Are the plebeians convinced after Brutus's speech in Act 3, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar? How do you know?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Brutus already has an excellent reputation with all the Roman people. He is also a polished orator as well as a highly intelligent and charismatic man. The plebeians listen to him with respect and remain silent when he asks three times for anyone who is not convinced to speak up. For example:

Who is here
so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak, for him
have I offended. I pause for a reply.          3.2

This is an effective rhetorical trick, although Brutus is totally sincere and passionately believes that he did the right thing in leading the assassination conspiracy against his friend Julius Caesar. The plebeians are persuaded by their own silence that Brutus's actions were just and patriotic. When Brutus tells them he is willing to kill himself with the same dagger that stabbed Caesar "when it shall please my country to need my death," there is an outburst of support from the assembled crowd.

ALL THE PLEBEIANS
Live, Brutus, live, live!

FIRST PLEBEIAN
Bring him with triumph home unto his house.

FOURTH PLEBEIAN
Give him a statue with his ancestors

THIRD PLEBEIAN
Let him be Ceasar.

FIFTH PLEBEIAN
Caesar's better parts
Shall be crowned in Brutus.

FIRST PLEBEIAN
We'll bring him to his house with shouts and clamors.    3.2

Brutus could hardly have hoped for a better response to his speech than he has received. The plebeians are thoroughly convinced that Brutus and his followers did the right thing in assassinating Julius Caesar. Shakespeare in imagining and dramatizing this event in history wanted to make Mark Antony's task as difficult as possible in order to highlight Antony's eloquence and the fickleness of the Roman mob. When Antony's turn comes to speak, he is facing a hostile audience. One of them says:

'Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here!      

Another says:

This Caesar was a tyrant.     3.2

Brutus has further demonstrated his noble character by telling the plebeians that Antony is speaking to them with the permission of himself and the other conspirators. Brutus is what vaudeville performers call "a tough act to follow." But Antony succeeds in turning the plebeians completely around by appealing to their emotions and selfish interests rather than to their reason. Brutus probably has no idea that Antony has an ace-in-the-hole in Caesar's will concealed inside his toga. By making Antony's situation so difficult, Shakespeare makes his speech seem all the more eloquent and effective. Shakespeare's audience may have been unprepared for the emotional impact of Antony's eloquence and for the violent reaction that would follow it. Much later at Philippi during a parlay before the battle of Philippi, Cassius tells Antony:

Antony,
The posture of your blows are yet unknown;
But for your words, they rob the Hybla bees,
And leave them honeyless.      5.1

The fact that Antony managed to turn the plebeians against Brutus does not mean that Brutus did not have their wholehearted approval and support before Antony's famous funeral oration.

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