Explain the significance of Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marc Antony has ulterior motives when he speaks to the crowd after Caesar’s death.  Brutus has already given the explanation for the death of Caesar.  Now, it is Antony’s turn to convince the audience that this is was a terrible wrong.  

In Act III, Scene ii, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Marc Antony turns the audience against the conspirators.  Antony begins:

‘Friends, Roman, Countrymen, I come to bury Caesar not to praise him.’

Even the first words of his speech serve a purpose.  Antony is placing himself on the same level as the commoners.  As he promised Brutus, he tells the crowd that he is speaking only to bury his beloved friend, Caesar.

He states that Caesar will probably only be remembered for the bad things that he did. The good will be forgotten when Caesar is buried.

Antony then begins to refer to Brutus and the conspirators with the words honorable and noble. Of course, Antony does not mean this, and initially he sounds sincere. As the oration progresses, Antony becomes more sarcastic as he uses the words.

Antony talks of Caesar supposed ambition.

If Caesar were ambitious, he has paid the price for his supposed ambition with his life. 

He reminds the crowd that he is speaking with permission of the “noble” Brutus.

Antony justifies why he is speaking for Caesar.  He was a good friend who was faithful and fair.

Was Caesar ambitious?

  • Caesar has filled the Roman treasury when he returned from battles.  He has been paid money for captives and given the money to Rome. 
  • When Caesar saw the hardships that many Romans live under, Caesar cried for them.
  • Three times, Antony offered the crown to Caesar, and he refused it.

Was this ambition? 

Antony does not understand how the Roman people could have loved Caesar so recently; and now, they cannot mourn his death.

Then Antony says  that men have turned into animals and have lost their ability to think.

He pauses to contain his grief. 

Then he points out Caesar’s body and tells the crowd that his heart his broken.

Antony returns with the intention of showing  the body of Caesar.

Antony says that he does not understand what the reasons were for the assassination.

Using humility, he says that he is not a great orator like Brutus. Antony claims to be an ordinary man who loved his friend. He has no ability to inspire or motivate the citizens.

Maybe the wounds of Caesar could speak for him.

Now lies he there, 
And none so poor to do him reverence.

O masters! If I were disposed to stir 
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage

Antony pulls out the will of Caesar.  Antony needs to inflame the citizens more.  He paints the picture of  Brutus and the other conspirators dipping their napkins in the blood of Caesar as a souvenir.

Antony reminds them of the power that Caesar once wielded. He pulls away the cloak covering the body of Caesar.  The crowd is shocked by the gruesome sight.  Antony begins to name each conspirator and the place where he stabbed Caesar.  He ends with the name of Brutus as the unkindest cut of all because Brutus was Caesar’s friend, and he broke his heart.

Then he reminds them of the will.  He tells them that Caesar has given every Roman citizen 75 drachmas and a large part of his lands which had been made into parks and recreational places for the  Romans.   

This turns the crowd into a mob and sends them out in search of the conspirators to assassinate them.

jdjames | Student

The significance of Antony's speech is to persuade the citizens that Brutus is wrong and that Caesar did not deserve to die.  By saying that Brutus is an "honorable man," then giving examples of Caesar's altruistic qualities, he is using verbal irony. 

The oration style is clearly persuasive - or rhetoric.  If you break it down, you will find many rhetorical devices present such as metonymy, antistrophe, etc...  (sorry, I'm not going to do this part of your homework for you).

As far as the result, read act III, scene ii - after Antony's "friends, Romans, countrymen" speech.  It should be clear there if he persuaded the citizens or not.

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

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