A.C. Bradley writes in his classic Shakespearean Tragedy, “It is certainly true that Hamlet, in spite of some appearances to the contrary, was of a most moral nature, and had a great anxiety to do right.” This anxiety to do right is shared by the character of Brutus, and for that reason I wish to compare these two characters side by side.
Hamlet is told by his father’s ghost to avenge his death:
“If thou didst ever thy dear father love—
Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.”
After the ghost departs, Hamlet offers some strong words about his strong commitment to keeping the ghost’s commands:
“And thy commandment all alone shall live within the book and volume of my brain, unmixed with baser matter…now to my word…I have sworn it.”
Hamlet has just sworn allegiance to his father’s spirit, and then later his resolve comes into question in the praying scene when he has a chance to kill the king but doesn’t. The reason he gives for not offing the King right then and there is that his father was killed:
“With all his crimes broad blown, as flush as May.”
He further reasons:
“And am I then revenged, to take him in the purging of his soul, when he is fit and seasoned for his passage?”
This shows that Hamlet has matured from his philosophy of merely killing the King to getting some real justice for his beloved father by sending the soul of Claudius to hell. This awareness of the justice game here involved shows how far the love for Hamlet’s father truly reaches. The delay in action here further shows Hamlet’s uneasiness with killing the King as he wants to make sure he does it perfectly right to appease his father’s ghost.
In Act two of Julius Caesar, Brutus contemplates in a brilliant soliloquy his uneasiness with the title character’s progression of power:
“It must be by his death, and for my part I know no personal cause to spurn at him, but for the general…but ’tis a common proof that lowliness is young ambitions ladder.”
Half of Brutus thinks there is no reason to be wary of Caesar and the other half is obsessed with prevention:
“And therefore think him as a serpent’s egg which, hatched, would, as his kind grow mischievous, and kill him in the shell.”
His anxiety to make the right decision is based on doing what he feels is best for the people. Where Brutus’ allegiance is for the people; Hamlet’s is to his father. Both characters are very sincere in their devotion to their respective object of loyalty. Brutus states that he would die for his people:
“I have the same dagger for myself, when it shall please my country to need my death.”
Hamlet is willing to put his life on the line as well in order to accomplish his objective. This non-fear of death in both of them as well as their constancy to their purpose shows their high level of nobleness.
In conclusion both characters are given moving eulogies:
“Let four captains bear Hamlet like a soldier to a stage, for he was likely had he been put on, to have proved most royal.”
“This was the noblest Roman of them all: All the conspirators save only he did that they did in envy of great Caesar; he only, in a general honest thought and common good to all, made one of them, his life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world ‘This was a Man!'”