Discuss the citizens of Rome in Act III, Scene ii,  in Julius Caesar  by William Shakespeare.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare depicts the assassination of "the greatest Roman who ever lived." The play, based on actual events in 44 B. C., portrays two factions: those who support Caesar and those who want him dead. In Act III, Scene ii, Brutus and Marc Antony face off against each other in front of the Roman Senate building.

After the murder of Caesar, Brutus's plan to divide the crowd and explain why Caesar had to die.  After his speech, then, Marc Antony, trusted and loyal friend to Caesar, will give his funeral oration supposedly to commemorate Caesar's life.

Brutus makes several mistakes in allowing Antony to speak.  First, he took Antony at his word.  Antony harbored his anger inside assuring the conspirators that he too wanted to hear their explanation for the assassination. Secondly, Brutus had Antony  promise that he would not speak against the conspirators.  Thirdly, Antony was to speak after Brutus spoke.  What a foolish error in judgment.  Antony can negate any of the points that Brutus makes.

Brutus epitomizes a man that believes in logic and reasoning forgetting the importance of the emotional appeal.  He  tells the crowd his reasons for joining the conspiracy. Holding no personal grudge against Caesar, Brutus joined the conspiracy fearing the possibilities of Caesar's rule.  In essence, Brutus believed that if Caesar were crowned, it would mean the end  of Roman liberty. 

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.

The crowd understands Brutus and his logical argument. Everyone accepts Brutus's explanation. The fickle mob  calls out to give Brutus  a statue among his ancestors and to make him the new Caesar despite the emphasis on a Democratic state. Brutus politely dismisses himself and asks everyone to stay and listen to Antony's speech.

Now, Antony begins his funeral oration.  Using many literary devices, Antony grieves over the death of his friend.  From the ironic use of the word honorable, then the reminders of Caesar's many noble deeds, to the piteous body of Caesar with each wound assigned a conspirator, finally to the will of Caesar which provides money for each Roman citizen--the crowd's hysteria is built until they can no longer be contained.

Once again, the citizens prove themselves to be unpredictable. 

  1. For over a month, they Roman citizens had praised Caesar and cheered him to accept the throne.  When he is murdered, the mob becomes angry and are ready to riot. 
  2. After Brutus's oration, the crowd accepts Caesar's assassination. They are ready to build statues in the honor of Brutus.   
  3.  Through Antony's  maneuvers of verbal irony, reverse psychology, flattery, and beautiful rhetoric, Brutus's speech pales.  Antony builds the crowd anger to a crescendo,
  4. The people completely forget their former sympathy for Brutus and rise up against the conspirators.  Antony marvels at the force of what he has done.

The crowd now has a mob mentality with no rational thought but to avenge Caesar's death.  Brutality has been unleashed to the point of killing an innocent poet Cinna  who had the same name as one of the conspirators.

Shakespeare treats the citizens as a group and a single unit in the cast of characters. They were identified as plebians, Roman citizens, the crowd, and eventually the mob. The author wants to show the savagery and irrationality of the mob when ignited by bloodlust.

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Julius Caesar

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