William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar contrasts rhetorical styles and to argumentation. The conspirators knew they would need to explain the necessity of the assassination to the Roman people. Brutus would speak for the assassins.
Brutus struggled with joining the conspiracy. He actually felt that Caesar might become so powerful that he would return Rome to a tyrannical monarchy. However, to demonstrate Shakespeare's contempt for the assassination of Rome's greatest general and leader, he condemns Brutus to failure in his clash against Antony.
Brutus was successful in his basic oratory. The people were moved to make him the king. How then did he fail to convince the people?
1. Brutus spoke first
2. Shakespeare had Brutus speak in prose which was considered the style used by the common man. This would have been thought to be a slight and a judgment against Brutus's participation in the murder.
3. Brutus employs only two of the three rhetorical devices in oratory: ethos [his character] and logos [his reasoning and logic].
4. The oratory is brief, yet offers Brutus's reasons for taking part on the assassination.
5. He offers his specific reasons without attaching any real emotional appeal to them.
- Brutus loved Rome more than Caesar.
- Because Caesar was ambitious, he needed to die.
- Caesar might have made the citizens slaves, and no one wants that.
Of course, Brutus has one of the most memorable and well written lines in the play:
As Caesarloved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but as he was ambitious,
I slew him. There is tears for his love, joy for his fortune, honor for his valor, and death for his ambition.
(Well said, Brutus. It moves the people to lambast Caesar and herald you! Foolish man, you leave the people and go home giving clever Antony the opportunity to sway the fickle crowd.)
Antony's monologue ranks as one of the best of all of Shakespeare's monologues. Most of Shakespeare's dialogue is written in blank verse. It was traditional. Blank verse had been established as the rhythmical style for noble and important speeches.
Emotional, logical, psychological, manipulative--these are the rhetorical approaches that Antony uses to alter the course of history. From his words, Rome enters into a Civil War which will not stop until all the conspirators are dead, and including Antony and Lepidus, with Octavius Caesar rising to follow his uncle.
How does Antony alter the people again?
- uses the noble language of the blank verse
- points out the things that Caesar has done for Rome
- utilizes the body of Caesar to show the horror of his death
- exaggerates Brutus's part in the actual stabbing
- chooses words to sarcastically emphasize, i.e., honorable
- manipulates the people with the will of Caesar
- displays so much emotion that he can hardly continue speaking
Antony cleverly explains his supposed purpose:
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
The difference between the two orators is significant and purposeful. Shakespeare contrasted the two styles of rhetoric defined by the great Aristotle. The emotional appeal written in the popular blank verse reminded the crowd of their love for Caesar and their hatred of his killers.