Nobody likes public speaking, right? It’s up there in the top 3 phobias world-wide. Well imagine what Marc Antony must be feeling during this public address, stepping up to the plinth to face a rabble of angry and bloodthirsty Romans who believe he’s wrong even before he starts speaking.
What’s more, Marc Antony has come to speak to the mob in the wake of the murder of Caesar, an act which to him is brutal and unjust, but to everyone else was the right thing to do. He’s filled with emotion; Grief, guilt, rage and vengeance are coursing through his veins, but he must compose himself and choose his words carefully, so as to not be removed from the stage. He has one chance to convince the people of his argument, and if he fails he will likely face death. Pretty high stakes situation right? I think I’d rather just stick with my year 11 modern history class speech about Gorbachov and the Cold War.
Let’s have a look at Antony’s speech.
Original Text – Julius Caesar Act 3 Scene 2
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 interred with their bones.
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath Caesar answered it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men)
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me;
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome,
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill.
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
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 honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment, thou art fled to brutish beasts
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
A person who is from the same country
to place (a corpse) in a grave or tomb, typically with funeral rites.
A coffer is a box or chest used to store money or objects of value. In this instance, ‘General coffers’ refers to the economy of Rome.
Lupercalia was a pastoral festival of Ancient Rome observed annually on February 15 to purify the city, promoting health and fertility.
Friends, Romans, Countrymen, listen to me!
I have come here to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The wrongdoings of men will be remembered after their death
But the good they do is often buried and forgotten with them.
Let this be the same for Caesar. The noble Brutus
has told you Caesar was ambitious:
If this is the case it was a serious flaw
And this murder has been his punishment for it.
At this place, with the permission of Brutus and his followers,
(Because Brutus is an honourable man, all of them are honourable men)
I have come to speak at Caesars funeral.
He was my friend, loyal and fair to me
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honourable person.
He has brought many captives back to Rome,
Whose ransoms have made Rome very rich.
Was this the part of Caesar which was ambitious?
When the poor was suffering, he suffered too:
An ambitious man should be stronger than that.
But Brutus says he was ambitious
and Brutus is an honourable man.
You all saw that on the day of feasting
three times I presented him with a crown
and three times he refused it.
Was this act ambitious?
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
and he is definitely an honourable man.
I’m not speaking to disprove what Brutus spoke,
instead I’m here to speak what I know.
You all loved Caesar once, and with good reason:
What reason stops you from mourning him?
Fair judgement and reason has been robbed from man and given to beasts. Give me a moment.
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar
And I must wait a moment till it comes back to me.
Context is really important in understanding this speech. The main points of the given circumstances to understand are: The Roman Republic, The murder of Caesar and Brutus’ speech at the funeral just before Antony speaks.
Without going into a detailed account of the history of the Roman Empire, it’s important to understand the junction Rome was at during the events of this play. In the time of Julius Caesar, Rome had been a republic. A republic is a government body formed by elected representatives from the people to serve the best interests of the people. A government of the people, for the people. However, there was debate and discussion about whether or not they would be better being a monarchy, with a single ruler wearing a crown at the head of the empire. Rome had experienced Monarchs before, and they feared them and believed that the words ‘monarch’ and ‘tyrant’ were synonymous.
Julius Caesar is loved by many, and for this reason there is increasing pressure on him to consider taking the crown and establishing himself as King of Rome. Brutus and Cassius represent are the instigators of the conspiracy which led to Caesars murder. They are beneficiaries of the republic state and do not wish for it to turn to a Monarchy. They have a fear of one man being appointed to a God-like status, when they know the man is simply flesh and blood as they are. They organise a group of senators together to nip Caesar’s ambition in the bud by murdering him.
Marc Antony is a loyal supporter of Julius Caesar. The murder enrages him, and he vows revenge upon the murderers. But he must be careful, he is drastically outnumbered, and the conspirators have the masses of the mob on their side. Antony pleads with Brutus’ good nature to allow him to speak at Caesar’s funeral, and with this permission Antony plots to win over the Roman people.
At the Funeral, Brutus speaks first. The people are shocked at the news of Caesar’s death, and they want an explanation. Brutus appeals to their knowledge of him, trusting that they know that Brutus is an honourable man, who would not have slain Caesar out of rage of jealousy. Instead, Brutus tells the Romans he slew Caesar for his love of Rome, and to protect them all from becoming slaves under tyranny. This argument works, and the Romans support his justification. Antony is due to speak next. He now has a rabble of people who are in support of the conspirators and their actions in service of Rome, and somehow Antony needs to change their minds. He must be careful, he cannot simply fly out in rage against the conspirators, for he has been allowed to speak only to give Caesar his funeral rights, not to make any political declamations. Marc Antony now must use all his subtlety and rhetoric to change the minds of the mob.
The section of text we are currently looking at is only the first part of a larger speech in which he is successful in changing the minds of the Romans. He offers a rebuttal to Brutus’ claim that Caesar was ambitious and sought to enslave the people, offering examples of Caesar’s generosity which the Roman people knew well. He also subtly challenges the notion of Brutus’ “honour” repeating the word several times to draw a connection between the idea of the virtue of honour and the violent beasts who stabbed Caesar in the back over 20 times. Was this an “honourable” act?
The risk with this speech is that it all becomes a one-note declaration. The given circumstances require the speech to be a public address and for the actor playing Antony to appeal to a large group of people, but this does not mean we can’t find different ways to colour the speech. In the opening lines Antony must possess all the grief and fear and rage he feels at the death of his friend, but once he has gained the attention of the Romans, the actor must wield all of Antony’s skill at wordplay and rhetoric. It’s worth playing this speech in different settings to get an idea of how it can be played. First, try the version which the play requires: A public address to a mass of people. Next, try the speech as if you were in a library speaking very quietly to a group of only two or three people. Notice how you’ll need to use different tactics to get across Antony’s messages. You can no longer rely on the volume of your voice to get your point across.
Now try the speech with different emotional colourings. Try a version fuelled with rage (as the play suggests). Now flip it on it’s head, play the version where Antony smiles endlessly and is gentle and loving in his delivery. Are both of these versions appropriate? I’d argue that they are. Perhaps the final version of the speech would be a myriad of different emotional colourings, with overt direct communication and subtle rhetoric used to gently turn the attention of the crowd this way or that. Have a play.
This speech is nothing if not grand. Everything about it is big; the stakes are high, the consequences are massive, the amount of people on stage is enormous. But at the end of the day, this speech is coming from a man who believes strongly that a dear friend of his has been slain unjustly, and that this act will be disastrous for everyone. Ultimately, it’s a speech about love- Antony’s love for Caesar, his love for the Roman people, even his love for Brutus, (He goes on to call Brutus the most Noble Roman). The speech cannot be played without love, and to do so would be risking a one-dimensional performance of this dynamic and exciting scene.
For more Julius Caesar monologues.