Rhetoric in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Throughout various plays and pieces, rhetoric is used to convince characters into dedicating to a considerable action or decision. In William Shakespeare’s plays, rhetoric is used frequently by characters that prepare to encourage others into doing particular actions that satisfy their own individual opinions and requirements. As it can cause numerous dangerous results, the art of persuasion, evoked through uses of rhetoric, can be viewed as a lethal weapon that has the power to cause damage and harm. Likewise, making use of rhetoric likewise has the power to expose facts and identities, that have actually been hidden and concealed and are only able to be discovered through the schematic initiation of persuasion.
To entirely encourage someone else, a character needs to utilize rhetoric to conquer one of three key decision-making factors: Logos, Pathos, and Ethos. In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, appeals to Logos, Pathos, and Principles are effectively utilized to reveal character, as seen in Cassius, Antony, and Brutus respectively, throughout the play.
Cassius chooses to persuade different characters through appeals to Logos, which indicates his true qualities and aspects, and how they reflect his motifs. To appeal to Logos, one must appeal to the logical side of a person’s mentality; they must use reasoning and syllogism to persuade another person into believing that their opinion is completely logical, and is therefore the best decision to make. This can be seen in Cassius numerous times, and it establishes how he is calculating, logical, and cold. In the second scene of the first act, Cassius tells Brutus that Caesar is not the godly king the he sets himself up to be, and persuades Brutus that Caesar must be overthrown. Cassius convinces Brutus that Caesar is not fit for the thrown by using recollections of past experiences, in which Caesar can be seen as frail and impotent, to insult Caesar and convince Brutus that he is surely not strong enough to be crowned the leader of Rome, “His coward lips did from their colour fly, and that same eye whose bend doth awe the world did lose his lustre”. (1.2.122-124)
The message is that Caesar is weak, and is no stronger than the average mortal Roman. If Caesar is weak and frail, how will he be able to lead an entire nation? This use of syllogism appeals to Brutus’ Logos, and convinces him that it is only logically fit to have a strong and capable man as leader, if there were to be a leader, through the simple cause-and-effect method. This is an example of Cassius being calculating, logical, and cold as he calculates that Brutus can be persuaded through a reasonable, syllogistic appeal, he uses logic to show Brutus evidence that Caesar is weak, and he is cold to the fact that Brutus is a very close friend of Caesar, and that turning such good friends against each other would be dishonourable, disrespectful, and inconsiderate to the bond they share and the significance of their relationship.
Antony uses rhetoric through appeals to Pathos to effectively persuade others, and this reveals how he can be seen as smart, empathetic, and loyal. An appeal to Pathos is an appeal to emotion, rather than logic or credibility. Antony understands the power of one’s emotions, and uses his knowledge of this to persuade people into satisfying his needs by convincing them that their emotional desires are the most reasonable factor in making a decision. In the second scene of the third act, Antony gives a moving speech to the Plebians about Caesar’s death, and how he believes it was a traitorous act by the conspirators, and that his murder must be avenged. Antony knows full well that the common mob is not an intellectual group in the slightest, and chooses to appeal to emotions in an emotionally overwhelmed crowd, showing that he is smart and clever.
To persuade the Plebian audience into fully believing that Caesar did not deserve to die, Antony decides to render Caesar’s death as a personal loss to each individual Plebian by overstating the fashion in which Caesar was killed, and by exaggerating the betrayal of Caesar’s close friend, Brutus, “Through this the well-loved Brutus stabb’d, and as he pluck’d his cursed steel away, mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it, as rushing out of doors to be resolv’d if Brutus so unkindly knock’d or no, for Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel”. (3.2.174-179) By dramatizing Caesar’s death, Antony convinces the Plebians that Caesar, the man they had loved so much, did not deserve to die in such a gruesome manner, betrayed by his close friends, and thus causes the Plebians to feel resentful and vengeful for the death of such a seemingly innocent man. By persuading the Plebians into believing that Caesar’s death must be avenged through an exploitation of their emotional dominance in the decision making process, Antony can be seen as empathetic, as he understands the emotional connection between the Plebians and Caesar and uses it to his advantage, and loyal, as he desires, so strongly, for his best friend to be avenged for such a heinous and disloyal crime.
Ethos is Brutus’ rhetorical device of choice, and his various uses of it to persuade other characters shows that he is proud, honourable, and naïve. In the first act of the second scene, Cassius brings the conspirators to Brutus’ house, where they discuss their plan to kill Caesar. Up until this point in the play, Brutus declares that he is very honourable towards his morals, and only does what he believes is right after considering both sides of an argument. Thus, Brutus can be seen as honourable, and proud of his morals, honour and the fact that he always contemplates the right decision by considering the significance of each factor. Much like the way Brutus presents himself in such a manner during the beginning of the play, Brutus can also be seen as honourable and pride through his uses of rhetoric.
In this specific scene, Brutus insists that an oath is unnecessary, as they are all honourable men and plan on doing what is best for Rome, “No, not an oath! If not the face of men, the sufferance of our souls, the time’s abuse-If these be motives weak, break off betimes, and every man hence to his idle bed; so let high-sighted tyranny range on, till each man drop by lottery” . (2.1.114-119) Here, Brutus tries to persuade the conspirators into becoming honourable, if they already aren’t, and believing that their only motif for killing Caesar should be for the greater good of the Roman Republic.
This shows that Brutus has pride, as he believes that his mentality of honour is the best mentality for this decision, and he is honourable, as he believes that their actions should only be the most honourable ones. However, Brutus’ pride in his honour causes him to be naïve and blind to the fact that not every one of the conspirators agrees with his honourable mentality. Brutus’ pride causes him to believe that his personal mentality is the only possible mentality, and renders him blind to the fact that the conspirators are not killing Caesar for Brutus’ honourable reasons. By becoming completely absorbed to the belief that their only possible motif is for honour, Brutus causes himself to be naïve, through his own honour and pride.
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