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Free Study Guide-Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare-Free Booknotes
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ACT III, SCENE 2

Summary

Brutus and Cassius enter the Forum, where a huge crowd of citizens has assembled, demanding to know why Caesar was murdered. Brutus goes to the pulpit and asks the crowd to listen patiently as he explains the reasons. He states that he loved Caesar, but he loved Rome more; he explains that Caesar was killed because his ambition threatened the liberties of all Roman citizens. A master speaker, Brutus rhetorically asks the assembled multitude whether they would prefer to be bonded slaves under a living Caesar or free men, liberated by Caesar's death. His speech is a masterpiece of rhetoric that ends by concluding that only the base and unpatriotic would be offended by Caesar's death, since it represents a greater good for Rome.

Brutus next tells the crowd that he would not hesitate to use the dagger on himself if his countrymen expect it. The crowd is swayed by his words and accept him as their leader. They shout that Brutus should be crowned as the king. They want to follow him as he departs for home. Brutus, however, asks them to stay behind and listen to Antony's funeral oration. Antony ascends the pulpit and says that he is indebted to Brutus for convincing the crowd to listen to him. He then begins his famous speech, starting with the well-known words, "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." He proceeds to point out Caesar's virtues in glowing terms, while subtly criticizing the conspirators and nullifying their charges. Antony reminds the citizens that Caesar had brought many captives to Rome, filling the public treasury with their ransoms. Moreover, Caesar always had a great deal of compassion for the poor. He tells the citizens that these are not the traits of an ambitious man. Antony further points out that Caesar, on the Feast of Lupercal, had refused to accept the crown three times; he asks the crowd whether this seems like an act of an ambitious man. He soon states that he is too overcome with grief to continue, wanting the crowd to have time to contemplate his words. Before long, the citizens concur that Caesar has been wronged; they declare that Antony is the noblest man in Rome.

Antony then resumes his masterful speech, manipulating the crowd skillfully. He says if he incites them to mutiny and rage, he wrongs Brutus and Cassius, both obviously honorable men. As he sees the sentiment of the crowd waver over the supposed honor of the assassins, Antony tantalizingly displays a parchment that he says is Caesar's will. He knows that the crowd will demand he read the will. Antony pretends to submit to the crowd's wishes and asks them to form a circle around Caesar's corpse. He descends from the pulpit and displays Caesar's mantle rent by the daggers of his assassins. Referring to Brutus as "Caesar's angel," he reminds the crowd who delivered the fatal blows. The crowd reacts sympathetically and is full of pity for Caesar. They grieve his death and begin to condemn the assassins as traitors. In keeping with his plan, Antony pretends to restrain the crowd and tells them that he does not wish to incite them against the assassins, once again referring to them as honorable men.


Antony then reveals that Caesar's will has left his estate to each and every Roman man. The crowd praises Caesar's nobility and vows to take revenge for his death. Antony asks the crowd whether they will ever have another ruler like Caesar, to which they reply "Never." The crowd disperses to cremate Caesar's body and attack the conspirators. Antony has cleverly achieved his objective and contentedly remarks, "Mischief, thou art afoot, / Take thou what course thou wilt!" As the scene draws to a close, a servant reports that Brutus and Cassius have fled Rome and Caesar's son, Octavius, has arrived and waits on Antony.

Notes

The Forum scene is another intensely dramatic one in which Brutus' reasoned oratory is contrasted to Antony's passionate outburst of emotion. In his funeral speech, Antony displays a thorough understanding of the psychology of the citizens and exercises perfect control over their emotions. While Brutus rationally justifies the assassination of Caesar, Antony subtly leads the crowd to question and then to repudiate the conspirators as traitors, without ever speaking one direct word against them

Calculated reason, not a personal grudge, compelled Brutus to take part in the conspiracy against his friend, Caesar. In his speech to the crowd, Brutus merely carries his love of reason and rationale a step further. He appeals to the crowd methodically and rationally, intellectually explaining the reasons for the assassination. He is straightforward when he states that crowning Caesar would have meant the death of liberty for them all. On the surface, it seems as if the citizens understand and agree with Brutus.

Then Antony, the "shrewd contriver," speaks to the crowd; in contrast to Brutus, who appeals to the logic of the crowd, Antony incites their emotions. Cleverly, he appears to praise the conspirators, referring to them over and over again as "honorable men" who have done what they think is right. Then with smooth rhetoric, Antony exposes the damage they have done. His criticism is so subtle that the people do not even realize they are being turned against the conspirators until they have already become a riotous mob. Antony reveals his skills of oration by working the crowd, totally in control of them.

He feigns a desire not to incite them, while all the while he ignites their passions over Caesar's body. Antony is clever enough to use Brutus' carefully constructed reasoning against him, showing the Roman people that they have been most cruelly deceived. Then he stands back and watches the damage unfold.

The citizens themselves reveal once again they are the fickle people of Rome. For days, they have praised Caesar and cheered him to accept the throne. When he is murdered, they are angered to the point of riot. Then within moments of Caesar's death, they change again; after Brutus' speech, they are clamoring to accept his assassination as a necessary evil to protect their own liberties. They change their opinion one more time when Antony appeals to their emotions. He brings the crowd to their feet in riotous anger, determined to avenge the death of Caesar. Like Caesar and Brutus, most of the Roman people are influenced by flattery and flashy rhetoric.

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