When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept;
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honorable man.
Marc Antony continues, with bitter irony, to manipulate his
friends, Romans, and countrymen. This is his
funeral oration for the murdered Julius Caesar, and he's speaking
with the permission of the honorable Brutus, one of the assassins.
Brutus had earlier questioned the crowd, rhetorically, whether they
had "rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves, than that
Caesar were dead, to live all freemen" (lines 22–24). Antony mocks
the notion that Caesar had ambitions to rule over his jealously
republican countrymen. He paints Caesar as a tenderhearted friend
of the poor, just as he will paint Brutus as a coldhearted traitor
to his friend Caesar [see THE MOST UNKINDEST CUT OF
We use "sterner stuff" primarily to mean "sturdier stuff";
Antony implies as much, but his literal sense ("sterner" meaning
"harsher") is more appropriate, Antony's intention is to embellish
Caesar's kindheartedness, almost to the point of calling him weak.
Caesar comes off a helpless victim; Brutus and company loom as
stern assassins. Given the danger he faces while the conspirators
are effectively in control of the state, Antony cloaks his point in
irony, but only thinly. He repeats "Brutus is an honorable man"
four times in seventeen lines, leaving no one in doubt as to his