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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
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The two funeral orations should be studied for what they say about (1) Brutus, (2) Antony, (3) Caesar, and (4) the crowds.


You can argue-though not many people do-that Brutus' speech is as powerful and convincing as Antony's, and that it fails only because Antony has the final word. Defenders of Brutus' speech point out that:

• He flatters the common people by treating them as equals and appealing to their powers of reason.

• He involves the people by asking them questions.

• His questions are rhetorical; their answers are self-evident. (The answer to the question, "Who is here so base, that would be a bondman [slave]?" is, of course, "No one.") The rhetorical question is used by public speakers to make audiences think they are reaching their own decisions, when in fact their minds are being made up for them.

• He plays upon the sympathy of his audience-offering to sacrifice himself for his country.

• His speech is brief and to the point.

• He does convince his audience. When he finishes speaking, the citizens exclaim, "This Caesar was a tyrant," and "We are blest that Rome is rid of him."

Other readers argue that Brutus' speech is weaker than Antony's. They point out that:

• Brutus appeals to the minds of the people; Antony sways them by tugging at their emotions.

• Brutus appeals to an abstract sense of duty to the state; Antony appeals to greed.

• Brutus asks the people to appreciate degrees of good and evil; Antony plays upon their need to love and hate.

• Brutus begins his speech by addressing the people collectively as Romans; Antony addresses them individually as friends. Antony knows instinctively that personal relationships mean more to people than their identification with the state.

• Brutus speaks in prose, which appeals to the intellect; Antony speaks in verse, which appeals to the emotions. Brutus' speech is not strong or important enough to be dignified with verse.

• Brutus makes the politically disastrous mistake of expecting too much from the people. He reasons with them as though they were his intellectual equals. He uses language, not to manipulate feelings, but to communicate ideas. He throws out concepts with balance, precision and speed.

As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears, for his love; joy, for his fortune; honor, for his valor; and death, for his ambition.

Act III, Scene ii, Lines 24-29

This verbal juggling act may impress Brutus' educated friends, but who can believe that it moves the hearts of the people? Heroes and villains are what they want-black-and-white distinctions, not shades of gray.

Antony's speech may not be as concise or intellectually clever, but it appeals to people on a level that they can understand. Avoiding fine distinctions, he portrays Caesar as a hero who was betrayed by friends:

...Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel. Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him! That was the most unkindest cut of all;

For when the noble Caesar saw him stab, Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms, Quite vanquished him.

Act III, Scene ii, lines 183-188

This is language the people can relate to, for who has not been stung by the ingratitude of a friend?

• Brutus speaks as though his words were memorized-he could be addressing anyone. Antony seems to form his words as he goes along, in response to the shifting moods of his audience. His speech, therefore, seems more spontaneous, and more deeply felt.

• Brutus projects an image of complete self-control when he speaks; Antony pretends to break down and cry. The people listen to Brutus with respect, but he is an intellectual, and they do not identify with him. Antony is as passionate as the people, and they consider him one of their own.

• Brutus reaches the people only through their minds; Antony touches them through their senses as well, showing them Caesar's body and Caesar's bloody cloak-the same one he wore in one of his most decisive military victories. Antony wins their admiration by repeating that the assassins are all honorable men, and pretending that he is just an ordinary fellow who has no grudge to bear.

• The failure of Brutus' speech is summed up in the words of the Third Plebeian: "Let him [Brutus] be Caesar." No intellectual argument is going to reduce the needs of the people for Caesar, and for what he represents. If Caesar the man is dead, they will find someone to take his place.

• Antony may be a cynical opportunist, stopping at nothing to get what he wants. And yet he also seems to believe what he says, and to speak from the heart. He does appeal to the so-called baser instincts of his audience, but only to accomplish what he considers a noble end. Ambition is apparently not his motive: revenge is what he seeks-revenge for the death of a dear friend. Is revenge a motive less honorable than jealousy (Cassius) or the wish to right wrongs that have not yet been committed (Brutus)?

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Barron's Booknotes-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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