Julius Caesar - views about his death

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Starting from Brutus's and Antony's speeches to the Roman citizens, explain their views about Caesar's death and the issue raised. Who do you think gives the best and most persuasive speech and why?

Nobody describes the play, “Julius Caesar” better than the dramatist William Shakespeare. In fact, Julius Caesar is one of the most well-known tragedies of Shakespeare, and since its first performance at the end of the 16th century, it has been a constant presence in our culture. Act 3 Scene 2, where the two speeches are made is a very dramatic and tense scene for an audience as it is the double climax of the play. However, what makes the scene timeless is the writer's play with words and the way emotions are portrayed through imagery of light and dark and the numerous instances where he uses dramatic irony.

Shakespeare's ‘Julius Caesar' was probably written in the end of the 16th century in either 1599 under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Usually, the Elizabethan public playhouse of that period was a spherical, open-air building, containing a big platform stage that had no moveable scenery, very restricted use of props and no artificial lighting, due to which plays were performed in the afternoon. In addition, the stage had no curtain and the main part of the audience on three sides where the seats were the cheapest while those who paid extra could sit on the galleries. Due to the limited use of props, sceneries, lighting and costumes, the entire play performed in that period relied heavily on language and acting. In the Elizabethan era, theatre formed an important source of entertainment for all levels of society due to which, it was extremely important to keep the audience engaged and satisfy their moods through gentle uses of comic breaks in a tragedy.

Act 3 Scene 2 is a most memorable scene. Nevertheless, Act III Scene 2 is a vital scene to the rest of the play and is also perhaps the most visual scene. The scene shows the audience example of public rhetoric in Brutus's short and Antony's masterful speech at Caesar's funeral, all of these make Julius Caesar not just a mere play but a play of continued persuasiveness. Antony's speech makes his audience think. He skilfully points out the fallacies in Brutus's speech without directly stating them himself. Dramatically, the two speeches in the play create tension and a sense of anticipation in the audience as they proceed to listen Antony's speech. Subsequently this scene is where the actual turning point of the play takes place and Shakespeare's use of language and the stage craft is remarkable.

The scene starts with unsympathetic mood as Shakespeare creates an atmosphere of catastrophe and sentiment which of course would be well received by the Elizabethan audience. Brutus starts the scene by addressing the crowd as ‘Romans' this appeals to sense of patriotism and this is in keeping with his reason for joining the conspiracy. He speaks about his own honour and asks the crowd to believe him because of his honour which is also his reason for joining the conspiracy. Brutus continues his funeral speech, speaking in slow punctuated, rational tones. Using prose, the language of the common people, he proceeds to implore the expectant crowd to believe in him as an honourable man. He demands the crowd listen to his reasons for Caesars murder: `Believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe`... (III.2.14-15) Shakespeare's use of repetition to focus on honour is particularly significant. Brutus believes his actions are honourable and is determined to make the crowd aware of this.

The nature of his appeal, then, follows. After paying tribute to the marvellous life of Caesar, Brutus explains that he killed him because he loves Rome more than Caesar, and that Caesar had become ambitious. These two phrases are so well balanced that they stand out from the others. He rose against Caesar not because of his own love for Caesar, but his greater love for Rome (III.2.20.). Brutus builds up a picture of what it means to be a true Roman: one who loves his country and freedom, and who hates slavery and traitors. Of course the naive crowd is pleased to hear that Brutus loves Rome. But they cannot grasp the concept of being assassinated for ambition, as Brutus did not say in what way Caesar was ambitious or why he should be so severely punished. Caesar's ambition, despite his noble qualities, would have made slaves of all them, and so he had to die. His death could only offend those who wanted to be salves and traitors. This signifies the three main rhetorical questions (III.2.30.).Hence none offended.

Brutus's concluding sentences before Antony's appearance shows that reason and balance are indeed his main platform and defence (III.2.35). By the end, having argued that Caesar's ambitions was the main reason of his death and also made Caesar the enemy of Rome, Brutus is implying that it is rude to protest at the killing of Caesar. It is all very emotional and the crowd approves Brutus‘s speech. He ends the speech by promising justice and to kill himself if ever Rome requires his death (III.2.45). With final gesture of suicidal generosity, he orders crowd to stay to hear Antony's speech.

Brutus's speech appeals to reason .His style of speech is clean, balanced and classical. His speech is honest and consistent with all his thinking and arguing throughout the play. He has no thought of deceiving the people. But his speech is nevertheless a sharp, skilful piece of rhetoric. He speaks calmly and reasonably but he has created a kind of hysteria in the crowd by the time he has finished. Many of the words in the speech are antithetical such as ‘less' / ‘more', ‘living' / ‘dead' which creates the cumulative effect .The speech may be in prose, but its rhythmic patterning, the balancing out of similar phrases, and the repetition of the word ‘love' or the phrase ‘for him have I offended' are as unnatural and emotive in their collective effects as any passage of poetry.

After Brutus concludes his speech and brief talk with some plebians (III.2.60), by taking their leave he tells the crowd that Antony would then speak with his permission. Twice he mentions his taking leave: "let me depart alone (3.2.55)" and "not a man depart, Save I alone (3.2.59-60)." Now the crowd turn to Antony, but in no welcoming spirit. Antony after two attempts gets silence and begins to speak. Antony chooses to begin with ‘Friends'. This is the perfect introduction to a speech, i.e. “tell them what you are going to tell them. He creates an empathy with the crowd by speaking as if he is one of them, and is aware of the problems they have .It shows how Antony quickly creates the feeling between the crowd and himself that they are friends. There is an excellent use of contrast to stimulate and maintain interest:” I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” in the first sentence, and “evil” and “good” and “lives” and “interred” in the second. The crowd need not be afraid that he will praise Caesar.

Brutus has told the crowd that Caesar was ambitious if so he has paid for his ambition. In half baffled way he begins to examine his idea of an ambitious Caesar. He was generous to bring some captives home; he cared for the sufferings of the poor. Shakespeare carefully emphasises on Antony's very cunningly mentioning the word thrice offering the crown to Caesar. Antony deploys the word ambition and ambitious to win over the crowd. He also stresses on the word ‘grievous'. The noble Brutus hath told you Caesar was ambitious. If it were so, it was a grievous fault, and grievously hath Caesar answer'd it. Once again, Anthony reverses position. “If it were so . . .” clearly indicates that he disagrees with Brutus. It is also notable the power in the near repetition of “grievous” and “grievously”. The statement would have been significantly weaker had Shakespeare felt obliged to avoid such repetition.

Now Antony uses the master stroke of all: “for Brutus is an honourable man; so are they all, all honourable men.” Antony uses the word ‘honourable' to describe Brutus and Cassius eight times. Each time the way it is spoken is different, and with a different purpose. The more he uses the word ‘honour' the more it becomes weaker. And he goes on reminding them, until the word becomes sound hollow. Repeated use of the word ‘honour' forces people to think what honour really is? Caesar's assassins are all respected Senators. But Antony is suggesting that the conspirators are men to be honoured for their noble qualities .His tactics is to talk as if they are honourable and than gradually turn the honour in to a sarcastic irony. This shows how Antony exploits the theme of Brutus's honour for his own purposes.

He was my friend, faithful and just to me. But Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man. Here again Shakespeare works his magic of language by repeating both “ambitious” and “honourable.” This heightens the impact of the statement by creating powerful passionate climate. The crowd is now confused and troubled. Antony acts as if he is confused and that he is not trying to prove Brutus wrong. He turns aside filled with emotions, giving people time to think on what he said (III.2.105.). Antony concludes the part of his speech with a raw appeal to emotion under the disguise of reason. Already he has almost altered the people's mind and has brought them a long way from cheering of Brutus. When he begins to talk again he has their full attention. He speaks of the heartbreaking change between Caesar's greatness and his death. But he will not say Brutus and other assassins wrong by rousing people to rebel and make them say that Brutus and his friends wrong (III.2.120.).Then, with fine effect he waves a document at them. He tells the people what they want to hear by of producing Caesar's Will.He holds it up to the crowd, tempting them with its content. He says he cannot read the will but if he did they would worship Caesar (III.2.130.).Thus Antony is provoking people to ask him to read the will. Antony stimulates the desire in people to read the will by playing with them. Naturally crowd roars for the will. Antony pretending to be terrified, says he cannot read the will, he protests that he must not wrong the honourable man (III.2.150.).

Antony uses the most overloaded emotional term, love, in when describing Caesar's affection for his murderer, Brutus. "For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel. / Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar lov'd him (III.2.181-182).Now Antony has crowd in his favour. He says if they force him to read the will, let him first make a ring around Caesar's corpse and let him show the man who made the will. Antony has perfectly prepared the ground so that the people are ready to interpret what they see for themselves. Antony comes down from the rostrum and gathering the people around the lifeless body of Caesar, while holding the torn mantle of Caesar tells the crowd about knife-thrusts (III.2.169-197). The crowd are weeping but will they weep at sheer cloak? Hence Antony uncovers the bloody body of Caesar and shows them the wounds made by Cassius, by Casca; and, worst and most deadly by Caesar's favourite and dearest Brutus: the most significant wound under which Caesar fell. Antony does more by personifying the blood (III.2.177-180), as if it was rushing out of Caesar's body like water gushing out of the house. Antony cries out, ‘Oh what…. (III.2.190-195).

When the crowd is completely annoyed, Antony then gives the impression that he is backing down. When Antony backs down, the people can take him over. The conspirators are "honourable," and Antony doesn't want to "stir you up/ To such a sudden flood of mutiny (III.2.209-210)." Next Antony is protesting his own ineloquence (III.2.210.) He knows how to move people - I am no orator, he reinforces his fluency. He is not eloquent, he says, using all the typical words for describing the various actions of a rhetorician (III.2.221-222).Mutiny is first word and last word of this decisive speech (III.2.211,230). The people are prepared for blood and they will get it. The crowd are shouting and screaming, swearing for revenge but Antony won't let them go that easily. He gains their attention again telling the crowd that the assassins had some personal grudges against Caesar. He points out that hey have forgotten about Caesar's will. Ultimately, Antony reveals the content of Caesar's will after the people, filled with emotion, have forgotten about it (III.2.235-252). Having produced the will thus Antony subtlety manipulates the crowd.

Antony indirectly plants the idea of riot in the people's mind. “Here was a Caesar! When comes such another?” Never, Never the crowd yells and with rage they run through Rome in search of the murders tearing an ravaging the place apart collecting fuel to burn Caesar's body. The scene ends with the spectre of mayhem.

The answer to the best and most persuasive speech according to me is Antony's speech. Both Brutus and Mark Antony have two entirely different purposes in each of their speeches to the Roman citizens. Both the speeches are contrast, Brutus's speech appeals to reason and Antony's to passion. Brutus speech is short and in form of a simple balanced text while Antony's speech is in the form of verses and is comprised of iambic pentameter. His speech moves from argument to emotion. It changes from mood to mood and from tone to tone. Antony uses powerful techniques of words and phrases to move the crowd and make them weep: one particular stab wound that stand outs from the rest(III.2.175-180).Antony uses all the tactic such as reason, feeling and rhetoric to win over the mob. He uses all sorts of adverse words such as grief, horror, love, greed, hatred- people respond to his words as he wishes.

Approaching the crowd as intellectual scholars, when in fact, the mob consists of nothing but illiterate commoners, who cannot figure out for themselves what is right from what is wrong, was Brutus' fatal mistake .Brutus did not give any reasons as why Caesar was ambitious. Brutus left a half-witted mob to put pieces together, but they cannot think for themselves, and therefore, cannot understand his speech. The aftermath of Brutus' speech concluded that crowd have jumped on the word "ambition” due to a few appealing words of Brutus' passion for Rome. According to me the silliest thing that Brutus's did was leaving Antony alone to speak with his permission. He should have stayed behind to assert his authority if needed. Brutus believed in the efficiency of his words, his honour and rightness, how people can look upon him than he is. Eventually, Brutus convinces the crowd that they had good reason to murder Caesar, and the conspirators feel confident and secure but Brutus is mistaken about him being an orator and is outwitted by Antony.

On the other hand, Antony plays a brilliant rhetorical technique by first escaping, blocking and defusing all the dangers to himself, and then flattering, manipulating, persuading and arousing the people to do anything good or bad that he tells them to do. He promises Brutus that he will not degrade the conspirators in his speech but violates it by praising them so persistently that a word like ‘honour' is alter in to a harsh cruelty. How ridiculous that he should claim to be no orator (III.2.210.).He subtly takes over the crowd's emotion, previously motivated by Brutus's speech. Even the audience watching this play are first moved by Brutus's speech and are sympathetic to him but than are shaken or won over by Antony's magnificent oratory. As the speech develops, Antony uses props in order to emphasize certain passages, and in particular he uses Caesar's stab wounds as a final image, which in the end does the speaking for him. Not only does Antony obtain the support of the crowd, but he also incites them into an uncontrollable mob, and the conspirators have to escape for their lives. Consequently Antony succeeds in changing people's mind who in first place were ready to crown Brutus who killed his ambitious friend and which a short time later are hungry for the blood of that same man. This concludes that the Antony's speech is the best and the most persuasive speech.

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