How did Marc Antony argue against Caesar's "ambition" in his funeral speech?

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In act 3, scene 2, there are actually two speeches. The first is given by Brutus and the second by Antony. In the initial speech, Brutus states that Caesar was killed for the interest of Rome. Brutus presents himself as a patriot and Caesar as a potential tyrant. His message wins the enthusiastic support of the crowd. Antony's own speech should be read as a response to that initial speech and (moreover) an attempt to turn that same public opinion against Brutus and the conspirators. Undermining Brutus's characterization of Caesar thus has a critical role in his rhetoric.

Antony uses an evidentiary approach to this problem, providing testimony which, he claims, runs counter to Brutus's charge:

He hath brought many captives home to Rome,

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff (act 3, scene 2).

Antony points both toward Caesar's political life as a Roman citizen as well as his attitudes and sympathies for the poor, creating a picture that, he suggests, is in conflict with the one presented by Brutus. Next, he invokes his most important piece of evidence: Caesar's repeated refusal of a crown (evidence he finds difficult to reconcile with Caesar's supposedly ambitious personality). Already at this point, we can observe the audience becoming convinced and turning towards Antony's side. From here, he will bring up Caesar's will, which gave land and money to the people of Rome. This turns public opinion violently against the conspirators.

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In his funeral oration to the crowd of common Romans, Brutus explains that the assassins killed Julius Caesar because he become too ambitious and threatened to turn into a tyrant. Brutus says that although he loved Caesar, he loved Rome more, and he did what he had to do to protect his city. By the end of his speech, the crowd is swayed in favor of him.
Antony, however, speaks next. He has promised to say nothing evil of Brutus or the conspirators, so he uses mockery to turn the crowd against them.
Antony asserts that Caesar was not an ambitious man. He says that Caesar used the spoils of war for the general benefit of Rome. Antony also states that Caesar sympathized deeply with the poor, saying:
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.
In other words, if Caesar were truly ambitious, he would not have shed tears for the poor, as there was no power to be gained that way.
Finally, Antony says that he offered Caesar the crown three times and that in every case, Caesar refused it. That is not the act of an ambitious man.
Antony mocks Brutus, saying that if he thought Caesar was ambitious it must be true because he is an honorable man. Antony repeats the phrase about Brutus being an honorable man so many times that it becomes clear to the listeners he is speaking acidly and ironically—he does not think murdering Caesar was in any way honorable. Antony's speech manages to turn the crowd against Brutus and the conspirators.
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In Act 3.2 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Antony juxtaposes (places in opposition) an unambitious act performed by Caesar, with a refrain about Brutus's (or the other conspirators') belief that Caesar was ambitious and about Brutus (or the other conspirators) being honorable men.  I'll put it in bullets:

  • Caesar did an unambitious act
  • But Brutus says he was ambitious
  • And Brutus is an honorable man

Here's an example from Antony's speech, with the quotes in bullets:

  • I thrice presented him a kingly crown,/Which he did thrice refuse.  Was this ambition?
  • Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
  • And sure he is an honorable man.  (Act 3.2.105-108)

Antony uses irony to persuade the crowd that Caesar was not ambitious and was therefore assassinated unjustly, because he earlier promises Brutus that he will not directly say anything negative about the conspirators.  He, therefore, says only positive things about the conspirators, but the juxtaposition of Caesar's unambitious acts with those positive things, creates irony. 

And it also creates a mob that riots through Rome looking to kill the conspirators.


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In his funeral speech in Act III, Scene 2, Marc Antony means to rebut Brutus's claim that Caesar was ambitious.  He does it by listing a bunch of things that Caesar did that he does not think showed Caesar being ambitious.

Some examples of this include:

  • He captured people in war and brought them back to Rome.  Their ransoms put lots of money in Rome's "coffers."
  • Caesar sympathized with the poor -- ambitious people don't do that, Antony says.
  • Caesar three times refused to be crowned king.

While listing these things, Antony uses irony quite effectively to show that Caesar was not ambitious and Brutus is.

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