What impression does Shakespeare give of the crowd's mentality in Act III?Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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More than Sigmund Freud, Harold Bloom declares, William Shakespeare is "our psychologist."  A perspicacious observer of mankind, Shakespeare demonstrates with the Roman crowd how easily men's minds can be swayed.  While the idealistic Brutus believes that the Romans will be convinced through logic that it has been necessary to remove Caesar as leader of Rome, telling them that he loved Rome more than Caesar:

Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves,
than that Caesar were dead to live all freemen? 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. There is tears for his love, joy for his fortune,
....honor for his valor, and death for his ambition. Who is here
so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak, for him
have I offended. I pause for a reply.
(3.2.23-34)

However, this idealistic trust in the rationality of the crowd is soon dispelled when Marc Antony addresses the Romans in emotional appeals to their love and loyalty:

You all did love him once, not without cause;
What cause withholds you then to mourn for him?
O judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.(3.2.110-115)

Then Antony brings out the mutilated body of Caesar for the crowd to see.  Finally, he appeals to one of the strongest urges of man--that of greed, reading the will of Caesar which bequeaths money to each and every Roman citizen; Antony suggests that Brutus and the other conspirators have prevented the Romans from receiving this reward.  Ironically, a citizen remarks, "Methinks there is much reason in his sayings," indicating how easily Antony has swayed them from their previous feelings.  Thus, in the ensuing riot scene which begins a civil war, Shakespeare clearly points to the capricious, unreasoning mentality of crowds driven by the urges of greed, blind loyalty, and revenge. 

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