Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
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It is one of Shakespeare's most famous lines from all of his works.
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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 Caesar, 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, whence 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."
As an icon of rhetoric
The speech is a famous example of the use of emotionally charged rhetoric. Comparisons have been drawn between this speech and political speeches throughout history in terms of the rhetorical devices employed to win over a crowd.
- McDonald, Russ (2001-02-20). The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. Bedford/St. Martin's. pp. 53–. ISBN 9780312248802. Retrieved 25 November 2014.
- Auger, Peter (2010). The Anthem Dictionary of Literary Terms and Theory. Anthem Press. pp. 262–. ISBN 9780857286703. Retrieved 25 November 2014.