In Julius Caesar, what is Mark Antony's funeral speech saying in Modern English? How does the speech relate to this particular play?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Marc Antony's funeral oration is marked by his use of reverse psychology as he announces the opposite of his intentions in his speech to the Romans. In this way, he effectively achieves his goal of pointing to the ambitions not of Caesar, but of the conspirators, thus rousing the plebeians to riot and civil war. Indeed, Marc Antony's speech defines a turning point in the play as he rouses the crowd to such a high emotional point.

After Brutus finishes his address to the Romans, he feels that they understand that Caesar was assassinated because of his concern for Rome lest it fall under tyranny. However, after Marc Antony is allowed to address the crowd, the unsuspecting Brutus finds that it is he and the others who are suspected of being too ambitious. 

In his oration Marc Antony claims that he has come to "bury Caesar, not to praise him"; in other words, he has come to put an end to discussion of Caesar's ambitions and tyranny. Antony tells the Romans that Brutus, who is noble, claims that Caesar was ambitious, a serious flaw for which he paid dearly. But, with the permission of the others and Brutus, Marc Antony declares that he has come merely to speak to the Romans. He then tells the plebeians that Caesar was his friend, faithful and fair to him. Yet, he adds, Brutus claims he was ambitious, and, after all "Brutus is an honorable man." Antony cleverly juxtaposes a contradictory statement with those that Brutus has made. He tells the crowd that Caesar brought home captives from war whose ransoms added much wealth to the Roman coffers, posing the rhetorical question, "Is this the work of an ambitious man?" And, with added sarcasm, Antony tells how Caesar cried for the poor, adding, "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff."

Again and again, Antony mentions Caesar's display of humility, such as refusing a crown, but attaches his sarcasm to the statement,

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And sure he is an honorable man. (3.2.99-100)

He then reminds the crowd that they once loved Caesar; so why should they not mourn for him? After this, he acts as though he does not want something, but he really does because he strives to swing the crowd's emotions against Brutus and the others. As he continues, Marc Antony cleverly pretends to be a poor speaker, but he really manipulates the crowd as he uses the term "honorable" with reverse psychology while pointing to the mistakes of the conspirators in believing Caesar ambitious. Also, Antony mentions that he has found Caesar's will, but he says that he does not intend to read it because they should not know how much Caesar loved them, implying they agreed that Caesar deserved killing. Antony delays, then he says that he fears that he has wronged "the honorable men/Whose daggers have stabbed Caesar...." (3.2.152-153)
By this time, Marc Antony has greatly stirred the crowd, who denounce the conspirators as "villains and murderers." Dramatically, Antony pulls away the shroud on Caesar's body and points to the wounds that Casca made, then those that Brutus made, and so on as he dramatically calls upon the gods while using inflammatory words such as "bloody treason" and "traitors."
Clearly, Antony has turned the crowd against Brutus and the others, inciting them while insisting that he does not want to stir them "To such a sudden flood of mutiny" (3.2.221), all the while using the words wise and honorable with continued sarcasm. In his manipulation of the crowd with reverse psychology, Antony finally foments mutiny and civil war:

....But were I Brutus
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffles up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar's that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny. (3.2.220-224)

Certainly, Marc Antony has influenced the crowd enough to destroy the conspirators, which has truly been his intention from the beginning.


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