Bring out the irony in Antony's oration in Julius Caesar

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litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Mark Antony is speaking at a very politically charged event.  In fact, in many ways it is the most important event of his political career.  He is well aware of the importance of this occasion, and has put a lot of thought into his speech.  Antony is coy and cunning.  At every step, he manipulates the situation deftly to his advantage.  Brutus plays right into his hands.  Antony knows that Brutus has the upper hand when he and his followers kill Caesar.  This speech is all about getting that advantage back.

Antony uses irony in his speech.  Irony is when you say the opposite of what is true.  The audience would have understood that Antony was being ironic, at least at some point.  Some would call it sarcasm.

The first thing Antony had to do was ask Brutus for permission to speak.  He speaks after Brutus, and assures Brutus that he will make it clear that he speaks because Brutus allows him to.  Even this shows his political acumen.  The people know that Brutus has committed murder, and killed their beloved leader.  He does not all have them convinced it is the tyrannicide he said it was.  Antony’s job is to convince them that it wasn’t, and they can’t trust Brutus and the others.  He begins by using Brutus’s introduction, and the fact that he needed Brutus’s permission.  Ironically, Brutus is only in charge because he killed Caesar, the rightful ruler of Rome.

Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—

For Brutus is an honorable man

So are they all, all honorable men—

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral. (Act 3, Scene 2)

In addition to use of irony in pointing out that he has Brutus’s permission and then using that permission to politically destroy Brutus, Antony also insults Brutus and the others.  He calls Brutus an “honorable man, ” which implies that he is acting with honor and doing the right thing, a man to be trusted, and then goes on throughout the whole speech to explain why Brutus and the others, whom Antony also calls “honorable men” cannot be trusted.

Another use of irony in the speech is Antony’s heavy leaning on the word “ambition.”  Antony mentions ambition several times, explaining that Brutus killed Caesar because he claimed Caesar was ambitious, but Caesar was not the only showing ambition so the irony is that it was really Brutus who was the ambitious one. 

You all did see that on the Lupercal

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse. Was this

ambition?(105)

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,

And sure he is an honorable man.

I speak not to disprove what Brutus

spoke, (Act 3, Scene 2)

 Antony explains that Caesar was well loved, and refused to be named king when Antony offered him the crown at the feast of Lupercal.  He is playing to the audience’s emotions, and using irony to remind them that Caesar was the one who cared about them.  He was personable, regal, and popular.  He could address a crowd and win it over, as Antony is doing now.  Antony is playing on his popularity.  Brutus’s speech is more cerebral and pragmatic.  It does not play to the heartstrings like Antony’s.

Antony won the speech-off.  As the speech continues, he stirs the audience up to more and more emotion until they finally get into such a frenzy that they turn into a mob.  Brutus and company are driven out of town.

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