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‘Antony’s Speech’ is an excerpt taken from Act III, Scene II of Shakespeare’s notable play ‘Julius Caesar’. This segment of the play is the most crucial for things take a turn following Antony’s speech on Caesar’s funeral.
About the Poet (Playwright):
William Shakespeare (1564-1616) was an eminent English playwright, named ‘the Bard of Avon’. He is said to have shaped English Literature in itself. Famous works of his include ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’, and ‘Hamlet’.
The theme of this poem (speech) is revenge. Through his subtle, yet powerful words, Antony manages to successfully instigate the Roman mob into seeking vengeance for Caesar’s murder.
This excerpt is not a poem per se, but is a speech. The stanzas here are thus merely for convenience. Nevertheless, the lines of Antony’s monologue follow Shakespeare’s famous blank verse consisting of unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Explanation of the Stanzas:
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.
Antony begins his speech cleverly by bringing himself closer to his audience with the usage of the word ‘Friends’. He begins harmlessly enough, stating, in accordance to the condition Brutus had levied, that he had merely come to offer some final words on Caesar’s funeral, not to praise his glory. He then moves on to point out how the evil aspects of a deceased person is what is highlighted after their death whilst their good deeds are forgotten, left unnoticed with their ‘bones’.
Mark Antony graciously remarks that they should let Caesar’s good deeds buried with him as well, slyly pointing out that that is how the people have already forgotten what a good man Caesar was, already pouncing to label him evil. Leaving the people to hold on to that thought, he moves on to how Brutus, whom he calls ‘noble’ here, has called Caesar ‘ambitious’. Antony remarks that if Caesar had indeed been ambitious, it was a fault indeed. Here, it should be noted that Antony does not say that Caesar is ambitious, but only entertaining Brutus’ possibility.
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 then calls Brutus an ‘honourable’ man, which he repeats throughout the entirety of his speech. He calls them all honourable, in fact, all of those who had been responsible for Caesar’s death. Antony recalls how Caesar had been a fair and faithful friend to him. However, Antony points out that Brutus, an ‘honourable’ man, had decreed him to be ambitious so Caesar must, after all, be ambitious.
Here, Antony subtly points of Caesar’s good qualities but dismisses them on Brutus’ account. By portraying himself wrong, he thus successfully plants the seed of doubt in the people’s mind unknowingly and builds his argument effectively.
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.
Antony goes on to talk about Caesar’s victories and him making the land flourish. Antony seemingly questions himself whether this in Caesar is ambitious, for what he clearly left unsaid points out that no, it was not. He again draws to the people’s attention how Caesar had wept along with the poor and grieved them.
Antony remarks that should that be what Brutus called ambitious, it was not to be so for ambition is something much more hard and tough. Again, he ends this thought abruptly as well, dismissing it off as Brutus, the ‘honourable’ man had said otherwise, strengthening the doubt in the minds of the people.
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.
Antony then reminds people upon how he himself had offered Caesar the crown thrice, which he had refused all three times. Again, Antony questions how this can be called ambition when Caesar had clearly refused the power. Once again, he states that Brutus the ‘honourable’ man had said so, so it is what must be true.
At this point of the speech, it is clear however that him calling Brutus honourable is not a praise but him pointing out to the absurdity behind him justifying Caesar’s murder, the man who truly was honourable. However, Antony maintains his subtlety, giving a disclaimer of sorts by stating that he was, by no means, disproving Brutus but rather, merely stating facts as he knows. He thus puts himself on a pedestal where he himself had not stated anything explicit but rather, merely making the people think for themselves.
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 comes back to me.
This excerpt concludes with Antony finishing his powerful argument by pointing out how the people had indeed loved him but have cast away that love by refusing to mourn him. He bemoans and how clear judgement had been taken into hands by ‘brutish beasts’, a clever pun on the name ‘Brutus’.
He laments how people have lost their senses and quickly apologises for his emotional outburst as he himself was still mourning Caesar dearly. ‘Unlike them’ is what Antony leaves unsaid, thus efficiently provoking the mob and instigating them to seek revenge.
This is a powerful speech delivered by Mark Antony, well known for its persuasive nature. Antony wields his words masterfully, changing the mind of the people in the matter of minutes to see the good in Caesar. This is thus a tribute to Caesar and the friendship they shared.