Julius Caesar was brutally slaughtered by a group of conspirators led by the noble Brutus. William Shakespeare interpreted this event in history and suggests that it took place because of Caesar’s ambition. Now, we look at ambition as being a good thing but in the context of ‘Julius Caesar’ it portrays ruthless, selfish ambition.
Caesar could have escaped his morbid fate if he had heeded the ominous words of a soothsayer,
“Beware the ides of March.”
The warning of his wife’s, Calphurnia, dreams where Caesar’s statue spurts out blood also foreshadows a sense of foreboding which the superstitious Elizabethan audience would have easily tapped into. Various other scenes such as terrible storms thought to mirror the Gods anger with the hellish happenings in Rome would not have helped to put the people of Rome, or Shakespeare’s audience at ease. However despite all caution, he goes with the conspirators to the capital and to his death.
Shakespeare creates a significant, dramatic change in the character of Caesar; at the start of the play, Caesar doesn’t pay heed to the soothsayer, nor is he superstitious,
“He is a dreamer; let us leave him, pass.”
But by the time he is killed, he is much more superstitious and cautious,
“Go bid the priests do present sacrifice, and bring their opinions of success.”
The audience will be affected by these characteristics of Caesar’s character because they were very superstitious people. They would pick up on when he ignores superstition, like the soothsayer, and grow wary of his character because of this. They would be more comfortable with his character later in the play after Shakespeare deliberately conveys this character personality alteration.
When Julius Caesar is murdered, the all of the conspirators stand around Caesar and all stab him together on the cue:
“Speak hands for me.”
This is so that they all take the blame of Caesar’s murder instead of one person taking the blame. This is a very significant moment because the Roman plebeians are very fickle,
“But, indeed, sir, we make holiday, to see Caesar and to rejoice in his triumph… To see great Pompey pass the streets of Rome: And when you saw his chariot but appear, have you not made a universal shout.”
For this reason, if the plebeians see many people slaughter Caesar, they would think this was acceptable and be more willing to accept that it was right than if one man slew Caesar. The plebeian’s reaction is mirrors, as it is crafted to by Shakespeare, to mirror that of the audiences.
Brutus then grants Mark Anthony permission to speak after himself at the funeral of Caesar. This could be part of Brutus’ intricate plot and therefore show him to be noble and kind, actually caring about Caesar’s friends and his actual love for Caesar, or I think it could be Brutus being very naive. Brutus’ naivety is shown previously when he instantly trusts Anthony without questioning his motives.
At the start of Brutus’ speech, the plebeians are feeling considerably enraged and murderous because Caesar, the man they wanted to be king has just been horrifically butchered before their eyes. By slaying Caesar in front of people could show that they felt they were doing nothing wrong or unjust. Brutus addressed the plebeians,
“Romans, countrymen and lovers.”
This appeal first to the crowd’s patriotism and pride as well as using triples, the power of three, which makes a larger impression on people to win over the crowd. He is also putting himself on a level with them, and by calling them lovers he reminds them how much they loved and respected him. The Romans were very patriotic people so by calling them Romans, he is flattering them. Everything he says is a subtle plea to win the crowd, and Shakespeare’s audience, onto his side.
“Censure me in your wisdom.”
Here he is telling the crowd they are wise, flattering them, one of the many persuasive techniques he uses.
He reassures the crowd, telling them it was right to love Caesar, as Brutus himself also did.
“That Brutus love to Caesar was no less than his.”
This calms the crowd and makes them more comfortable with their emotions. Brutus then lists Caesar’s qualities:
“As he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but as he was ambitious, I slew him.”
This is his reason why he and his conspirators murdered Caesar, which is twist at the end of the statement. As well as using the power of three again, he also repeats the statement again to the crowd in a slightly different way but again using the power of three. This is to make sure that they definitely understand him.
He makes a lot of pauses, giving the crowd, and again the audience mirrored by the crowd, a chance to reply or to absorb what he says.
“If any, speak for him I have offended.”
This is marked by deliberate punctuation in the script and shows Brutus’ power over the plebeians and the audience. The questions posed by Brutus makes the crowd consider the answer, and no one would admit to being against Rome or a slave etc.
Brutus says he is not ashamed of what the conspirators have done, make the plebeians and the audience think he is more honourable and trustworthy because he is not ashamed and stands by what he has done and believes to be right and moral.
“I have done no more to Caesar than you shall do to Brutus.”
At the end of Brutus’ speech the fickle plebeians have been manipulated into another point of view, exactly where Brutus wants them to be. The audience have also been manipulated and driven into a certain way of thinking. In a way, I can feel almost sorry for the people of Rome and in cases today when people are manipulated and their mind moulded into a certain way of thinking by heartless or malicious politicians.
Mark Anthony presents an alternative view to the people and tries to make himself appear humble by appealing to a different nature of them.
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.”
He is appealing to their love for him first and patriotism last, the opposite to Brutus but again using the power of three. He also asks the crowd to listen instead of telling them to listen as Brutus did. This would appeal to the people more and help in winning them on his side. When people quote these speeches in modern life, the starting part of Anthony’s speech is always quoted, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen…” where Brutus’ never is. This also helps to show that Anthony’s opening is much more powerful and impressive.
Anthony repeats a certain phrase:
“And Brutus is an honourable man.”
This stirs doubt in the minds of the listeners as they keep thinking about it because he is portraying that he has to constantly remind himself of this fact, showing he doesn’t actually believe and is therefore trying to provoke the negative reaction.
Anthony also appeals to the listener’s sympathy by telling them all the good that Caesar did.
“Whose ransom did the general coffers fill?”
This will make the listeners think that Caesar really was a good man… did he really deserve to be butchered?
Throughout the speech, he makes himself subtly clear about what he think; that Caesar was wrongfully slain, without Brutus or the other conspirators being able to blame him for saying anything he shouldn’t. He also covers himself against Brutus:
“I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke.”
Anthony had already planted the seed of rebellion in the minds of the crowd:
“A sudden flood of mutiny.”
He wanted them to rebel against the conspirators because he wanted revenge for the murder of his close friend. He shows himself in a humble way:
“A blunt plain man”
This puts him on a level with the crowd as they are more likely to listen to someone like them than they would to a politician. However in doing this, he is using all the deceitful and sneak persuasive techniques of Brutus and other politicians.
I think that Mark Anthony’s speech is more effective because he appeals to the plebeian’s hearts, sympathy and their love for Caesar rather than the patriotic, Roman appeal which Brutus tries. Both have strong motives, Brutus for survival and Anthony for revenge, so therefore both try very convincing persuasion in order to win the crowd. Anthony uses a better range of persuasive techniques such as flattery, bribery, and putting himself on a level with the audiences which shows his intelligence.
It is so easy for the politicians to influence and control the minds of the plebeians because they will follow who ever is in power, like they so easily forgot their hero Pompeii after he was defeated by their next hero, Caesar. They are fickle but also weak to the control of politicians. This is excusable however because they are no as educated as their leaders.
The audience should be able to relate the manipulation of the crowd because they themselves are subject to the control of Shakespeare’s characters and the powerful tools of persuasion subtly disguised within each funeral speech. Shakespeare manipulates his audience because it generates tension, causing excitement and real drama that the audience can not only relate to, but also feel. This makes the play a good one and the reason thousands of people would flock to see Shakespeare’s plays like they still do today.
The audience was told earlier that Mark Anthony is not as trustworthy as Brutus may think. Anthony’s Monologue, which reveals the characters true thoughts and feelings and is therefore believed fully by the audience, would make the audience wary and distrusting of Anthony’s character.
“Now let it work mischief, then art afoot, take then what course thou wilt.”
This is significant because it shows us that his motives are more complex than he shows on the surface, that he would be quite happy to see the downfall of Rome to get revenge on the conspirators. It shows he is a lot more dangerous than Brutus suspects.
During the funeral, the audience and the plebeian’s views are changed several times due to the responses of persuasive and manipulative tactics carried out by Brutus and Mark. This results in the crowd baying for Brutus’ blood.
“Most noble Caesar, we’ll revenge his death!”
This also shows that Anthony’s speech was more powerful over the crowd.
I found the Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ quite interesting. I think that Brutus is very naive as he openly trusted Anthony without question and that the citizens are very easily influenced to the point where sympathy can almost be felt for them. I think it shows just how politicians manipulate and control people, a feeling that can be applied to a lot of situations in all of our lives regarding authority.