Shakespeare true to his style employs the concept of hubris ( tragic flaw ) in the portrayal of his principal characters in 'Julius Caesar'. Hubris (A Greek word) refers to insolent pride and a sense of security. If Shakespeare wanted to portray the tragic downfall of important characters, by exposing the tragic flaw within their characters. Both Caesar and Brutus suffer from the same tragic flaws in their characters, both of them are filled with overconfidence and a sense of security that leads to their undoing! The greater the fall, the greater was the tragedy, take for example Mark Antony addressing the dead body of Caesar and expressing his sadness on seeing such a grand and powerful man brought low in death!
In Act II, Scene II, Calpurnia pleads with Caesar, begging him not to step out of the house because she believes that the dream she saw the previous night was an indication of the great harm that is going to fall on to Caesar. Calpurnia says to her husband, ‘You shall not stir out of your house today.’ To which Caesar replies, ‘Caesar shall forth; the things that threaten’d me na’er look’d but on my back; when they shall see the face of Caesar, they are vanished.’ So confident, Caesar is of his invulnerability that it takes all the pleading of his wife to stop him, that is until the coming of Decius Brutus! Another speech that brings out the tragic flaw of false pride in Caesar’s character reads, ‘The gods do this in shame of cowardice; Caesar should be a beast without a heart if he should stay at home today for fear. No Caesar shall not; Danger knows full well that Caesar is more dangerous than he.’ These utterances suggest that Caesar is too confident of himself, perhaps, bordering on arrogance towards - even the ‘gods’! The personification of ‘Danger’ is intended to to complement the brave and mighty Caesar, both companions, who share the same courage, ferocity, and terribleness! Unfortunately, it was this false confidence that led Caesar to accept the company of the conspirators that fatal day leading to his death by the foot of the statue of Pompey, an ironical statement about the manner of Caesar’s death (he had defeated Pompey and his men and yet was stabbed by the foot of his enemy’s statue). Caesar’s arrogance is brought also, when he refers to the members of the senate as ‘Greybeards’!
Calpurnia is quite aware about the flaws in her husband’s character, and she very clearly states, ‘Your wisdom is consum’d in confidence’ and it takes her strong powers of persuasion and a readiness to ‘upon my knee, prevail in this.’ She would surely have managed to save Caesar if it had not been for the visit by Decius Brutus. Decius Brutus had been specifically been sent by the conspirators to draw Caesar out of his home so that he could be stabbed outside. Decius Brutus was a very shrewd and wily person who knew about the weaknesses in Caesar’s character and it is these weaknesses that he that he attacks when told by Caesar that he will not step out doors. In Act II, Scene II, Decius re-interprets Calpurnia’s dream suggesting that the blood spouting from his statue signified the ‘reviving’ which would take place during his reign in Rome. During his reign, Rome would regain its lost glory, and the people of Rome would so love and respect Caesar that they would ‘press for tinctures, stains, relics’ that they could preserve and show to others with great pride as trophies of great value! As if this is not enough, Decius Brutus ups the ante by further informing Caesar that the ‘Senate have concluded to give this day a crown to mighty Caesar. If you shall send them word you will not come, their minds may change’. How can Caesar resist so tempting an offer? Moreover to make Caesar let down his defences, his alertness and wariness, Decius Brutus keeps stoking his ego and false pride by constantly addressing him as, ‘mighty Caesar’. How ironical Caesar's statement to his wife is after talking to Decius, ‘How foolish do your fears seem now, Calpurnia! I am ashamed I did yield to them.’ Unfortunately, he should have listened to his wife than to Decius who was so flattering and fawning!
If Caesar is so confident of himself, he is too trusting towards others. Doesn’t this readiness to trust anyone and everyone in Rome, even those who might bear a grudge against him for banishing their kin border on naiveté and perhaps gullibility? And thus, with the words, ‘Good friends, go in, and taste some wine with me, and we, like friends, will straightway go together.’ he first welcomes the conspirators home and then they step out of Caesar’s home on to the irrevocable act that will change the politics of Rome forever. Gullibility and naiveté in Caesar is noticed by Brutus who in an aside remarks at the end of Act II Scene II, ‘That every like is not the same, O Caesar, the heart of Brutus earns to think upon!’ Not everyone is a friend, when you are Caesar, you cannot afford to feel secure, nor can you trust everyone. Caesar was led to his death by his vanity, false pride, Hubris, and his readiness to trust others!
But then Caesar was not the only one who suffered from Hubris other tragic flaws. Brutus committed a few very serious mistakes after killing Caesar. This first perhaps was that he should have killed Mark Antony immediately, if not, thrown him into prison.He was, like Caesar overconfident of his skills as an orator, so much so that he allowed Mark Antony to speak in the Order of the Funeral of Caesar, and what makes this even worse was that he didn’t even stay back to listen to Mark Antony deliver his speech before the common people of Rome! Brutus moreover trusted Cassius too much, he thought that Cassius and the others had espoused the lofty ideas of Freedom, Liberty, and Enfranchisement in the truest sense, but then this was not so. When confronted by Antony in Act III, Scene I after the assassination of Caesar, Brutus says to him, ‘O Antony! Beg not your death of us…our hearts of brothers’ temper, do receive you in with all kind love, good thoughts, and reverences.’ What is surprising is how can someone expect to be friends with the closest friend of the person one has just assassinated? This naiveté bordering on a rather innocent form of gullibility suggests a high degree of impracticality, wistfulness, fuelled by the dreaminess of a person who dwells too much in Philosophy and Poetry perhaps? Cassius, on the other hand was the more practical of the two, and sure, he was grounded in reality unlike Brutus!
Later, when Brutus gives Antony to speak in the order of the funeral for Caesar, Cassuis warns him with the following words, ‘You know not what you do.Do not consent that Antony speak in his funeral. Know you how much the people may be mov’d by that which he will utter?’ – Act III Scene I Brutus brushes his fellow conspirator’s advice rather too lightly when he tells him that he will step to the pulpit first and profess to the gathered people that Antony has taken permission from them to speak! Brutus then turns to Antony and makes him promise, not to speak ill of them, and to inform the gathered people that he has taken permission from them.Things turn out not as planned by Brutus and his friends when Antony manages to turn the tide against the Conspirators with the help of a tactfully delivered speech where he is careful not to speak directly against the conspirators, whom he calls ‘honourable’ men!
Shakespeare brings about the sense of disillusionment that engulfs Brutus when there is a falling apart between Cassius and him in Act IV, Scene III. The scene starts with Cassius blaming Brutus, ‘That you have wronged me doth appear in this: you have condemn’d and noted Lucius Pella for taking bribes here of the Sardians’.Brutus reminds Cassius of the high ideals (he feels) for which they killed Caesar and how these had been betrayed by ‘one of us…for supporting robbers, shall we now contaminate our fingers with base bribes? And sell the mighty space of our large honors for so much trash’? But then, Brutus had not really understood what the true motive of the conspirators led by Cassius had been when they contacted him and convinced him to join them against Caesar, this was the tragic flaw in Brutus. Like the half brother he had in Caesar, Brutus too was full of tragic flaws that led to his ultimate demise! He was proud about his skills as an orator, he was confident that he had planned for any eventualities that might disrupt the Coup including rogue elements like Antony, and Caesar, Brutus had been too trusting of Cassius and the conspirators.
Two people, two principal characters, one a legitimate offspring while the other an illegitimate half brother, but then how much more similar they were to the other, they shared the same tragic flaws in their character which were, ultimately responsible for the kind of deaths they received!