Julius Caesar is a Roman Play, that is a play which deals with Roman History. Roman History was a very popular subject on the Elizabethan stage and it was provided with the material for political lessons. The main theme is the use and the misuse of power made by ambitious and corrupted people who have public roles. The play deals with the assassination of Caesar at the Ides of March of the year 44 B.C. by a group of conspirators including Brutus. The conspirators don’t like Caesar’s popularity. Brutus, who is a supporter of the republic, fears that too much power may corrupt Caesar and change him into a tyrant. He loves Caesar as a friend but he loves Rome, too. Manipulated by Caesar’s enemy, above all by his brother-in-law Cassius, he comes to the decision that Caesar must die in order to preserve the republic. The conspirators kill Caesar but they are forced to flee from Rome and are defeated by Antony at Philippi. Eventually Brutus kills himself to avoid of being taken prisoner.
The following passage is taken from the third act and is the turning point of the play.
After the murder, Brutus speaks to the mob to give reasons for Caesar’s death . He wins their approval but he makes the mistake of allowing Mark Antony to deliver the funeral oration. It is a fatal error because Antony, who has got a good eloquence, succeeds in turning the situation upside-down and stirs the mob against the conspirators.
Brutus Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses, that you may the better judge. If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his. If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:…Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his ambition. Who is here so base that would be a bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.
None, Brutus, none.
Then none have I offended. I have done no more to Caesar than you shall do to Brutus. The question of his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences enforced, for which he suffered death.
(Enter ANTONY and others, with CAESAR’s body)
Here comes his body, mourned by Mark Antony: who, though he had no hand in his death, shall receive the benefit of his dying, a place in the commonwealth; as which of you shall not? With this I depart,….that, as I slew my best lover for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself, when it shall please my country to need my death.
Live, Brutus! live, live!
Bring him with triumph home unto his house.
Give him a statue with his ancestors.
Let him be Caesar.
Caesar’s better parts
Shall be crown’d in Brutus.
We’ll bring him to his house
With shouts and clamours.
Peace, silence! Brutus speaks.
Good countrymen, let me depart alone, And, for my sake, stay here with Antony: Do grace to Caesar’s corpse, and grace his speech Tending to Caesar’s glories; which Mark Antony, By our permission, is allow’d to make. I do entreat you, not a man depart, Save I alone, till Antony have spoke.
Stay, ho! and let us hear Mark Antony.
Let him go up into the public chair;
We’ll hear him. Noble Antony, go up.
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. 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.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men–
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Methinks there is much reason in his sayings.
If thou consider rightly of the matter,
Caesar has had great wrong.
Has he, masters?
I fear there will a worse come in his place.
Mark’d ye his words? He would not take the crown;
Therefore ’tis certain he was not ambitious.
If it be found so, some will dear abide it.
Poor soul! his eyes are red as fire with weeping.
There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony.
Now mark him, he begins again to speak.
But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.
But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar;
I found it in his closet, ’tis his will:
Let but the commons hear this testament–
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read–
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar’s wounds
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.
We’ll hear the will: read it, Mark Antony.
The will, the will! we will hear Caesar’s will.
Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!
Read the will; we’ll hear it, Antony;
You shall read us the will, Caesar’s will.
Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?
I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:
I fear I wrong the honourable men
Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar; I do fear it.
They were traitors: honourable men!
The will! the testament!
They were villains, murderers: the will! read the will.
You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar,
And let me show you him that made the will.
Shall I descend? and will you give me leave?
You shall have leave.
(Antony comes down)
A ring; stand round.
Stand from the hearse, stand from the body.
Room for Antony, most noble Antony.
Nay, press not so upon me; stand far off.
Stand back; room; bear back.
If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved 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 resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish’d over us.
O, now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar’s vesture wounded? Look you here,
Here is himself, marr’d, as you see, with traitors.
O piteous spectacle!
O noble Caesar!
O woful day!
O traitors, villains!
O most bloody sight!
We will be revenged.
Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay!
Let not a traitor live!
Peace there! hear the noble Antony.
We’ll hear him, we’ll follow him, we’ll die with him.
Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts:
I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friend; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.
We’ll burn the house of Brutus.
Away, then! come, seek the conspirators.
Yet hear me, countrymen; yet hear me speak.
Peace, ho! Hear Antony. Most noble Antony!
Why, friends, you go to do you know not what:
Wherein hath Caesar thus deserved your loves?
Alas, you know not: I must tell you then:
You have forgot the will I told you of.
Most true. The will! Let’s stay and hear the will.
Here is the will, and under Caesar’s seal.
To every Roman citizen he gives,
To every several man, seventy-five drachmas.
Most noble Caesar! We’ll revenge his death.
O royal Caesar!
Hear me with patience.
Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?
Never, never. Come, away, away!
We’ll burn his body in the holy place,
And with the brands fire the traitors’ houses.
Take up the body.
Go fetch fire.
Pluck down benches.
Pluck down forms, windows, any thing.
(Exeunt Citizens with the body)
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot,
Take thou what course thou wilt
The two speeches are addressed to the Mob who appear very changeable and confused. They reveal contradictions because after applauding Brutus for killing Caesar, they are easily manipulated by the eloquence of Antony and stir against Brutus. Brutus is genuine. Unlike Antony, he has not a second aim. He does not understand the mentality of the crowd and he does not know how to manipulate them.
There are many differences between the speeches of the two characters. First of all Brutus speaks in prose and Antony in verse. A common way in which poetry and prose were used in Elizabethan drama, was to distinguish the hero or the heroine and characters belonging to the nobility, who speak in verse, from the minor characters belonging to the lower classes (soldiers, common people, servants, nurses and so on) who speak in prose. The use here is different: Brutus speaks in prose because he wants to appeal to the Mob’s rationality while Antony speaks in verse because he wants to make appeal to their emotions. Brutus needs to justify Caesar’s assassination for the good of Rome: “hear me for my cause …… censure me in your wisdom and awake your senses, that you may be the better judge”. He underlines his love, and respect to him: “Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his …if, then, that friend demand, why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer – Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”. To do that, after celebrating Caesar’s military qualities, he focuses on his ambition: “as he was ambitious I slew him: there is tears for his love…. honour for his value and death for his ambition”. Brutus speaks to the mind of the people trying to persuade them that Caesar’s death was necessary to make them live free men and not to die all slaves : “ Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than Caesar were dead, to live all free men?”
Brutus reaches his aim and persuades the mob that he had done the right thing. He had started his speech appealing first to the Romans and then to his countrymen and lovers. Starting like that, he leaves a gap between him and the crowd. Antony, instead, begins with “Friends, Romans and countrymen” making people feel that he is one of them. He speaks to their souls and feelings because he has to push them against the conspirators .He plays with the citizens’ feelings. Before Antony begins to speak, the atmosphere is not favourable to him. The crowd is all against Caesar and in favour of Brutus. To win their favour, he has to clear the effect of Brutus’ speech on the mob. He knows that he can’t attack Brutus directly. He must be very careful and appear harmless: “I come to bury Caesar …. under leave of Brutus …….I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke….. If I were disposed to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage….I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong, who you all know, are honourable men “ . First of all he has to show the crowd that Caesar was not ambitious.He reminds the mob that Caesar has refused the crown: “ You all did see that on the Lupercal (yearly celebration of the God Lupercus on the 15th February) I thrice presented him a kingly crown, which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? “. He celebrates Caesar as a friend who has brought a lot of money to Rome. He pretends not to do or say a certain thing, but actually he does. He mentions facts that everybody can witness and after each fact, he repeats as a refrain “ ….. but Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man”. His scheme of reasoning is very cunning. Following the syllogism, typical of Greek philosophy, he starts with an implied major premise: “Honourable men tell the truth” but he insinuates into the people’s minds a logical conclusion which is the opposite of the starting premise: major premise: Honourable men tell the truth; minor premise: Brutus is not an honourable man, Conclusion: Brutus doesn’t tell the truth and consequently Caesar’s assassination was a crime. Then he interrupts his speech and makes a pause to see the Mob’s reaction and to adjust his speech to it: “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, and I must pause till it come back to me”.
Antony pretends to be “no orator as Brutus is…….for I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth, action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech to stir men’s blood; I only speak right on”. Actually he is a very experienced orator as it is showed by his gestures (stops talking and covers his face with his hands, shows the tears in Caesar’s mantle, shows the will to the crowd) , by his way of moving physically in front of the audience and by the many rhetorical devices he uses: metaphors, alliterations, irony, skilful contrasts and praeteritio (to claim not to say or do something which we are already doing or going to do). He is a master of the language and uses it as a weapon. When he is sure that he has won the Mob’s consensus, he introduced his last rhetorical trick: Caesar’s Testament. He says that he has found it in Caesar closet. To increase the Mob’s curiosity, he says that he does not want to read it because “ it will inflame you, it wilt make you mad”; then he lets them know that they are Caesar’s heir : ‘Tis good you Know not that you are his heirs or, if you should, O! What would come of it …… I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it…I fear I wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar”. Of course the Mob asks him to read the will but he makes them wait. Before reading it, he wants to increase their rage, showing them the massacred body of Caesar and Caesar’s mantle with the marks left by the conspirators’ daggers. He describes Caesar’s last piteous action when he saw Brutus stabbing him : “ Ingratitude, more strong than traitor’s arms, quite vanquished him: then burst his mighty heart; and, in his mantle muffling up his face, even at the base of Pompey’s statue, which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell”. When he realizes that he has won the Mob’s approval has stirred them against the conspirators, he reads Caesar’s testament: “To every Roman citizen he gives, to every several man, seventy-five drachmas….he hath left you all his walks, his private arbours, and new-planted orchards, On this side Tiber; he has left them you, and to your heirs for ever, common places to walk abroad, and recreate yourselves”. Antony’s mission is now accomplished. The fury of the crowd is now uncontrollable and they rush to set fire to the conspirators’ houses. By an aside, Antony throws off his mask and reveals to the audience his real intention: “Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course you wilt“.
As always happens at the very end of Shakespeare’s tragedies, we feel pity on the hero who has been defeated, even if he has done terrible deeds. I am for Brutus who kills himself because he really sees Caesar’s death as a moral problem. He is not ambitious. He is a true democrat and an idealist who believes in words such as “respect, honour, wisdom and freedom”. In my opinion, Antony may be compared to a good politician or trade-unionist who knows how to use the language and stir a crowd. He is ambitious and wants to become emperor. “Be aware of the wolf”, says a very popular Italian singer, Lucio Dalla, in a well-Known song….. Be aware of politicians, trade-unionists and experienced orators! ……… they might be all wolves. *’_°