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Act III, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is a key scene of the play, of course, as it demonstrates the cleverness of Marc Antony, but also, when it is examined retrospectively after Act IV, Scene 1, known as the "proscription scene," the reader perceives the hypocrisy of what Antony says and does in Act III. Later, when Antony hands over the life of his nephew Lepidus in Act IV, who Antony says is no more worthy than his horse, and when Antony prompts a civil war by telling the Romans "to rise and mutiny," the reader notices the moral flaws in Antony's character that Cassius suspected in Act III.
While some critics argue that Marc Antony's grief over the loss of Caesar is genuine, because he praises Caesar in private, other critics challenge Antony's loyalty to Caesar and Rome when he wishes for revenge and for the carnage that civil war produces. In addition, his conduct in Act IV points to his less than noble character traits. Thus, Marc Anthony proves himself manipulative and dangerous, just as Cassius has suspected. His sending of the olive branch; his suggestion that the conspirators kill him; his shaking of the conspirators' bloody hands; and his wish to speak after Brutus does are political ploys to disarm the noble Brutus so that Antony can use Brutus's own words against him in Antony's own funeral oration.
In Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, Antony is politically savvy with regard to Caesar's assassins.
First Antony sends a servant to offer an "olive branch," a symbol of peace. He in no way shows anger over the death of a leader he loved so well. He asks, through the servant, that if the assassins will promise him safe passage, and if they can explain why Caesar needed to die, he will follow them, even though he loved Caesar.
Brutus is noble, wise, valiant, and honest;
Caesar was mighty, bold, royal, and loving.(140)
Say I love Brutus and I honor him;
Say I fear'd Caesar, honor'd him, and loved him.
If Brutus will vouchsafe that Antony
May safely come to him and be resolved
How Caesar hath deserved to lie in death,(145)
Mark Antony shall not love Caesar dead
So well as Brutus living, but will follow
The fortunes and affairs of noble Brutus... (III.i.139-148)
When the men agree and send the servant back, Antony meets with them. Antony offers to allow them to kill him by saying that if they hate him so much, it would be an honor to die by the same sword that killed Caesar whom he loved. Brutus is quick to deny this as their intent. He asks only for time so that they might explain why they killed Caesar, and Antony agrees.
I know not, gentlemen, what you intend,(165)
Who else must be let blood, who else is rank.
If I myself, there is no hour so fit
As Caesar's death's hour, nor no instrument
Of half that worth as those your swords, made rich
With the most noble blood of all this world. (170)
I do beseech ye, if you bear me hard,
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Fulfill your pleasure. (III.i.165-173)
To allay the conspirator's concerns as to where Antony's loyalties lie, Antony then offers to shake their "bloody" hands, literally bloody and/or figuratively bloody (from the guilt of killing Caesar)—Antony forges a bond with these men.
I doubt not of your wisdom.
Let each man render me his bloody hand. (III.i.198-199)
Antony asks that he might take Caesar's body and see to his funeral arrangements, and the conspirators agree. Then they leave. It is at this point that Antony once again admits his respect and dedication to Caesar but he also promises that he will avenge Caesar's death, and Heaven help anyone who lifted a hand to bring about his end: he utters a curse...
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy
Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips (280)
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue,
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy... (III.i.279-285)
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