What prophecy is made in Act 3 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 3 of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Mark Antony obtains permission from Brutus to speak in Caesar's funeral. Brutus leaves him alone with Caesar's body, while he goes to speak to the people himself. When Antony is alone with his friend Caesar's body he speaks his true thoughts and feelings which he has previously been concealing. His speech to the dead Caesar begins with the words:

O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth,
That I am meek and gentle with these butchers.

He then goes on to prophesy that "blood and destruction" shall reign when his speech to the multitudes will "let slip the dogs of war" and he turns justice towards Caesar's betrayers:

Over thy wounds now do I prophesy--
Which like dumb mouths do ope their ruby lips
To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue--
A curse shall light upon the limbs of men;
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 quartered with the hands of war,
All pity choked with custom of fell deeds,
And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge,
With Ate by his side come hot from hell,
Shall in these confines with a monarch's voice
Cry "havoc!" and let slip the dogs of war,
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial.

Mark Antony will use the analogy of Caesar's wounds to open mouths in his famous funeral oration. At one point in that oration he says that if only he had the oratorical powers of Brutus he could raise even the stones of Rome to rise against the traitors:

put a tongue
in every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

This is false modesty in Antony, to say the least. Antony's prophecy gives the audience a foretaste of this man's formidable oratorical powers, which will be fully demonstrated when he makes the funeral oration and turns the mob against the conspirators.

True to Antony's prophecy, there were years of "domestic fury and fierce civil strife" throughout Italy, but Shakespeare compressed the historical events in his play. Antony's prophecy serves, in part, to cover that chaotic period and also to show that, although Caesar may be dead, his spirit lives on and thereby justifies the play being titled "Julius Caesar." When Brutus and Cassius are defeated in the battle at Philippi in Act 5, Brutus says in an apostrophe to Caesar that he still hold his might and his spirit leads their avenging swords to the right targets:

O Julius Caesar, thou art mighty yet.
Thy spirit walks abroad, and turns our swords
In our own proper entrails.

In the end, first Cassius commits suicide, and then a short time later Brutus does the same. It turns out that everything Antony prophesied in Act 3 came true.

Read the study guide:
Julius Caesar

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