Julius Caesar By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act III: Scene 2

Summary

Brutus and Cassius enter the Forum, which is thronged with citizens demanding satisfaction. They divide the crowd — Cassius leading off one portion to hear his argument, and Brutus presenting reasons to those remaining behind at the Forum. Brutus asks the citizens to contain their emotions until he has finished, to bear in mind that he is honorable, and to use their reason in order to judge him. He then sets before them his reasons for the murder of Caesar and points out that documentation exists in the Capitol that support his claims. The citizens are convinced and at the end of his oration, cheer him with emotion. He then directs them to listen to Antony's funeral oration.

Antony indicates that, like Brutus, he will deliver a reasoned oration. He refers to Brutus' accusation that Caesar was ambitious, acknowledges that he speaks with "honorable" Brutus' permission, and proceeds to counter all of Brutus' arguments. The crowd begins to be swayed by his logic and his obvious sorrow over his friend's murder. They are ultimately turned into an unruly mob calling for the blood of the conspirators by mention of Caesar's generosity in leaving money and property to the people of Rome, and by the spectacle of Caesar's bleeding body, which Antony unveils.

The mob leaves to cremate Caesar's body with due reverence, to burn the houses of the assassins, and to wreak general destruction. Antony is content; he muses, "Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!"

A servant enters and informs Antony that Octavius has arrived and is with Lepidus at Caesar's house. Antony is pleased and decides to visit him immediately to plan to take advantage of the chaos he has created. The servant reports that Brutus and Cassius have fled Rome, and Antony suspects that they have heard of his rousing the people to madness.

Analysis

Brutus is blithely unaware of the danger that he has allowed to enter the scene. He speaks to the people of Rome in order to make them understand what he has done and why, and with relatively straightforward logic, lays out his rationale before the people and makes them believe that he was right. He describes Caesar's great ambition and suggests to the plebeians that under Caesar's rule they would have been enslaved. Again, the audience is given an understanding of the masses as easily swayed — they do not seem able to form their own opinions but take on the coloration of the most persuasive orator. They are necessary to the successful running of the state, yet they are a dangerous bunch that could turn at any moment. Brutus convinces them of his cause by his use of reason. Even his style is reasonable, here presented in evenhanded prose rather than the rhetorical flourish of Antony's poetry.

Antony is a master of the theatrical. What more dramatic effect could there be than Antony entering the forum bearing the body of the slain leader? No matter what Brutus says, and despite the fact that the crowd is emphatically on his side, from this moment, all eyes are turned to Mark Antony and the corpse he bears. In his trusting naïveté, Brutus leaves the stage to his opponent. What follows is Antony's now-famous "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him" funeral oration. Antony's rhetorical skill is impressive; he instantly disarms any opposition in the crowd by saying "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him," but quickly follows this with a subtle turn of phrase that suggests Caesar was a good man and that all that was good of him will go to the grave. He has turned his audience's attention from the "evil ambition" of which Brutus spoke.

Look closely at the rhythms that Antony builds into his oration. Think of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, and the repeated emphasis in that speech on one phrase. Antony does the same thing with the phrase "For Brutus is an honorable man, / So are they all, all honorable men" or "But Brutus says he was ambitious, / And Brutus is an honorable man." The phrase is repeated four times, in slightly variant forms, allowing Antony not only to counter each of Brutus' arguments, but also question Brutus' honor simply by drawing so much attention to it.

Finally, Antony incites the mob by suggesting that they have something to gain from Caesar's will. By this means, he initiates desire but must then direct it. He begins to create the desire for revenge and each time he does so, he strengthens that desire by reigning it in. Each time he holds them back, he builds their desire until finally they are passionate enough to do what Antony wants, seek out and kill the conspirators, and, consequently, leave him in power. As a finishing touch, just as Antony created an impressive image by entering the Forum bearing the body of Caesar, he draws his oration to a close by pointing to another image that will remain in the minds of the people as they riot. He reveals Caesar's wounds. As Antony is fully aware, that image speaks far better for his cause than any words possibly could.

Glossary

be satisfied to answer adequately or convincingly.

part the numbers split up the crowd.

lovers friends.

rude barbarous or ignorant.

the question of his death is enroll'd in the Capitol justification for his death is recorded.

extenuated diminished.

enforc'd emphasized.

better parts qualities.

do grace pay respect.

grace his speech listen courteously.

answer'd it paid for it.

general coffers public coffers.

and none so poor to do him reverence No one is so lowly that they owe Caesar respect.

hearse coffin.

Nervii a Belgian tribe defeated by Caesar.

be resolv'd make certain.

dint impression.

gracious drops full of grace, they do you honor.

vesture clothing, garments, apparel.

griefs grievances.

ruffle up arouse.

common pleasures public pleasure grounds.

forms long, wooden benches without backs.

windows historically, shutters.

straight without delay.

upon a wish as I wished.

fortune is merry fortune is kind to me.

are rid to get free from or relieved of.

belike probably.

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