Of all the complex and dynamic relationships William Shakespeare created throughout his plays, the twisted web of friendships in Julius Caesar is one so personal and heart wrenching that it must be near the top of the list. As the reader moves further into the lies and betrayals of early Rome, they are shown honestly, and sometimes brutally, what friendship means in a world of shadows and blood. Friendship is a very important theme of the play, and it has an impact on the lives of the characters to the point where some must choose between loyalty and death, between love of a fellow human or love of a civilization on the brink of civil war. The questions many characters must eventually ask themselves are: How far would I go for the good of the country? How far would I go for the love of a friend?
At the end of Julius Caesar, a bloody battle has finished, and many important figures and main characters are lying in pools of their own blood. This is the result of individual decisions, and the ability of some characters to sway others towards cruel things, believing it to be an act of friendship or national loyalty. Different Romans see friendship differently: some hold it close to their hearts while others use it as a bargaining tool to get what they want, namely power. Each Roman treats his fellows differently, each has a different idea of what friendship means and where it stands against ideas like politics and power.
For Caius Cassius, conspirator against Julius Caesar, friendship is a way to impact the decisions of others, to sway their votes or encourage them to join a cause. In Act 1 Scene 1, Cassius complains to Brutus that their friendship has cooled. “You bare too stubborn and too strange a hand over your friend, that loves you” (1.1). Here, he is referencing the way Brutus is becoming distant towards him, to which Brutus replies,
“Into what dangers would you lead me, Cassius,
That you would have me seek into myself
For that which is not in me?” (1.1)
Would a true friend try to convince you to do something that may be dangerous and not something you would normally do? Brutus seems to be pressured by Cassius to find ideas and actions within himself that would not appear there naturally. Cassius claims to be a dear friend to Brutus, yet is he the one who sways Brutus into killing Caesar, who was also a friend of Brutus.
In the later acts, when the battle is looming and Caesar is dead, Cassius and Brutus share a strange moment of intimacy, knowing full well they may never see each other again.
BRUTUS For ever and for ever farewell, Cassius.
If we do meet again, why, we shall smile;
If not, why then, this parting was well made.
CASSIUS For ever and for ever farewell, Brutus:
If we do meet again, we’ll smile indeed;
If not, ‘tis true this parting was well made. (5.2).
However much Cassius has used Brutus to kill Caesar and manipulate him to gain power, this tender moment before a battle shows that Brutus and Cassius, at least on some level, truly do care about each other, and are friends.
The friendship of Brutus and Julius Caesar is one of the most famous and platonic that Shakespeare ever created. At the beginning of the play, Brutus and Caesar appear to be great friends, yet the in the climax of the play, in Act 3, Caesar is stabbed by the very person who once loved him so dearly. Why would Brutus turn against his friend? After Caesar’s death, Brutus attempts to explain in front of the people of Rome.
“If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. 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).
This is a very poignant explanation of Brutus: he reveals his great love for Caesar, and his greater love for his country of Rome. This powerful monologue is not the only moment when Brutus shows his friendship to Caesar; from the very beginning of the play, their relationship is established. The conspirators try to convince Brutus that Caesar is too ambitious, ready to take the throne and become a King of Rome, but Brutus shows doubt at first, not believing his friend capable. “I have not known when his affections swayed more than his reason.” (2.1). Brutus knows Caesar well, knows that he would not seize the power as the conspirators think he would. Sadly, doubt begins to creep into his mind as the night wiles away, and when morning comes, the conspirators have succeeded in changing the ideas of Brutus, so the friendship is ultimately ripped apart.
Even when Brutus is persuaded to join the conspirators against Caesar, he knows that he will lose Caesar’s friendship, and his presence, forever. In a meeting with the others, Brutus states, “O, that we could come by Caesar’s spirit and not dismember Caesar!” (2.1). In that moment, he knows he must kill Caesar for Rome, but for a brief second, is unwilling to think of it, wishing he could maintain a nation and a friendship at the same time.
After the night of thunder and secret meetings, Brutus is firm in the belief that Caesar must die if Rome is to live. The strong bond of friendship is broken, and Brutus must not only rip apart the friendship, but kill the man he once loved so much. The last words of Decius Brutus to Julius Caesar are, “I kiss thy hand, but not in flattery, Caesar.” (3.1). These cruel words come seconds before Caesar is stabbed, and Brutus must now live with the murder of a close friend resting on his shoulders. What was Brutus thinking in those last seconds? Was he regretting his decision, or did he know it was right for Rome in the end? Come the end of the play, we see that Brutus is indeed regretful, torn apart by his previous actions, to the point where he feels he must kill himself to pay the debt of killing Caesar. In Act 5 Scene 5, Brutus reveals that the ghost of Caesar has come to him, and he knows it is time for him to go. The guilt and raw pain of his actions has driven him to the brink, and he knows that there is nothing left for him. Brutus has saved Rome, but in the process hurt himself so badly that he cannot continue to live. It is the ultimate sacrifice.
Julius Caesar is a powerful man. He has success in battles, and he knows how to stir the hearts of the people. Caesar is a good politician, a good general, but is he a good man too? Caesar’s friendship with Brutus is powerful, and very real, and Caesar, while not coming out and saying it, does show friendship to Brutus on more than one occasion. When Caesar is killed in a stage production, there is not one person in the audience who is not on the edge of their seats. It is a tormenting scene, horrific and bloody, yet in this scene of action, there lies a clue to the firm bonds of friendship between Caesar and Brutus. These are Julius Caesar’s last words, the famous “Et tu, Brute?” (3.1), which has stirred the hearts of so many. A man does not tell lies as he is dying, and the fact that Caesar chooses to address his comrade in the final seconds of his life shows that there is a friendship between them, one that no man can break apart. As friends and courtiers of Caesar take turns stabbing him, he utters his veiled last words, words so mysterious that only Shakespeare truly understood. Could these words have been desperation, and the realization that a friend has betrayed you? Yes, but I believe it was something even more powerful than that.
Brutus is the last to stab Caesar, and perhaps in those last seconds he is feeling a great remorse, guilt, and pain at the thought of ending the life of his best friend. The last words of Caesar, “And you, Brutus?”, could have been the last act of an eternal friendship, the desire to help his friend even as he bleeds to death. If Brutus does not stab Caesar, the conspirators may turn against him and kill him for being a coward, and Caesar may realize this as he sinks to the ground. Caesar does not want the same for his friend, so he beckons Brutus to stab also, ensuring him the side of the conspirators. Is their friendship strong enough that the last words of Caesar are to help his friend? The secret died with Caesar, and we shall never know.
Another character touched by the great Julius Caesar is Mark Antony, the man who becomes a triumvir of Rome after the fall of Caesar. Mark Antony claims to have also been a great friend of Caesar, and others around him seem to agree. Antony is educated, well spoken, and he is allowed to speak at Caesar’s funeral. At one point, Brutus calls Antony, “but a limb of Caesar,” (2.1), acknowledging that they share a powerful friendship. Later, when Caesar and Calpurnia argue about Caesar going to Senate, Calpurnia announces, “We’ll send Mark Antony to the Senate house,” (2.2). Although it is not Antony speaking, we sense that Antony would be willing to help Caesar, even mask the fact that he is staying home to avoid the conspirators. Unlike Brutus, Antony has nothing to do with those who would hurt Caesar until after Caesar is dead and he has no choice but to cooperate.
Almost directly after Caesar is killed, a servant of Antony arrives at the scene to pass on a message to the conspirators. The servant declares that Antony will side with the conspirators, not against them. Antony is not doing this because he believes they are right, but because he does not have much choice. Antony had no part in the killing, but chose to side with the power afterwards, in hopes of staying safe. Antony’s servant, speaking as Antony, says,
“Caesar was mighty, bold, royal, and loving...
I feared Caesar, honoured him and loved him” (3.1).
Antony was a friend to Caesar, one who acknowledged his great power and pull with people, but who also loved him and did not believe he was overly ambitious.
Later, when Antony arrives and speaks with the conspirators, he attempts to make peace with them, shaking their hands and making up with them because he believed they had honorable intentions. He praises Caesar and begs him to, “Pardon me,” (3.1) for siding with those who killed him. As he speaks, he calls the conspirators friends, yet is deeply moved by the loss of Caesar, who he calls Julius. During the conversation, Brutus refers to Antony as “son of Caesar,” (3.1), again showing that Antony had a tangible attachment to Caesar.
At Caesar’s funeral, Antony is clear and concise, speaking of the friendship he and Caesar shared, and the good man that Caesar was. At one moment, Mark Antony is so emotional that he asks the crowd for a moment, saying,
“Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.” (3.2)
Antony speaks of both Brutus and Caesar and good people, yet the crowd is impassioned by his speaking of Caesar. “He was my friend, faithful and just to me,” (3.2). Obviously, Antony cared deeply about Caesar, and remembers him as a good man and a strong leader, without the ambition to take the crown.
Both Brutus and Antony were fortunate to be friends with the great Julius Caesar. Both were influenced by his loyalty and honesty. While Brutus had the more passionate friendship, Antony seems to have been the better friend in the long run, sticking with Caesar until the very end, never doing him wrong. Brutus and Caesar loved each other dearly, yet Brutus chose his country over his best friend, a choice Antony never had to make. While Brutus’ choice eventually killed him, he was committed in the moment when his sword stabbed Julius Caesar, one who trusted him. Brutus may have made the noble choice, not putting his friendship before his country, but his national leanings caused him to shatter the greatest friendship he ever had. While Mark Antony was not as deeply attached and emotionally bonded to Caesar, he was a true friend, staying away from the conspirators and convincing the common people that Caesar was, and always will be, a hero. Each man was a friend to Caesar, but Brutus cowardly allowed others to cloud that friendship. As Julius Caesar says,
“Cowards die many times before their deaths,
The valiant never taste of death but once." (2.2)
Mark Antony was valiant, and will surely die only once, yet Brutus died twice, once with Caesar, and again when he could not bear the haunting of his own actions. Passionate friendship is the most powerful, yet in the end, it is loyalty that really matters.