Critical Analysis of Mark Antony’s Funeral Speech
Of all Shakespeare’s works , Julius Caesar is a play that hinges upon rhetoric – both as the art of persuasion and an artifice used to veil intent. The most striking of Shakespeare is his command of language. In Mark Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar, we have not only one of Shakespeare’s most recognizable opening lines but one of his finest examples of rhetorical irony at work. The speech could serve as a thematic synopsis to Julius Caesar. One of the most important and significant parts in the play is the funeral speech given by both Brutus and Mark Antony.
At first, the funeral speeches seem to have no true significant meaning. However in further investigation it is established that the speeches ultimately serve as the basis for the final outcome of the play. By exploring the speeches of both Brutus and Mark Antony we are able to focus on the important details which alter one from the other. Through this analysis we are also able to realize why Brutus’s speech becomes one of his justifications and explanations, while Antony’s becomes one of manipulation and skill.
It is known that both Brutus and Antony desired to appeal to the common people.
However, the way in which each man went about it differs drastically. Not only did it influence the outcome of the play, but each speech also offers a unique insight on each of the speakers. Brutus’s speech Brutus’s speech becomes one of acquittal, not only for the people of Rome, but for Brutus himself. He uses his “honor and nobility” as a shield to defend and justify his actions to the crowd. Brutus states that he has carried out this horrendous act because of his love for Rome, and for the good of the people.
“This is my answer, not that I have loved Caesar less, but that I love Rome more… (3. 2. 21-22). In his speech he requests that the people use their “reason” to judge him. Although this seduces the crowd, it is not until after one of the common people cry “Let him be Caesar. ” (3. 2. 51) that it is realized the speech is “merely too good for them. ” Brutus begins to realize that liberty is not what the people wanted, but rather that they desire a powerful leader. Although his speech serves the purpose for its practical effectiveness, Brutus later comes to discover that his lack of insight of human nature aided in the apparent hopelessness of his cause.
In comparison Mark Antony fully understands human nature and uses his awareness of it in his speech. Antony appeals to the passion and the grief of the people. What Brutus failed to recognize in the people, Antony used to his best interest. He realized that the people of Rome were completely incapable of acting with “reason” and he employed this inability to manipulate and control their emotions and actions. By using Brutus’ own explanations for Caesar’s death to begin his speech, Antony proves his validity to the crowd.
By questioning Caesar’s ambition, yet never actually humiliating the conspirators; He succeeds in purposely leading the crowd away from any rational defense provided by Brutus. Antony uses his own grief along with a series of lies to remove the sympathy of the people. Through his powerful and honest speech he is able to cast a shadow of doubt into the minds of the people, and the crowd begins to gaze at the true motive behind Caesar’s murder. Antony understands the needs and wants of the people and uses this to prey upon their emotions and passions.
He dangles Caesar’s Will in front of the people and then quickly puts it away again, knowing that the crowd will demand that it be read. Antony also recalls memories of the cloak Caesar now wears, while revealing his bloodied body, fully aware of the havoc it will reek, but unrelenting in his quest for revenge. Antony’s Speech Antony’s performance on the bully pulpit came as no surprise. To be sure, Antony does not have it easy. He is already a man distrusted by the conspirators for his friendship with Caesar.
Brutus lets him speak at Caesar’s funeral, but only after Brutus,a great orator in his own right, has spoken first to “show the reason of our Caesar’s death”. Burtus makes it very clear that Antony may speak whatever good he wishes of Caesar so long as he speaks no ill of the conspirators. Obviously Antony has two advantages over Burtus: his subterfuge and his chance to have the last word. It is safe to say that Antony makes the most of his opportunity. He even mocks the senators and merely sets the table for dissent. He progressively hits upon the notes of ambition and honourable in a cadence that soon calls both terms into question.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears; From a rhythmic perspective, the trochaic feel of this opening immediately commands attention. The succession of hard stresses is also Shakespeare’s way of using the verse to help Antony cut through the din of the crowd. Antonoy also echoes the opening line that Brutus uses [“Romans, countrymen and lovers”],but conspicuously rearranges it; where Brutus begins with “Romans” to reflect his appeal to their reason, Antony begins with “friends”, which reflects the more emotional tact he will take throughout the rest of his speech.
Remember also that Antony has entered the Forum with Caesar’s body in tow and will use corpse as a prop throughout his oration. Antony follows with a line of straight iambic pentameter punctuated with a feminine ending [ “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him]. Here is the first irony of Antony’s speech, in that he is unequivocally here to praise Caesar. Antony is, in fact, lying. Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral,Antony returns to the actual predicate of his statement with innocuous metrical regularity. The line is all but a throway; Antony doesn’t want the crowd dwelling on the idea that he is speaking here by permission.
The preceding parenthetical insertion of Brutus and the rest being “honourable men” displace his emphasis and lessens the impression that Brutus holds sway over him. In doing so, Antony effectively obeys the letter of his agreement without yielding to its spirit. But Brutus says he was ambitious; Antony contrasts his experience with what Brutus has said. The obvious implication is that Brutus and Antony have different views of Caesar. The more subtle implication is that since both men have claimed him as their friend, they have equal authority to speak on the subject of Caesar’s disposition.
Antony, however, has the advantage of not needing to justify his actions. Instead, Antony can focus on sawing the limb out from under Brutus’s argument. And Brutus is an honourable man. At this point, Antony is still ostensibly speaking well of Brutus—at least to the crowd. A plebian might think that at worst, perhaps, either Antony or Brutus has made an honest mistake in his judgment of Caesar. On the other hand, the words says, ambitious, and honourable are becoming impossible to miss. Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; This is the third time in this speech that Antony utters this refrain.
Every time he says this, it draws Brutus in an increasingly harsher light. The recurring repetition amplifies the question in the mind of the audience, There is a rather obscure rhetorical term for this technique; it’s known as repotia, which describes using the same phrase with minor variations in tone, diction, or style. My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, The regular iambic rhythm of the line and the feminine ending both help soften this line’s tone, which contrasts the high fervor of “O judgment! ” It’s a simple metaphor that holds up well four centuries later.
To Antony’s credit, the sentiment is grounded in his love for Caesar; it’s also quite telling of the character that he’s able to use this emotion in such a cynical enterprise. Throughout his speech Antony calls the conspirators honorable men. He then says, “You [the crowd] all did love him once, not without cause. What cause withholds you then to mourn for him? ” This question goes against Brutus by questioning his speech when he betrayed Caesar. Now the crowd is starting to turn against the conspirators and follow Antony.
Even though in his speech Antony never directly calls the conspirators traitors, he is able to call them “honourable” in a sarcastic manner that the crowd is able to understand. He starts out by citing that Caesar had thrice refused the crown, which refutes the conspirators’ main cause for killing Caesar. He reminds them of Caesar’s kindness and love for all, humanizing Caesar as innocent. Next he teases them with the will until they demand he read it, and he reveals Caesar’s ‘gift’ to the citizens. Finally, Mark Antony leaves them with the question, was there ever a greater one than Caesar? which infuriates the crowd. He then turns and weeps.
Antony then teases the crowd with Caesar’s will, which they beg him to read, but he refuses. Antony tells the crowd to “have patience” and expresses his feeling that he will “wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar” if he is to read the will. The crowd yells out “they were traitors” and have at this time completely turned against the conspirators and are inflamed about Caesar’s death. Antony uses the “Ceremonial” mode of persuasion in order to convince his audience that Caesar is not worthy of honor and praise.
Antony must use “pathos” in order to appeal to the emotion of the audience. He must understand the disposition of the audience in order to successfully persuade his audience that Caesar truly was an ambitious man. “… Bear with me; / my heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, / And I must pause till it come back to me. ” (JC III ii 47) Marc Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral was so cunning and powerful that it caused the crowd’s loyalties to sway. Prior to Marc Antony’s oration the crowd favored Brutus and the conspirators.
However, Marc Antony’s compelling discourse caused the plebeians to support him, and not Brutus. Marc Antony used three literary devices during his funeral oration, rhetorical question, sarcasm, and repetition, to successfully persuade the crowd. Although the crowd was supportive of the conspirators after Brutus’s speech, Marc Antony’s use of sarcasm in his funeral oration caused them to rethink who they should support. Conclusion Although both of Caesar’s funeral speeches seem to serve the basic purpose of appealing to the people, their dissimilarity serves as a great significance.
Brutus’ speech, which appeared to be, honest becomes a speech of symmetrical structure, balanced sentences, ordered procedure, rhetorical questions and abstract subject matter, and ultimately became a speech of utter dishonesty. This along with Brutus’ lack of human insight aided in his inevitable downfall. Mark Antony’s speech on the other hand, for all its playing on passions and all its lies, proved to be at the bottom a truly honest speech because of Antony’s unconditional love for Caesar. To that extent Antony had truth on his side, making him concrete and real rather then abstract, and with this aided in his successful victory.
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