Caesar’s funeral speeches are a powerful and moving exploration of the themes of justification and manipulation. In these speeches, William Shakespeare carefully examines the competing motivations behind Caesar’s political decisions, showing how his desire to act for the good of the Roman people often clashed with his own personal ambitions and desires.
Through this complex examination of power, politics, and human nature, Shakespeare offers a nuanced analysis of one of the most pivotal moments in Western history. Whether you’re interested in Julius Caesar as a historical figure or simply enjoy exploring some of Shakespeare’s most iconic writing, Caesar’s funeral speeches are an essential read.
The funeral orations delivered by both Brutus and Mark Antony in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar are among the most crucial and significant speeches in the play. The funeral speeches appear to have no real significance at first sight . However, upon deeper study, it is revealed that the speeches eventually provide the play with its conclusion.
By looking at the speeches of Brutus and Mark Antony, we can isolate the aspects that differentiate them. We may also see why Brutus’ speech becomes one of justification and explanation, whereas Antony’s becomes one of persuasion and expertise.
Brutus’ speech to the citizens of Rome is one that is meant to explain his actions and provide justification for why he assassinated Julius Caesar. Brutus begins his speech by listing all of Caesar’s accomplishments and praising him for his service to Rome. He talks about how well loved and respected Caesar was and how he will be missed by all.
Brutus then goes on to say that even though Caesar was a great man, he needed to be stopped because he was becoming too power hungry. Brutus argues that if they had not killed Caesar when they did, eventually Caesar would have become a tyrant who would have ruined Rome. In conclusion, Brutus asks the people to forgive him and his co-conspirators for their actions and to understand the necessity behind their decision.
In contrast, Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral is one that focuses more on manipulation and persuasion. Unlike Brutus, Antony does not begin by praising Caesar or his accomplishments. Instead, he immediately launches into a scathing attack against Brutus and the other conspirators, calling them murderers and traitors who deserve to be punished for their actions.
He then goes on to play up the emotions of the crowd, invoking intense feelings of anger and sadness over Caesar’s death. Ultimately, Antony is able to successfully rally the citizens against Brutus and his co-conspirators, leading to their eventual demise.
While both speeches are given at Julius Caesar’s funeral, they serve very different purposes. Brutus’ speech is one of justification, where he tries to explain his actions and convince the people that he did what was best for Rome. Antony’s speech, on the other hand, is one of manipulation and skillfully uses emotions to turn the crowd against Brutus.
To evaluate each speech, we must first identify the general goal it serves. It is known that both Brutus and Antony wanted to appeal to the Romans (or the people). The manner in which each individual went about things, on the other hand, differs considerably. It had a significant impact on the outcome as well as providing unique insights into each speaker.
Brutus’ speech is what we could call a “justification” speech. He does not try to hide the fact that he assassinated Caesar – in fact, he opens with it. Brutus then goes on to explain his reasons for killing Caesar, listing several grievances such as Caesar’s tyrannical behavior and ambitions to make himself king. He even goes so far as to say that he killed Caesar out of love for Rome. In other words, Brutus is trying to convince the people that he did what he did for the good of the country.
Antony’s speech, on the other hand, could be classified as a “manipulation” speech. Antony does not deny that Caesar was assassinated, but he does not dwell on it either. Instead, he paints a picture of Caesar as a great man who was loved and respected by many. He also cleverly uses rhetoric to sow seeds of doubt in the minds of the people, questioning Brutus’ motives for killing Caesar. By the end of his speech, Antony has successfully turned the crowd against Brutus and his fellow conspirators.
It is clear that each speech served a different purpose. While Brutus’ justification speech may have been more honorable, Antony’s manipulation speech was ultimately more effective in swaying the people.
Brutus’ oration takes on a vindicating tone, not only for Rome’s people, but also for himself. He uses his “honor and nobility” as a barrier to defend and legitimize his actions to the crowd. Brutus claims that he committed this dastardly crime because of his love for Rome and the good of its citizens. (This is my answer, not that I have loved Caesar less, but that I love Rome more…” 3.2.21-22) In order to persuade the population to judge him fairly, he asks them to use their “reason.”
However, it is not until after one of the plebeians screams “Let him be Caesar,” that it is recognized that the speech is “only too excellent for them.” (3.2.51) Brutus begins to question whether freedom is what the people really want, or if they just want a strong leader.
Caesar’s funeral speeches, on the other hand, are not justifications of his actions. Instead, they are masterfully manipulative devices meant to turn the people against Brutus and the conspirators. In his first speech, Antony carefully states that he come “not to praise Caesar” but rather to “bury him.” (3.2.75) By starting off in this manner, he immediately has the people’s attention and begins to arouse their pity.
He also cleverly uses Caesar’s will as a means of furthering his own purposes. He asks the people if they can “forbear this day” to listen to him read it, knowing full well that they will be eager to hear its contents. Antony then takes the crowd through a series of emotional appeals, including his own sadness and Caesar’s good deeds, to convince them that the conspirators are evil and have murdered an innocent man. (You all did see that on the Lupercal / I thrice presented him a kingly crown…” 3.2.84-85)
Overall, Brutus’ speeches attempt to justify his actions by appealing to reason and justice, while Antony’s funeral speeches are masterful manipulations designed to turn the people against Brutus and the conspirators. Whether it is for justification or manipulation, both of these speeches played pivotal roles in shaping public opinion at one of the most crucial moments in Roman history.
Despite his speech’s usefulness, Brutus later learns that his lack of understanding of human nature helped to feed the impression of hopelessness in his cause.
Mark Antony, on the other hand, completely understands human nature and makes use of his knowledge of it in his speeches. Antony appeals to the people’s passion and anguish. What Brutus failed to notice in the people, Antony turned to his advantage. He recognized that Romans were too stupid to act reasonably, so he used this disability against them.
Caesar’s funeral speeches offer a fascinating glimpse into the themes of both justification and manipulation in William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar. While Brutus, who is famously known for assassinating Caesar, attempts to justify his actions by citing their moral righteousness, Mark Antony is able to effectively manipulate the emotions of the crowd through appeals to their passions and distress.
Ultimately, it becomes clear that although Brutus’s speech may be more ethically sound from a strictly logical standpoint, Antony’s ability to appeal to human nature ultimately proves more effective in swaying the people of Rome. Whether it is due to our own innate biases and flaws as humans or simply the effectiveness of his rhetoric, there can be no denying that Antony’s manipulative skills prove far more successful than Brutus’s justifications in the end.