William Shakespeare’s famous play Julius Caesar written in 1608 is here compared with Crime and Punishment written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1866. Whereby the two authors lived in completely different times, both texts had similarly established their storylines around protagonists who committed crimes based on theories they believed in. For example, Brutus from Julius Caesar commits murder because of his patriotism; while Raskolnikov commits murder with his belief in the ï¿½bermensch theory.
This similarity has then brought further realization of similar depiction of protagonists between the authors. Such similarities are prevalent by the manner the protagonists conceal their emotions from interfering with their paths to greatness. This ultimately leads to each protagonist’s act of digging their own hole, whereby they alienate themselves from those they love. Hence this allowed for the ambiguous response from the audience, as we are shaped into the capability of hating and loving the protagonist from both texts. Thus, though these internationally-acclaimed texts were written by authors of different eras, a similarity exists in the fashion they have portrayed their protagonists.
Primarily, both protagonists suppress their love for others in their search for greatness. The protagonist of Julius Caesar, Brutus, describes his suppression to his friends, “not that I loved Caesar less…as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love.” (Shakespeare, 3.2.26-27) The first sentence of this quote affirms the protagonist’s inevitable love for his friend Caesar, whom Brutus paradoxically ends up murdering after emotional debates. Shakespeare has interestingly employed paradox in this quote to further corroborate Brutus’s dominant characteristic of nobleness, when Brutus declares his true patriotic motives in murdering Caesar. “Tears” in the last sentence conveyed a sorrowful and regretful tone. This suggests Brutus’s inner conflict, which is his attempt to suppress his affection toward his friend in order to kill Caesar. The protagonist of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, also strives to suppress his compassion.
Raskolnikov questions himself after helping a drunken girl, “Is it for me to do that? And how could I ever have gone and given away those twenty copecks?” (Dostoyevksy, 62) This quote demonstrates a sudden shift of mood, as Raskolnikov just shows his angelic side by helping others and now his demonic side takes over. These actions reflect the motif of dual personalities. The above three elements illustrate Raskolnikov’s inner turmoil in suppressing his angelic side. Thus it is ironic that he exclaims he shouldn’t have given away money, yet later gives money to Sonya’s family. Raskolnikov’s failure in suppression foreshadows his failure as a superhuman.
Although both protagonists share the characteristic of suppressing their love for others, they suffer different consequences. In Julius Caesar, Brutus’s suppression of love for Caesar isn’t clearly interpreted by Antony, who tells all, “how dearly Caesar lov’d him (Brutus)! This was the most unkindest cut of all…Then…all of us fell down.” (Shakespeare, 3.2.180, 181, 189) Antony’s such realization reveals his shrewdness and true, open love to Caesar, in contrast to his foil, Brutus’s, suppressed love. Ironically, Antony’s manifestation of his love for Caesar foreshadows Brutus’s tragic downfall. Through this, Shakespeare is able to criticize the suppression of emotions. In Crime and Punishment, the protagonist Raskolnikov has a better fate than Brutus. He confesses his crime to Sonya, who “he had sought a human being, when he needed one.” (Dostoyevsky, 621) This quote reveals the theme of common suffering and understanding.
Raskolnikov’s suppression of compassion has resulted in his physical and psychological suffering. As Sonya is also subject to poverty, Raskolnikov knows she may understand his torment and help him find salvation. In both texts, the authors depicted how protagonists are forced to suppress emotions for others despite the differences in the consequences of their actions. There’s no permission or prohibition involved (for the extraordinary people).” he (the ordinary person) will suffer when he realizes the error of his ways…
Secondly, the protagonists both choose to abandon their families and isolate themselves. In Julius Caesar, Portia questions Brutus’s behaviour, “And when I ask’d you what the matter was, / You star’d upon me with ungentle looks. / Yet I insisted, yet you answer’d me not.” (Shakespeare, 2.1. 241, 245) Through this quote, readers are introduced to the protagonist’s alienation of wife Portia due to his patriotism. Brutus’s insistent isolation denies the motif of emotional weakness, which is possessed by his foil Caesar when Calpurnia persuades him to stay home. The sharp contrast between these characters illustrates Brutus’s honourable and heroic characteristics. The theme of lack of communication proves to be a tragic fallacy for both Brutus and Portia. If they’d openly shared the problem, the tragic downfall of both characters might’ve been avoided. The protagonist of Crime and Punishment, Raskolnikov, tells Sonya (Dostoyevsky, 291) that “[He] deserted [his] family today, so [He] shan’t see them anymore.” This quote highlights the theme of isolation, caused by his belief in the ï¿½bermensch theory.
Raskolnikov chooses to desert his family because of his superhuman pursuit. However, his speech often reflects irony. His deep trustful relationship with Sonya foreshadows his incapability of achieving the superhuman state. Furthermore, Raskolnikov shows strong concern when Svidrigailov, Raskolnikov’s foil and a round antagonist, attempts to harm Dunya, his sister, in Part V of the novel. Contradictory to his words, Raskolnikov reveals the motif of psychological uncertainty, which is closely related to his punishment. In both novels, the protagonists have attempted to isolate themselves from their families to achieve greatness.
However, they regard their family and friends differently. Brutus is accompanied by friends throughout the play. The flat character, Lucilius, aids with Brutus’s escape by impersonating him (Shakespeare, 5.4.7-8). This loyalty affirms Brutus’s well association with his friends and reveals Brutus’s nobleness in the eyes of his countrymen. On the other hand, Raskolnikov takes the isolation to a higher level by deserting his friends. He tells Razumikhin, “I don’t need…anyone…I’ll manage by myself…on my own…” (Dostoyevsky, 136) The use of ellipsis again depicts the motif of psychological uncertainty. Raskolnikov wants to isolate himself, but his stumbling speech portrays his doubts in his ability to alienate himself. Thus, it’s quite ironic that he eventually seeks help from Sonya, for redemption, and Razumikhin, for taking care of his family. Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky illustrate the theme of isolation as one of the major themes in their text which contribute to the protagonists’ tragic downfalls.
Lastly, we find that Shakespeare and Dostoevsky use both good and evil qualities to characterize their protagonists. Through this, they are able to successfully provoke the readers’ empathy despite the characters’ misjudgements. In the final scene of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony makes a concluding remark about Brutus after he has died, “This was the noblest Roman of them all:/[Brutus] only, in a general honest thought/And common good to all, made one of them./’This was a man!” (Shakespeare, 5.5.68-75) Here, Antony demonstrates his admiration and respect for Brutus even though he was part of the conspiracy. The irony is revealed when Antony compliments the murderer of Caesar as “noble” even though he had previously aroused the crowds against Brutus in Act III.
Antony’s shrewdness also reflects the motif of nobleness, demonstrated by Brutus’s patriotic reason in committing the murder. Using iambic pentameter, Antony praises Brutus’s nobility sincerely. His speech reminds the readers of Brutus’ unselfish sacrifice for his country, simultaneously provoking empathy, enabling readers to associate Brutus more as a hero than that of a sinful criminal. Whereas in Crime and Punishment, in Raskolnikov’s confession to Sonya, he says, “I’d started to search my conscience and ask myself whether I had any right to assume power over someone else like that meant that I didn’t have any such right…”(Dostoyevsky, 500) This quote from the climax of the novel reflects a milestone in the plot development. By admitting this mistake, that he had no right to commit the murder, is the protagonist’s first step towards redemption, a major theme of the novel. Also, the novel is written in a third person limited omniscient point of view, thus readers are able to feel Raskolnikov’s sorrow and intense emotions in his confession.
Readers can’t help but sympathize with Raskolnikov and his psychological torment caused by belief in the Ubermensch theory – his tragic fallacy. Although the protagonists in the texts, Brutus and Raskolnikov, are murderers, the reasons behind their crimes are different. Brutus contemplates whether or not to kill Caesar and finally decides, “It must be by his death. And for my part/I know no personal cause to spurn at him/But for the general…” (Shakespeare, 2.1.10-13) This quote again illustrates the motif of nobleness. In this quote, Brutus reveals his patriotic and unselfish reason for murdering Caesar in order to benefit the greater good. Shakespeare skilfully employs iambic pentameters here to reveal Brutus’s nobility and determination in committing such crime. This quote also helps with plot development as it foreshadows Caesar’s death. Raskolnikov on the other hand, also commits murder but he has his own intentions.
Raskolnikov confesses to Sonya, “I didn’t kill in order to help my mother! I didn’t kill in order get money or power and thus be able to become a benefactor of mankind. I simply killed… for no one but myself… what I needed to know…was whether I was a louse or a man.” (Dostoyevsky, 500) This quote signifies Raskolnikov’s motive in committing murder was not based on utilitarianism but personal needs. The anaphora used for rejecting his previous justification of the crime reflects his self-realization. Pride is a motif in the novel. By admitting his misjudgement, Raskolnikov demonstrates his wounded pride. This highlights his psychological growth from the crime. By combining positive and negative characteristics, Shakespeare and Dostoevsky have successfully portrayed the protagonists like real people, possessing flaws and merits.
Thus, in the end, both authors have created protagonists who attempt to achieve greatness – yet face difficulty in terms of overcoming relationships with important characters in their lives. Such difficulty halt their paths to greatness as it forces Brutus to find motivation to kill Caesar; and as it brings Raskolnikov to realize his inability to follow the ï¿½bermensch theory for he’s unable to overcome human compassion.
However, both also fight their battles before realizing they were not meant for greatness; Brutus and Raskolnikov alienate their loved ones, but discover they cannot endure their absence. This portrayal of the protagonists illustrates how though their deeds are evil, they are still human and suffer as humans do thus earning our empathy where it was first nonexistent. In conclusion, therefore, with such similarities present in each protagonist throughout both stories of radically different timeframes, the authors William Shakespeare and Fyodor Dostoyevsky had evidently shared an ability to establish similar yet effectual protagonists; in this case, Shakespeare and Dostoyevsky with their distinctive great minds thought alike indeed.
Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Crime and Punishment. Trans. David McDuff. London: Penguin
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. Ed. Roma Gill. Oxford: Oxford University Press,