Shakespeare Quotes

Sterner stuff

Marcus Antonius:
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.

Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 2, 91–94

Marc Antony continues, with bitter irony, to manipulate his friends, Romans, and countrymen [see p. 44]. This is his funeral oration for the murdered Julius Caesar, and he's speaking with the permission of the honorable Brutus, one of the assassins. Brutus had earlier questioned the crowd, rhetorically, whether they had "rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all freemen" (lines 22–24). Antony mocks the notion that Caesar had ambitions to rule over his jealously republican countrymen. He paints Caesar as a tenderhearted friend of the poor, just as he will paint Brutus as a coldhearted traitor to his friend Caesar [see THE MOST UNKINDEST CUT OF ALL].

We use "sterner stuff" primarily to mean "sturdier stuff"; Antony implies as much, but his literal sense ("sterner" meaning "harsher") is more appropriate, Antony's intention is to embellish Caesar's kindheartedness, almost to the point of calling him weak. Caesar comes off a helpless victim; Brutus and company loom as stern assassins. Given the danger he faces while the conspirators are effectively in control of the state, Antony cloaks his point in irony, but only thinly. He repeats "Brutus is an honorable man" four times in seventeen lines, leaving no one in doubt as to his true meaning.

Themes: ambition

Speakers: Marcus Antonius