Philosophy in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a play containing many characters of many different personality types. Brutus and Cassius, considerably the two main characters of the play, are very different in their personalities, as well as the philosophies they claim to follow. These two characters can be shown to practice the philosophies of Stoicism and Epicureanism to an extent, and it can be shown that in the end their beliefs in these philosophies fail and result in their suicides.

Throughout this play Brutus can be considered to be a stoic, as despite things in the play that would bother anyone else arise, he shows no reaction, the main instance of this being when Portia kills herself. Stoicism is the belief in hiding one’s negative destructive emotions. It is believed that only the most honourable men of men can contain these emotions, and it is weak and unfit for one to let these emotions control them. This can be most prominently shown when Portia’s death is announced, as Brutus shows almost no emotion towards it.

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He says, “Speak no more of her. – Give me a bowl of wine. –/ In this I bury all unkindness, Cassius. ” (4. 3. 163-164), basically brushing off the fact that his wife has just killed herself, and asks for some wine to enjoy. The audience learns that Brutus has known about Portia’s death for a decent amount of time, in fact, and simply has not said anything because his philosophy is simply not to show that he cares. Furthermore, Cassius says to Brutus, “I have as much of this in art as you, /But yet my nature could not bear it so. ” (4. 3. 200-201).

This is Cassius after he claims that he has converted to stoicism, saying that although he now believes in it and claims to follow it, even he would not be able to bear such news as well as Brutus does. This statement by Cassius, along with the fact that Brutus simply ignores his wife’s suicide, are proofs that Brutus does in fact follow this belief very strongly throughout the play. Cassius can be considered to be a follower of another philosophy, Epicureanism, throughout this play, the main proof being that he is perfectly fine with killing Caesar.

The epicureans believed that pleasure is the greatest good of all, and Cassius’ drive to kill Caesar can be argued to be a pleasure for Cassius. Brutus wanted to kill Caesar for an honourable reason; the good of Rome. Even all the other conspirators needed some convincing, as the murder of a man is considered a horrible act. Cassius, on the other hand, does not consider it to be so bad. He wants to kill Caesar for selfish reasons.

This is epicurean because the death of Caesar will result in Cassius losing an enemy, as well as a possibility of gaining more power political power in the long run due to the death of a tyrant. The pleasures within this possibility and the pleasure of killing someone that he does not like are the driving force of him wanting murder. Brutus, along with many other of the conspirators, is only fine with killing another man because it is for the good for Rome, but for Cassius the only reason he needs is for his own pleasure and selfish gain.

Later on in the play Cassius claims to switch philosophies, but there are no real proofs of this. He claims it to have done so in Act 4 Scene 3 when he is talking to Brutus in the tent, and furthermore when he is talking to Messala, when he states that he used to believe in Epicureanism but has changed, “You know that I held Epicurus strong/ And his opinion. Now I change my mind,’’ (5. 1. 78-79). Despite these claims of a switch, he shows no proof of being a Stoic, and is better understood to be a true believer in Epicureanism.

This simple ideology that the murder of Caesar is perfectly okay with Cassius simply because it will please him is the strongest example in the play proving that Cassius truly is an epicurean to the fullest extent. These two characters, despite their philosophies being strong throughout the play, end up pushing their beliefs to their limits, ultimately resulting in their suicides. Both of these characters end up killing themselves separately, for separate reasons. After the battle in which Cassius’ army loses, Cassius sends his friend off to what he believes is his demise.

Cassius believes that he has resulted in his friends capture, and this sends him over the edge. Despite his belief in pleasure and happiness being the greatest good, and despite him claiming to convert to stoicism later on in the play, he is unable to bear this fact and commits suicide. Clearly pleasure is not the greatest good for him now, as the idea of suicide clearly is not pleasing, yet he does it anyways because he feels remorse for his friend. He was able to promote the idea of Epicureanism throughout the play, but this was the last thing he could handle before this belief was pushed over the edge, he napped, and killed himself. Brutus is at fault for the same thing, he could be proven to be a model stoic throughout the play, yet in the end this philosophy fails him and could be considered to result in his demise. Stoics bottle up their emotions and Brutus is a perfect example for how this can backfire. It seems that once Brutus’ army lost the battle, he lost control. All the things he had bottled up inside all his life, adding with this final loss, he finally snapped and did the most anti-stoic thing imaginable. He let his emotions take over, and killed himself.

It can be shown not only that these two men’s philosophies failed them in the end as a result of them wanting suicide, but it can also be shown that these beliefs may have in turn caused the suicides. The personalities of Brutus and Cassius are very prominent in this play, and the two are shown to be very different. It can in turn be shown that although Brutus shows stoicism and Cassius shows Epicureanism, they push their philosophies to their limits, and not only do their philosophies fail them in the end, but they can be shown to have had an effect on their decisions of suicide.

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Philosophy in Shakespear’s Julius Caesar. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from