How does Marc Antony dispute Brutus as an honorable man in Julius Caesar by William Shakepeare?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

And Brutus is an honorable man...

In Act III, scene ii, of the political play, Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare, there is a clash of orators: Brutus, the popular senator-assassin and Antony, the grieving,  revenge-seeking friend of Caesar.

Marc Antony becomes the leading Roman citizen during his funeral oration for Julius Caesar, who was killed by assassins in 44 B.C. Antony was a trusted and loyal friend of Caesar.  During the assassination, the conspirators used Trebonius, another senator, to keep Antony from following Caesar into the senate.  When Antony heard about the murder, he left and returned to his home. 

Antony returns, finds the body of Caesar, and is shocked.  To make the conspirators think that he is willing to listen to the reasons for the murder, Antony shakes the hand of each one.   Foolishly, Brutus trusts Antony and tells him to speak after he speaks and not to speak badly about the conspirators. 

After Brutus speaks, the people, easily swayed, a-line themselves with the assassins yelling that Caesar was a tyrant and should not have lived.  At the crest of the mob's shouting,  Antony steps forward to give the greatest of all of Shakespeare's orations. 

His primary purpose is to remind the crowd of Caesar's value and to instill in them the need for vengeance against the assassins.

How does Antony change the view of the mob? Repeating phrases that Brutus used and pointing up false statements, Antony begins to place a wedge between the conspirators and the mob. The word repeatedly used to describe Brutus is honorable.  In the Roman times, the word honorable would have meant principled, noble, ethical. All of which are hard to associate with an assassin.

The first argument-

Brutus claimed that Caesar was too ambitious.

Anthony points out that Caesar brought much wealth back to Rome giving it to the government. Ransoms had been paid for captives and the money given to Rome.

Yet, Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honorable man.

Caesar worries about the poor and how to take care of them and is sensitive to their needs. Again he repeats:

'Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honorable man.'

Second argument-He refuses the crown when it was offered to him by Antony three times before he accepted it. How could the people so easily have forgotten how much they loved Caesar and how good he had been to them.

Third argument-The will is mentioned but not read.  Used as reverse psychology, Antony manipulates the crowd so that they are begging him to read it to them.  Of course, Caesar gives his land for parks and his money shared among the Romans.

Fourth argument-Antony uses the body of Caesar to drive the crowd into a frenzy.  Antony was not there, but he pretends to know which knife thrust belonged to each assassin. Naturally, he saves Brutus's wound for last, commenting on the fact that he was like a son to Caesar.  

I have o'ershot myself to tell you of it.                          I fear I wrong the honorable men
Whose daggers have stabb'd Caesar; I do fear it.

Each time he uses the word honorable it becomes more sarcastic. His last reference to Brutus comes when he tells the crowd that if they were to change places and he were Brutus, he would tell the people of Rome to rise up and seek vengeance for Caesar.  Of course, history tells us that is exactly what happens.

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Julius Caesar

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