This is a soliloquy, designed to reveal Brutus’ thinking and feelings, and also to give the audience a chance to judge his motives. By delaying the action of the play, it increases suspense as the audience enter the mind of a killer and his plotting. Throughout his speech, rhythm, rhyme, repetition and imagery are used to reveal Brutus’ need to justify himself. The whole speech is in iambic pentameter. Iambs occur when, of two syllables, only the second is stressed. Here, “death” is most stressed, followed by “must”.
Must” and “death” contain hard-hitting consonants (“t” and “d”) and the combination, along with “must”, sounds threatening, intent and violent. This rhythmic effect in the first clause sounds determined and final – so why does Brutus run on? The colon before “and, for my part” suggests that he feels he needs an explanation for this decision, one that he can justify in “general” terms (meaning for the general good of the people), if not on a “personal” level, why he is, quite definitely, going to kill Caesar.
The iambic rhythm set up so far is interrupted by lines 2 and 3, with “personal” and “general” going from one stressed followed by two unstressed, creating a trickling sound, and supporting a very thoughtful tone. One can feel that Brutus is just trying to persuade himself that killing Caesar will look like the right thing to do, once he can find a story to justify it. It’s not a vicious tone of a murderer – and that makes it all the more chilling, as we feel that Caesar’s life is being weighed in this man’s hands. The repeated last syllable is situated in the same place in both lines, creating rhyme.
At first, it seems that Brutus values the “personal” friendship with, and knowledge of, Caesar above the “general” – but as he continues, the echo of these two rhyming words is in conflict. The bulk of this speech is spent talking in general terms, never really directing his speech at Caesar at all except to talk of his being crowned and killing him. This explaining of Caesar’s life would create sympathy for him in the audience, and without this justification Brutus would be simply a base murderer. The poetry of line 5 is typical of Brutus.
He mixes beauty with an argument for murder – and for a short time, the extraordinary truth about adders in the summer, hidden dangers becoming clear when the grass is mown and the sun is high, might make the audience believe that Caesar is like an adder. This is the longest line so far, free of pauses, reasoning and worry. But the poetry whips up Brutus’ own fears. The words “bright” and “brings” and the interruption of the iambic skip, with “bright day” and “bring forth” both being stressed, creates the effect almost of a drum-roll, erasing any doubt in Brutus’ mind that the adder, in the shape of an Imperial Caesar, is not far away.
Through lines 6 – 12 Brutus is again trying to justify killing Caesar. He dehumanises Caesar firstly as an “adder” and then later as a “serpents egg” which isn’t so different from the disjoining of remorse from power that Brutus suspects Caesar to be potentially capable of. Although Brutus is trying to persuade himself that this is a political assassination for the good of Rome and the Republic, it’s easy to notice Brutus is slightly jealous that his old friend, once an equal, is now a god among men. Therefore this is an insight into the possibility that the murder was also personal.
These lines are also a period where he is deciding whether or not to kill Caesar. In line 6 he says “Crown him! – that! ” hitting an emotional peak after which he calms himself down speaking in a much lower, less erratic tone. The word “But” on line 12 is a major turning point in the text. This is where the whole of Brutus’s argument lies on common belief not proof. Once again to persuade himself killing Caesar is the right thing to do, he uses a weak argument that says Caesar is using people to get to the top of the political ladder and when he reaches the top will turn his back on everyone who helped him get there.
The weakness of this argument is that there are no signs of him ever being evil to his friends before. Brutus describes it as a general model of the “common proof” that all men grow greedy with power, which if true would justify killing Caesar while he was in his “shell” before he could “hatch” Throughout the soliloquy Brutus appears to be contradicting himself and making remarks that he isn’t entirely confident about. To me this shows that Brutus had quite a weak personality and was probably a man under great pressure.
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