How should the people view the conspirators and Caesar, according to Antony’s funeral speech?

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pnrjulius eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Found in Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, this is one of the most famous speeches in all of theatre.

Through it, Shakespeare has Marcus Antonius (Antony) engage in some of the greatest praeteritio of all time, claiming that he is criticizing Caesar while heaping praise upon him, and claiming that he is honoring the conspirators while deriding and disparaging them.

He says repeatedly that the conspirators are "honorable men", but by the end he has so thoroughly detailed their lies and crimes that "honorable men" begins to sound like an insult.

In particular, Brutus often accused Caesar of being "ambitious", which doesn't sound so bad to us, but in Shakespeare's time had a connotation closer to "audacious" or even "megalomaniacal". Antonius goes through several examples of Caesar acting justly and magnanimously, each time saying that this doesn't seem very ambitious, "But Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honorable man."

Thus, if you use the surface meaning of his words, Antonius is saying that Caesar is despicable and megalomaniacal and Brutus and the conspirators are honorable and just; but if you delve deeper into the implications of his statements, he is clearly saying that Caesar was the honorable one, a great and worthy leader who was struck down in his prime by the cruel and mendacious conspirators. But he has plausible deniability to protect himself from the conspirators---because after all, he did just say that they were all "honorable men".

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Julius Caesar

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