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At the end of Act 3, Scene 1, Antony makes a deal with Brutus that he will not speak badly of him at the funeral. He proceeds carefully in this scene. After all, they are all still holding daggers and standing in front of Caesar’s body. Although Brutus assures him he is safe and they do not intend to kill anyone else, he treads carefully. He shakes all of their hands and is generally respectful despite a few momentary lapses of emotion.
After they leave though, Antony breaks into an angry rant. He soliloquizes a vow for revenge, and predicts a bloody civil war.
Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!
Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,--…
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy… (Act 3, Scene 1)
Antony says Caesar’s spirit wants revenge, but it is Antony who will “let slip the dogs of war” (Act 3, Scene 1). He does not plan to let the conspirators get away with this. Cassius was right to fear letting Antony speak. He has something up his sleeve. While it has been hinted that he is nothing but a party boy and a limb of Caesar, Antony is capable of more. He will show us this in his speech at the funeral, where he will carefully manipulate the crowd into an angry mob and accuse the conspirators of murder even after Brutus claims that what they did they did for the good of Rome.
Antony does not plan to sit idly by and let Caesar’s death be unavenged. Although he is clearly emotional when he sees the body, his every move is calculating from this point on. Brutus never sees it coming, and it is his greatest mistake. Underestimating Antony was his downfall, and he underestimated Antony twice—once letting him live, and once letting him speak.
Shakespeare must have had more than one purpose for Antony's soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1. For one thing, Antony summarizes what actually happened after Caesar's assassination in the form of a prediction or prophecy. This is really intriguing. Antony is telling the audience what happened in history as if he is foretelling it, describing the past as if it were the future. Shakespeare must have felt he had to cover those matters somehow, because the action in the play seems to jump quickly from the flight of Brutus and Cassius from Rome to the battle at Philippi, whereas a great deal happened in the years between.
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use,
And dreadful objects so familiar,
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
And Caesar's spirit ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.
Shakespeare must have had another reason for giving Antony this truly eloquent soliloquy at this point. Nobody in the audience has any idea that the fun-loving, heavy-drinking, thoroughly macho Marc Antony is capable of such thoughts and words. Shakespeare did not want to surprise his audience with this revelation when Antony actually begins his funeral oration. It would seem too out of character. How can Marc Antony suddenly become so eloquent? It would create some confusion. It would seem as if William Shakespeare is arbitrarily giving his character unbelievable oratorical powers and that it is not Marc Antony speaking but William Shakespeare.
Why weren't people aware of Marc Antony's acute intelligence and oratorical power before that funeral speech? Possibly because Antony lived under Julius Caesar's shadow and was somehow released psychologically when his father figure died. Antony may despise orators and oratory. He sounds that way when he talks about Brutus, and he probably means it when he says, "I am no orator, as Brutus is." Antony probably prides himself on being a soldier and a man of action rather than a philosopher and a public speaker. He may be the kind of man who shuns public speaking until he is forced to stand up and talk. It is noteworthy that Antony speaks extemporaneously in both the soliloquy and the funeral oration. Brutus, by contrast, probably wrote out his speech in advance and memorized it because he knew that Caesar was going to die and that he would have to explain things to the senators and commoners. Furthermore, Antony is speaking from his heart, both in that soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1 and in the funeral oration in Act 3, Scene 1. Perhaps really extreme emotion can bring out eloquence in all of us. We can forget who we are and where we are, and the words just seem to pour out as if dictated by one of the Greek muses.
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