Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears!
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar.
Outside of Hamlet, these
are likely the most quoted of all Shakespeare's lines. Almost never
quoted, however, are the lines Antony is parodying—the opening
words of Brutus's earlier oration: "Romans, countrymen, and lovers,
hear me for my cause, and be silent that you may hear" (lines
Antony later disingenuously claims that "I am no orator, as
Brutus is" (line 217). Yet his modifications of Brutus's formulaic
oratory are the first hint that he knows his business. Just compare
the deft escalation of rhythm in "Friends, Romans, countrymen" with
the metric jangle of "Romans, countrymen, and lovers"; note the
arrogance of "be silent" versus the mock humility of "lend me your
ears." The contrast is more than literary; Brutus, one of Caesar's
assassins, insists he took part in the conspiracy in order to
preserve Roman liberties, yet Antony's rhetoric seems much more
democratic. Antony skillfully manipulates the crowd where Brutus
lectured to it.