Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears is the first line of a famous and often-quoted speech by Mark Antony in the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare. It is taken from Act III, scene II.
About the speech
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
Antony has been allowed by Brutus and the other conspirators to make a funeral oration for Caesar on condition that he not blame them for Caesar's death. However, while Antony's speech outwardly begins by justifying the actions of Brutus and the assassins ("I come to bury Caeasar, not to praise him"), Antony uses rhetoric to ultimately portray Caesar in such a positive light that the crowd are enraged against the conspirators.
Throughout his speech, Antony calls the conspirators "honourable men" - his implied sarcasm becoming increasingly obvious. He begins by carefully rebutting the notion that Caesar deserved to die because he was ambitious, instead claiming that his actions were for the good of the Roman people, whom he cared for deeply ("When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: /Ambition should be made of sterner stuff"). He denies that Caesar wanted to make himself king.
As Antony reflects on Caesar's death and the injustice of the idea that nobody will mourn him, he becomes overwhelmed with emotion and deliberately pauses ("My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,/ And I must pause till it come back to me"). As he does this, the crowd begins to turn against the conspirators.
Antony then teases the crowd with Caesar's will, which they beg him to read, but he refuses. Antony tells the crowd to "have patience" and expresses his feeling that he will "wrong the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar" if he is to read the will. The crowd, increasingly agitated, calls the conspirators "traitors" and demands that Antony read out the will.
Instead of reading the will immediately, however, he focuses the crowd's attention on Caesar's body, pointing out his wounds and stressing the conspirators' betrayal of a man who trusted them, in particular the betrayal of Brutus ("Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!") In response to the passion of the crowd Antony denies that he is trying to agitate them ("I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts") but contrasts Brutus, "an orator", with himself "a plain, blunt man" implying that Brutus has manipulated them through deceitful rhetoric. He claims that if he were as eloquent as Brutus he could give a voice to each of Caesar's wounds "that should move/ The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny."
After that Antony deals his final blow by revealing to the crowd Caesar's will, in which "To every Roman citizen he gives,/ To every several man seventy-five drachmas" as well as land. He ends his speech with a dramatic flourish: "Here was a Caesar, when comes such another?", at which point the crowd begin to riot and search out the assassins with the intention of killing them.
Antony then utters to himself, "Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course thou wilt."
Relevance and cultural impact
The line Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend your ears to me appears in "Stabbed in the back" song about the murder of Julius Caesar in "Histeria" TV series.
In the song "Act III Scene 2", by Saul Williams, he sings the lyrics "This one goes out to my man, taking cover in the trenches with a gun in his hand. Then gets home and no one flinches when he can't feed his fam. But Brutus is an honorable man." The title of the song refers to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar", Act 3 Scene 2, the very scene the "honorable man" quote derives from.
The line "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend your ears" appears in the Talib Kweli song, "Listen" from the 2007 album, "Eardrum."
James Joyce also references the line 'Brutus is an honourable man' in his book Ulysses.
As an icon of rhetoric
The speech is a famous example of the use of emotionally charged rhetoric. Indeed, comparisons have been drawn between this famous speech and political speeches throughout history in terms of the rhetorical devices employed to win over a crowd; see, for instance, the 1935 essay by Kenneth Burke titled "Antony in Behalf of the Play," which ventriloquizes Antony's speech in order to reveal its manipulative devices (in Kenneth Burke on Shakespeare 2007). Bertolt Brecht has a demagogue trained in political rhetoric by an actor using this speech in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui. Canadian politician Justin Trudeau also employs the speech in a eulogy to his father Pierre Elliot Trudeau. It is also a demonstration of political populism.
The famous speech is alluded to in the television series Rome, though the speech itself is left unheard. The character of Antony is later seen mocking Brutus, saying that maybe his speech was too "cerebral" for the crowd.