In Act III scene ii of Julius Caesar, how does Shakespeare show that the crowd has not really understood why Brutus killed Caesar?
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In this scene, first Brutus and then Antony make impassioned speeches at Caesar’s funeral. Brutus endeavours to explain his reasons for killing Caesar to the crowd. He says he did it for the greater good as Caesar was becoming too powerful and might have set up as dictator, imposing one-man rule on the people – something that could not be allowed to happen in republican Rome.
Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar was dead, to live all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.(III.ii.22-26)
Thus Brutus stresses his personal love for Caesar at the same time that he tries to justify killing him in the interests of political expediency. Exalted by his idealistic vision for the state of Rome, he seems to expect the crowd to understand and accept his political and altruistic reasons for despatching Caesar.
However, the crowd’s immediate reaction to his speech shows very plainly that they simply have not understood the nature of what he has just said. They do applaud him, it is true, but only because they are impressed by his fervent emotional appeal, and certainly not because they share his political views. Quite the opposite; they call for him to be elevated, even as Caesar was. ‘’Give him a statue with his ancestors’, they cry. ‘Let him be Caesar.’ (III.ii.50-51). This is precisely what Brutus does not want; one man being honoured above the rest is just what he has been arguing so strenuously against. This is the central irony of the play.
Brutus does everything in the name of the Roman state, of the Roman people, and the crowd’s response make a mockery of his ideals and show that really his actions have all been for nothing. The people could not care less about reasoned political debate; they just respond to anyone who happens to make a fine speech. They are depicted as an unthinking, all-too easily-swayed mob; and it is not long before they turn against Brutus once more, having been whipped up into a pro-Caesar frenzy by the cunning Antony.
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