Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Serious, Calm, Rational, Earnest
Though the play opens with a little joke, the subject matter of the play remains serious throughout. The characters are never indulgent about their own gain. Rather, they speak constantly in the lofty terms of what's best for Rome. All decisions are thought of calmly, executed calmly, and the consequences are faced with calm nobility that can at times be unnerving. (Like when Brutus calmly makes battle plans even though his wife has just died. He doesn't do this because he doesn't love her, but because he's bearing his burden as a stoic Roman.) Even though the characters don't give the passionate, melodramatic speeches that are the staples of other plays, their calmness translates into an air of dignified nobility, which seeps into the play and makes the characters, if not likable, then at least admirable folks.