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Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare is based on an actual event in history. On March 15, 44 B.C., Caesar was assassinated in the forum by men that he trusted, particularly Brutus. Marc Antony, loyal to Caesar, is outraged by Caesar's murder. Brutus believes that Antony and the Romans can be persuaded that the assassination was necessary for the good of Rome.
After learning of the murder, Antony returns to see what has happened. Cleverly, he convinces the conspirators that he is not angry but greatly saddened by the death of Caesar. To reassure them, he shakes their hands advising them that he will make no judgement until he hears Brutus' explanation.
Despite observing Antony's grief over Caesar's body, Brutus, in his naivete, makes several key mistakes:
1. Antony is allowed to live.
2. Antony will speak after Brutus.
3. Antony brings in the bloody body of Caesar, shocking the people.
4. Brutus believes Antony when he says he will not blame the conspirators.
5. Brutus leaves the scene during Antony's oration.
All errors which allow Antony to achieve his purpose: to incense the Romans to rise up and kill the conspirators.
Using dramatic irony, Shakespeare sets the scene when Antony is left along with Caesar's body. The reader knows that Antony is not just the grieving, sad fellow ready to hear the excuses made by the murderers:
Cry "havoc!" And let slip the dogs of war,
That his foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
During Brutus speech, Antony enters carrying the bloody body of Caesar. Using his extraordinary oratory skills and brilliant verbal irony, the conspirators do not have a chance against Antony.
In probably, the most powerful oration in all of literature, Antony begins by reminding them of all that Caesar had done for the Romans: then, he jolts their memories that Caesar had refused the crown three times before accepting it. Further, he repeatedly uses Brutus' name and ironically reiterates that "They all are honorable men..." He disputes each point of Brutus. Dramatically, he pulls the sheet displaying Caesar's bloody body. Suddenly, Antony brings forth the will of Caesar and tells them about all of the things that Caesar had planned to provide for Rome. The people go mad with grief and anger, and begin to pursue the conspirators, killing several of them on the spot.
Before his oration, Antony met with Octavius, the man destined to become the next Roman emperor. Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus form a new triumvirate and set out to hunt down the conspirators.
In Act IV, Shakespeare reveals a new side of Antony's character: his ambition. Like the conspirators before him, the scene opens with Antony and Lepidus deciding who should live or die. When Lepidus leaves the room, Antony says that Lepidus is no better than a horse that can be trained. Trusting no one around, he covertly tells Octavius that they must find and kill Cassius and Brutus.
Antony possesses many distasteful qualities: he is distrustful, greedy, ambitious, and murderous. Antony, although truly distraught over the death of Caesar, saw the assassination as an opportunity to obtain power for himself. He was both a grief stricken friend and an ambitious, aspiring leader.
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