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What might be a good essay question regarding the speeches delivered by Antony and...

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queenie97 | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Honors

Posted May 10, 2012 at 6:34 AM via web

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What might be a good essay question regarding the speeches delivered by Antony and Brutus at Caesar's funeral in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 10, 2012 at 8:55 AM (Answer #1)

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In the funeral speeches delivered in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar by Mark Antony and Brutus, what fascinates me the most is the differences between the two speeches...reflected not only by the different personalities of the men delivering the speeches, but (obviously) by their intent.

Brutus is a man who loves Caesar. But he loves Rome more than anything, including his own life. He is willing to kill Caesar because he believes Caesar will destroy Rome:

And therefore think him as a serpent's egg

Which hatch'd would as his kind grow mischievous,

And kill him in the shell. (II.i.32-34)

Brutus is naive, duped into joining Cassius who, for almost the entire play, acts selfishly and without nobility. Brutus also misreads how their actions will be viewed:

Since they all acted for the good of Rome, how could Antony, or any Roman, not understand?

Brutus is a man of conviction: he doesn't just talk about saving Rome, but puts his life on the line to do so. After the assassination, Brutus wants to speak to the people to explain—from his heart—why the conspirators acted as they did. Brutus is admirable in wanting to face any possible consequences, assuming the responsibility of his actions. His only demand is that Antony not turn the crowd against what they have done when he speaks:

BRUTUS:

Mark Antony, here, take you Caesar's body.

You shall not in your funeral speech blame us,

But speak all good you can devise of Caesar,

And say you do't by our permission,

Else shall you not have any hand at all

About his funeral. And you shall speak

In the same pulpit whereto I am going,

After my speech is ended. (III.i.263-270)

Antony, on the other hand, is a man motivated by power. He seems to like Caesar well enough, but when he is murdered, Antony sees this as an opportunity to advance his own position in Rome's political structure. (He will eventually plot to kill Caesar's nephew, Octavius.) Antony promises Brutus to be honorable in his funeral speech, in no way discrediting the conspirators; but he manages to do so anyway. (And privately he promises to avenge Caesar's death.)

What is so fascinating is the way Antony is able to take Brutus' honest, heart-felt words and twist them in such a way that they no longer resemble (in their intent) what they did when they were first spoken. Antony's gift of rhetoric (his ability to use language so effectively) is amazing. (Of course, it is Shakespeare's gift, really.) 

Shakespeare portrays two very credible personalities; he also brilliantly uses their speeches to reflect the character of each man. Brutus is forthright; Antony is manipulative and self-serving.

If I were to put together an essay question with regard to this scene, it would be something like:

In Act Three, scene one, of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, describe how the content of the funeral speeches delivered by first by Brutus, and then by Antony, reflect the character of each man. Support with specific examples.

Or...

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus delivers his funeral speech and garners support from the crowd for the assassins' actions. Then, almost effortlessly, Mark Antony changes the opinion of the crowd to condemn the actions of the assassins. What literary device does Antony use in his speech to accomplish such a feat? Support with specific examples.

Sources:

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