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In William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, Mark Antony gives a powerful funeral oration (3.2.73-107; 118-37; 139-261) that is cleverly designed to convince the crowd of Caesar’s goodness and of the conspirators’ crime. Repetition is a major rhetorical device in this speech. In particular, Antony’s continual claim that “Brutus is an honorable man” seems increasingly ironic and sarcastic each time Antony repeats it.
One way that Antony tries to make Caesar appear as good a person as possible is to stress his various virtues, including friendship, fidelity (85), success as a Roman military leader, contributions through such leadership to the treasury of Rome (88-89), compassion for the poor (91), modesty and lack of ambition (95-97), love of the people (141), and generosity to the people (145). Antony also, of course, tries to make Caesar appear to have been the innocent victim of a brutal (no pun intended) slaughter (169-96). In all these ways, then, Antony very effectively generates both admiration and sympathy for Caesar.
In describing the conspirators, on the other hand, Antony moves from feigned respect to increasingly obvious contempt. He continually implies that Brutus was hyper-critical of Caesar, failing to forgive whatever faults Caesar may have demonstrated (73-107). However, he most effectively brands the conspirators as criminals when he describes the murder of Caesar and in the process suggests that Brutus ungratefully betrayed a true friend and admirer. Displaying Caesar’s blood-soaked mantle or cloak, Antony exclaims,
Look, in this place ran Cassius' dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd;
And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow'd it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock'd, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar's angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors' arms,
Quite vanquish'd him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey's statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell. (175-89)
Antony’s speech is justly one of the most famous orations in all of Shakespeare’s works and indeed in all of Western literature. It is a masterpiece of rhetoric, in which Antony uses a wide combination of methods to stir admiration and compassion for Caesar and to provoke disrespect for Brutus and the other conspirators.
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