling during the evening.

  8. #8
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    I recently found your "new twist" post while searching for others who thought Cassius more admirable than most think. I think Shakespeare must have portrayed Caesar as such a weak character so that we would sympathize with Cassius's complaints about him.

    And I completely agree with your interpretation of Cassius's soliloquy, at least as far as Cassius intends it. Yet I wonder whether Shakespeare hasn't left it so dramatically ambiguous to make the audience wonder who is really the seducer. I agree that Cassius is nobly (as he understands it) intentioned. Yet that might make him all the more a Macchiavellian character, for he is willing to do what it takes in order to accomplish his noble goals.

  9. #9
    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    I think Cassius genuinely believes that Rome has suffered under Caesar's rule. His line 'What trash is Rome!' echoes Hamlet's 'Denmark's a prison'. Cassius does genuinely respect Brutus' nobility but I believe Cassius is jealous of Caesar.

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