Mark Antony


William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar- Mark Antony’s Speech

The story of the death of Julius Caesar is told in William Shakespeare’s drama, Julius Caesar.  Through malicious plotting, strategy, and deception, conspirators Brutus, Cassius, and others succeed in murdering Caesar out of fear that he will be made king of Rome.  “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more,” states Brutus to the Roman citizens in defense for his rising up against Caesar.  In his funeral oration Brutus calls Caesar an “ambitious” man who was power hungry for the throne.  The Romans believe him, and approve of Caesar’s murder until Mark Antony, military figure and friend of Caesar, takes over to speak.

Mark Antony’s funeral oration is a classic work of rhetoric studied and memorized by high school and college scholars everywhere.  It is persuasion so effective that it converts both the fictive and real audiences’ attitude from one side to the exact opposite. 

The rhetorical situation that surrounds Antony’s speech is that Caesar has just been murdered, and his murderers are about to get away with it.  The Romans are about to accept this injustice as a service to the people.  Here the exigence is the fact that the Romans are deceived by Brutus and Cassius; they do not see Caesar’s murder for what it was- an act of treason. The situation demands input from the only man who can unveil the truth of the crime.

The constraints Antony faces are the Roman’s support of the murder following Brutus’ speech, the danger of outwardly incriminating Brutus and Cassius, and the wide held opinion of Caesar as an ambitious man.

To successfully sway the crowd’s opinion, Antony eludes the risk of outwardly denouncing Brutus by repeating the phrase, “he is an honourable man.”  Brutus himself said he is honourable.  Antony takes his words and turns them against him. At first it seems as if Brutus is honestly saying that Brutus is honourable.  As he goes on with the oration, the repeated phrase, “he is an honourable man” does not feel true in the heart of the listener anymore.  Antony says it straightforwardly, but it feels so false that it suggests the complete opposite: Brutus is a dishonourable man.  Antony does not say anything that Brutus can use against him, but the audience knows what he is really trying to say.

Discrediting Brutus’ honor, Antony kills two birds with one stone and exposes Brutus as a liar.  Brutus’ description of Caesar as an ambitious man cannot be trusted since Brutus is dishonourable.  The fact that Caesar gives to the people in his will further counters the idea of Caesar as an ambitious man.

The reading of the will is a notable technique of persuasion that Antony uses to stir mutiny in the crowd.  He builds up anticipation by stalling the reading of the will repeatedly and tantalizing the crowd to the point that they are basically begging for him to read it.  Reading it finally is the nail in the coffin, for it displays Caesars gracious generosity and forces the Romans to realize that their hero has been stolen from them.

Antony demonstrates great ethos that Shakespeare does not fail to show in individual statements made by certain Roman citizens. “There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony,” says one.  “We’ll hear him, we’ll follow him, we’ll die with him,” says another.  Commentary by the audience further demonstrates the logos of Antony’s speech: “Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.”  The mutiny aroused in the audience at the end is a testament to the pathos dimension of the speech.

It seems as if any mob of concerned citizens is a rhetorical audience.  In this case the mob mentality is a single unit; almost every man shares the same attitude towards Caesar’s death.  That attitude is instilled at first in support of Brutus as one unit, then sways towards Antony as one unit as well.  The crowd digests and interprets both Brutus’ and Antony’s speeches, then acts upon the emotion evoked in them by the rhetor.  From approving to disapproving the crowd’s change in attitude leads to mass riot and mutiny, as well as Brutus’ and Cassius’ death.


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