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Antony predicts that his country will descend into civil war following Julius Caesar’s death and Rome is not safe for Octavius.
When Mark Antony saw Julius Caesar’s body, I am sure that a lot of things went through his head. Undoubtedly, one of them was, “This means war!” In Shakespeare’s play, this is essentially what he says in his soliloquy following his negotiation with Brutus.
When Antony confronted Brutus, he had assurances that he would not be killed. However, he did not really believe them. He sent his slave in first because he did not know what Brutus’s intentions were. Brutus assured him that he was not going to be next, but you can see why Antony wouldn't believe that.
Upon seeing the body, Antony was overcome with emotion. Caesar was his benefactor and uncle, and like a father to him. His death hit Antony hard. Antony was also aware that the death of the leader of Rome was going to send the city into turmoil. He shook the bloody hand of each conspirator, including Brutus, but inside he had to be both seething and calculating.
Once the conspirators leave, Antony gives a soliloquy that paints a terrifying picture of what is about to happen to Rome. It is part prediction and part promise. After all, Antony will be front and center in any civil war that ensues.
Domestic fury and fierce civil strife
Shall cumber all the parts of Italy;
Blood and destruction shall be so in use
And dreadful objects so familiar
That mothers shall but smile when they behold
Their infants quarter'd with the hands of war;
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds (Act 3, Scene 1)
Antony ends his speech with the famous imagery of Caesar’s spirit out for revenge that will “let slip the dogs of war.” Indeed, this speech is gorgeous in its horrible imagery. Mothers smile while they hold infants torn apart?
For Antony to predict a long civil war in Rome’s future is not much of a stretch. After all, what else can happen? The soldiers loyal to Caesar, including Antony, are not going to just bow down to Brutus and the other senators just because they killed Caesar. These men are loyal to Caesar. Antony plans to leverage that loyalty, applying it to him so that he can be the new leader of Rome. He knows that this will not be easy. One other problem? Caesar’s heir is here.
Another reason for a civil war is Octavius Caesar’s presence. Although Shakespeare does not really explain this, the civil war that Antony describes was prolonged by the fact that Octavius and Antony did not align allegiances right away. They initially fought each other. The senate had armies all over the place, until the triumvirate was finally formed. Antony definitely knew that Octavius might be an obstacle to his claiming power. This is one of the reasons he tried to keep him out of the city as long as possible. When the messenger arrives from Octavius, Antony sends back a message that the city is not safe.
Antony has assurances from Brutus that no one else will be harmed. Wouldn't that mean Octavius is safe? Again, Antony does not trust Brutus. Who would in those circumstances. However, Antony has a double motive for keeping Octavius away. As long as Octavius is outside of the city walls and not in the public eye, Antony is the heir to Caesar’s influence.
Antony leverages his alliance with Caesar during the eulogy. He celebrates Caesar carefully (even saying at one point that he is not there to praise him). His main purpose is to blame the conspirators for his death and show the people his will, so that the positive feelings they will get from being recipients of Caesar’s bequeaths will pass to him.
Civil war did indeed come to Rome. Antony’s famous soliloquy, in which he claims that Caesar’s spirit is letting loose the dogs of war, is somewhat disingenuous. It is true that avenging Caesar is part of Antony’s goal. However, he has been likely waiting a long time to get some power for himself. War is not coming to Rome by accident. Cassius, Brutus and the other conspirators passed the ball and Antony intercepted it. Caesar has been decried as ambitious, but there are a lot of ambitious men in Rome.
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