What is the dramatic significance of Antony's speech at Caesar's funeral in Julius Caesar?

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Payal Khullar | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, who is a true friend of Caesar, promises Caesar’s soul that he’d seek revenge against the conspirators for his brutal murder. Shakespeare employs dramatic irony when Brutus takes Antony’s promise of not saying anything against the conspirators in front of the crowd for the audience/readers know Antony’s true intentions already. Unfortunately for Brutus (one of the conspirators), Antony gets a chance to address the plebeians alone.

Antony’s funeral speech (Act 3, Scene 2) is of great dramatic significance in the play. His speech is one of the finest and most remembered lines written by Shakespeare. The speech functions to nullify the effect of Brutus’ convincing explanation of Caesar’s murder, to hide his own intentions of revenge, to bring a culmination to the conspirators’ scheme of veiling their brutal act, and to shift the mood of the mob.

Antony knows that the crowd is convinced that Caesar’s murder happened in the best interest of Rome. He carefully tries to take a neutral ground to win the trust of the crowd-

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him

Antony says that Caesar is remembered for evil things after his death for the people of Rome forgot his good deeds. This directly calls for some reflection.

The evil that men do lives after them, 

The good is oft interred with their bones;

Note that in the above lines, Antony uses the famous device “personification”. He personifies the attributes evil and good.

Another device he uses is "Tautology" for, as we see, he sends the same idea or emotion using different words and phrases in his entire speech. But, perhaps, the most powerful device used in his oration is “irony”. He calls Brutus and conspirators as “noble” and “honorable”, which, of course, he doesn’t mean at all. The intended meaning is divorced from the literal meaning and the audience understands it.

So let it be with Caesar.

The noble Brutus

Hath told you Caesar was ambitious;

 &

For Brutus is an honorable man;

So are they all, all honorable men—      

As we see, after the end of every argument, Antony repeats the expression “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, And Brutus is an honorable man”. This technique or device is popularly known as “Antistrophe”.

Antony’s oration is powerful, persuasive and has a strong emotional appeal (pathos). His also gets the advantage of giving the last word. He carefully presents his arguments that contradict Brutus’ claim that Caesar was ambitious and his assassination was noble.

I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?

He makes the plebeians believe that the act of murder was not noble and aroused from hatred by showing them the brutally stabbed body of Caesar.

See what a rent the envious Casca made;

Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb'd;

He strategically reads out Caesar’s will in the end that piques the mob to seek revenge against the conspirators-

Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,

His private arbors, and new-planted orchards,

On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,

And to your heirs for ever; common pleasures,

To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.

Here is a film adaptation of the scene:

Sources:
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William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In reading Plutarch as his source for all the factual information contained in his play, Shakespeare saw that Mark Antony's funeral speech was the critical turning point. Cassius and Brutus have control of events up until the assassination of Caesar occurs. But after Antony arouses the Roman mob to mutiny, it is Antony and Octavius who are in command and Brutus and Cassius who are in retreat. Since Shakespeare's plays were mostly in poetic dialogue, he must have welcomed the opportunity to recreate Antony's actual funeral oration in English blank verse. Shakespeare's version of the speech, beginning with "Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears," is probably the best thing he ever wrote. In the play, as in actual history according to Plutarch, Antony shows the mob Caesar's torn and bloody cloak and then reads them Caesar's will. These prompt the mob to mutiny, and the mob causes the mutiny to spread. Brutus and Cassius are forced to flee from Rome. From that point on they are fighting at a disadvantage because Antony, along with Octavius and Lepidus, hold the seat of power, while Brutus and Cassius are confined to the hinterlands, where they obviously have difficulties raising money and recruiting soldiers. Brutus made a fatal mistake when he granted Antony permission to address the mob at Caesar's funeral. Antony shows unexpected eloquence in his oratory--but he had several things to help him move the mob to violence. He had the bloody cloak. He had Caesar's mutilated body. He had Caesar's will bequeathing money and lands to the citizens. And perhap best of all, Antony had his strong emotions of love for his dead friend Caesar and hatred for the men who had killed him. These emotions--at least in Shakespeare's version of the speech--inspire Antony to be unusually eloquent, and that eloquence changes the course of history.

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