Julius Caesar's Antony Speech Analysis

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  • 0:01 Mark Antony's Speech…
  • 1:20 The Speech: Synopsis &…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lucy Barnhouse
This lesson analyzes the speech given by Mark Antony over Caesar's body in Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar.' Having received permission from Caesar's assassins to speak, Antony is faced with the challenge of winning the crowd over.

Mark Antony's Speech in Context

Mark Antony's speech from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar has become justly famous as an example of skilled rhetoric. People still say 'Friends, Romans, countrymen…!' to get each other's attention. In the context of the play's action, the speech is even more gripping.

It comes almost directly after the assassination of Caesar, which occurs in the first scene of Act 3. That's the event to which the entire play had been leading...and now everyone's dealing with the fallout. Caesar was assassinated in order to put a stop to his (perceived) tyranny over the Republic of Rome. (The extent to which Rome can truly be a republic is up for debate.) Caesar's death has been literally and figuratively earth-shaking. The populace of Rome has gathered outside the Senate—at the figurative heart of Rome, and thereby of the world—demanding explanations.

The men who conspired to assassinate Caesar know that Mark Antony is a risk. He was Caesar's friend, and he is a loose cannon. But after Antony shakes hands with each of them, they decide to let him speak. Cassius, one of the chief conspirators, has commanded Antony not to speak against their action; Brutus, the other conspirator, has primed the crowd with his own speech. Antony, then, has to condemn those who killed Caesar without seeming to do so.

The Speech: Synopsis & Analysis

When Antony gets up to speak, he's faced with a hostile audience. There is no magical, sudden silence. Some want him to speak; others are muttering threats against him and accusing Caesar of tyranny (Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 68-70). Antony starts with 'You gentle Romans-- ' (Act 3, Scene 2, Line 71) and can't even make himself heard over the crowd. He knows he has a very short window of time in which to get people's attention before they start shouting again—or throwing things. So he gets straight to the point:

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 interrèd with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar.
(Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 72-76)

Note how quickly Antony assures the crowd he's on their side—he's not here to praise Caesar—but then goes on to indicate that he's deliberately ignoring the good things Caesar did in his lifetime. He continues to use this strategy of using irony (or using words to express a meaning that is the opposite of their literal meaning) to undermine his own apparent declarations throughout the speech.

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