Rhetoric in Funeral Orations: Julius Caesar
In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus and Marc Antony address a crowd of Romans in regards to the death of Julius Caesar. Brutus first addresses the crowd, justifying himself and giving his reasons for murdering Caesar. In doing so, Brutus uses many rhetoric strategies in order to appeal to the crowd not as a tyrant, but a man who acted for the people of Rome. While Brutus presents the Roman people with justifiable cause and throws himself to the mercy of them in order to win their hearts, his oration is ultimately overshadowed and contradicted by the rhetoric and sarcasm of Marc Antony. In a much more moving and powerful oration, Antony was able to sway the opinion of the Roman people by using rhetoric devices such as sarcasm, paralipsis, and repetition in order to disregard the points which Brutus made by clearing Caesars name and presenting him to the crowd as a selfless and giving leader.
In the opening line of his speech, Brutus addresses the crowd with the line, “Romans, countrymen, and lovers!” (iii.ii.14). by addressing his crowd in such a way, he was able to join himself with all of the Romans under him, as he found common ground with them all. By putting himself on an equal level with the Roman people, Brutus was able to better justify himself not as a tyrant, but as a man who acted for the greater good of Rome. In order to justify his actions for the greater good of Rome, Brutus refers to his love for Caesar, but follows up by stating that he loves his country more. “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.” (iii.ii.27-30). It is with this quote that Brutus draws justifiable cause for the death of Caesar because of his ambition. By using parallelism, he reveals that we cry for his love, celebrate his fortune, and bring honor to his acts of valor, but his ambition is what earned him death. In his Oration, Brutus tells the people of Rome that because of his ambitious ways he could become a bad person. Although he was not bad now in future he may become tyrannical, ending democracy and freedom in Rome. “Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen?” (iii.ii.24-26). It is with this quote that Brutus refers to a fearful result had Caesar earned the crown, letting the people know that had he not been killed they would all die slaves under him.
While Brutus gave a strong oration to the people of Rome and seemingly swayed their opinion to agree with him on killing Caesar, his downfall came in allowing Antony to take the stand to speak preceding him. Antony gave an overall stronger, more persuasive speech to the Roman people, as his tactics using rhetoric strategy and sarcasm contradicted everything which was said prior.
In the opening of his oration, Antony addressed the Roman people very similarly to Brutus, saying, “Friends, Romans, and countrymen.” (iii.ii.83). With the slight change, referring to the people as friends, Antony is able to connect with them on a more personal level, as he was a man who used to once call Caesar a friend. By using this tactic, Antony was able to immediately connect to his crowd on a more personal level. Another strategy Antony used to make this connection was by giving his speech on the ground level with them, Whereas Brutus gave his on the pulpit, Antony hopped down to join them. In doing so, it was a lot easier to earn the respect of the crowd and sway their opinions in his favor. To do this, Antony used rhetoric tactics which contradicted everything Brutus discussed and in some ways were seemingly sarcastic, as if mocking the conspirators. One tactic Antony used to achieve this was repetition. On multiple occasions in his oration, Antony made sure to emphasize how Brutus was “an honorable man.” By constantly repeating this, Antony was able to bring it to the Roman citizens attention, and due to its constant repetition, instead of agreeing, they questioned it.
The strongest portion of repetition used by Antony however, comes from his constant mention of Caesars ambition, which Brutus used to justify his killing. Every time Antony mentioned Caesars ambition, he followed up by mentioning an honorable trait, or questioned his actions and challenged Brutus’ accusations as to whether they were truly ambitious.
“Yet Brutus says he was ambitious. And Brutus is an honorable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal, I thrice presented him with a kingly crown,
which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?” (iii.ii.102-106)
It is with this quote that Antony uses the repetition with ambition and honor, followed by a contradictory statement which expunges Caesar from the accusations of ambition. That is the structure in which Antony used to sway public opinion and turn the crowd against the conspirators.
By using repetition, Antony was able to draw the attention of the Roman people to Caesars ambition and contradict everything which Brutus said, all without directly stating it. Instead, he sarcastically questioned the motives of the conspirators and presented honorable and selfless acts from Caesar giving back to the people, and revealed a man complete opposite of what Brutus portrayed. Antony was also able to make this successful by using a rhetoric device called paralipsis. When revealing Caesars will to the crowd, Antony tells them that he should not read it to them, as it will reveal too much. In telling them he should not and playing it off as if it is not a big deal, he makes it into a big deal for the crowd, making them beg him to read the will. After reading the will, Antony then reveals even more evidence of Caesars selfless ways, as in it he left his fortunes to the Roman people and opened his private gardens to the public. By using the written words of Caesar as his final remarks, Antony was able to push the Roman plebeians into a rage towards the conspirators as they realized he was not an ambitious tyrant at all, rather a selfless leader who cared about Rome more so then Brutus.
While Brutus gave a strong oration and swayed the people into believing his justifiable cause, His speech was overshadowed and mocked when Antony preceded him. Antony’s placement of himself with the crowd, rhetoric devices, and use of sarcasm ultimately overpowered Brutus’ oration as it contradicted everything which Brutus believed was justifiable.
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