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Repetition in Julius Caesar's Antony Speech

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  • 0:04 'I Come to Bury Ceasar'
  • 1:10 'Not to Praise Him'
  • 1:59 'Brutus is an Honorable Man'
  • 3:04 Repetition and Irony
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

Marc Antony's funeral speech for the slain Caesar in Shakespeare's ''Julius Caesar'' is one of the most celebrated rhetorical acts in dramatic literature. Antony cleverly uses repetition to turn the crowd against the assassins without ever directly slighting them.

''I Come to Bury Caesar''

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, a group of Roman senators conspire to assassinate the popular leader Caesar in order to prevent him from becoming a tyrant. In Act 3, Scene 2, Brutus, one of the conspirators, gives a speech to the Roman people to explain why the assassins did what they did. He argues that Caesar's ambition to become emperor made it necessary to kill him.

Poor Brutus must go toe-to-toe with Marc Antony, Caesar's second-in-command, who then takes the stage and gives one of the most celebrated speeches in literary history. In just about 30 lines, Antony turns the crowd against Brutus without ever coming out and directly urging them to do so.

Unlike many other famous speeches in Shakespeare, such as Hamlet's ''To be or not to be,'' Antony's speech is not a soliloquy, a private rumination. It is an act of rhetoric, the art of persuasive speech and writing. It is delivered to a crowd with the specific purpose of turning them to Antony's point of view. One of the reasons the speech is so rhetorically effective is Antony's clever use of repetition, repeating the phrase ''Brutus is an honorable man'' in order to imply the exact opposite meaning.

''Not to Praise Him''

Antony opens the speech by saying ''I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him'' (III.ii.83). He knows Brutus and the other conspirators would not allow him to speak if he openly criticized them or claimed Caesar did not deserve to be killed. In these opening words, he says it is not his goal to talk about the greatness of Caesar. Antony then goes on to acknowledge the graciousness of Brutus and the other conspirators for even letting him speak:

''Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest--

For Brutus is an honorable man,

So are they all, honorable men--

Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral'' (III.ii.90-3).

Antony is both saying he is not here to cause trouble and paying the standard respects to Brutus, who had spoken before him, and the other senators. In this seemingly inconsequential moment of praise, Antony slips in a phrase that will be the key to the rest of his speech.

''Brutus Is an Honorable Man''

Antony then seems to get sidetracked from his plan to bury Caesar and not praise him. Overcome with emotion for his dead friend, he starts remembering Caesar's kindness:

''He was my friend, faithful and just to me'' (III.ii.94)

He then seems to remember the point of his speech:

''But Brutus says he was ambitious,

And Brutus is an honorable man'' (III.ii.95-6).

Antony continually thinks back on the great things Caesar did for the good of the Roman people, often foregoing personal gain in the process. He recalls how Caesar brought money into the city through the ransoms paid for his captives, how he cried when he saw the poor in the streets, and how he refused to be crowned king on three occasions.

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