In Julius Caesar  who proves to be the better orator, Brutus or Antony? Provide reasons and specific references to the texts of the two orations.

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Brutus considers himself the better orator and has a reputation as a distinguished orator to uphold. Antony presents himself as a simple soldier. Brutus' speech shows his expertise. It is logical, well organized, and full of oratorical devices, especially rhetorical questions such as "Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman?" It should be noted that Brutus focuses on himself rather than on dead Caesar or on the assembled audience. Brutus is full of himself. His egotism is his one tragic flaw. He uses the word "I" or "me" in practically every sentence. For example:

As Caesar loved me, I weep for him. As he was fortunate, I rejoice at it. As he was valiant, I honor him. But as he was ambitious, I slew him.

Not only does he brag about himself, but he does it in carefully balanced sentences. He believes he is speaking effectively--but he seems cold, stilted, stiff, artificial, self-important, and very undemocratic. He invites his listeners to speak up, but he is making them afraid to do anything but listen respectfully to an aristocrat whose overbearing personality and overwhelming eloquence would humiliate anyone who dared ask a question or voice an opinion.

Mark Antony's funeral oration is probably the most famous thing Shakespeare ever wrote. Everybody knows the opening line:

Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.

This is an awkward opening containing an absurd metaphor which may have produced laughter from the actors representing the Roman mob as well as the audience in the theater. Antony may be deliberately pretending to be awkward, ill at ease, unaccustomed to public speaking, but motivated by strong feelings of grief for his murdered friend. (It is even possible that Brutus himself is standing in the background listening and then departing with a contemptuous sneer when he hears Antony asking the mob to lend him their ears.)

It is noteworthy that Antony does not talk about himself, as Brutus did, but talks about Brutus instead. He repeatedly refers to Brutus as honorable and noble, and he does this right up nearly to the end, where he says:

For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men's blood. I only speak right on.
I tell you that which you yourselves do know,
Show you dead Caesar's wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me. But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits, and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

It is also noteworthy that Brutus' speech is in prose while Antony's is in marvelous Shakespearean iambic pentameter which just seems to pour out of Antony's mouth spontaneously and inexhaustibly, driven by sincere emotion. Brutus is prosaic; Antony is poetic. Brutus appeals to reason; Antony appeals to emotion. Brutus talks like an aristocrat; Antony talks like a man of the people.

Antony is the clear winner in this oratorical contest. He is brilliant. He knows how to work the mob up into a mutinous rage before he even reveals his trump card, the will of Caesar which he has been concealing under his tunic. He has saved the most effective persuasive argument for last--which is always a good strategy in any speech.

Much later, when Antony and Octavius meet Brutus and Cassius before the battle at Philippi, Cassius says:

The posture of your blows are yet unknown;
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees,
And leave them honeyless.


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Julius Caesar

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