Yesterday, we looked at Antony’s funeral oration in Act Three, Scene Two of Julius Caesar, presenting the text and a brief overview of what I see as the six sections of the oration (the ten speeches of more than a single line in the sequence, with most speeches comprising their own section, but two sections made up of three short consecutive speeches).
Today, let’s follow up with a deeper dive into the first half of the oration (sections one through three–speeches one through five)…
SECTION/SPEECH 1 (III.ii.73-107; 35 lines)
As I mentioned yesterday, Antony has a number of jobs in this section: getting the audience’s attention, sizing up the situation, laying the groundwork both in ideas and language, while focusing on Brutus.
The end of the first line (“lend me your ears” [III.ii.73]) works on getting the listeners’ attention, and it isn’t easy. Antony struggles with the language. The line begins with a spondee, two stressed syllables (FRIENDS ROmans), an attempt at power to overcome the crowd’s inattention. Then following the comma after “countrymen,” Antony pushes forward with another non-iambic foot: a trochee (LEND me) that kicks off the second half of the line. The line grabs our attention, but it does much more than that. Compare Antony’s “Friends, Romans, countrymen” with Brutus’ “Romans, countrymen, and lovers” (III.ii.13). The same three parties (as I said a few days back, “lovers” had the same meaning as friends in Shakespeare’s day), but in a different order. And that order is telling. Brutus believes that to justify the killing he must appeal to a love of Rome; plus he regards the city dwellers (possibly the aristocracy) as his biggest ally, followed by the rural listeners, then his so-called friends. Antony, on the other hand, must make a connection with the audience. Without that connection, any attempt to sway their affections (then their loyalties) will be lost; thus, he begins with “friends.”
Antony says that he hasn’t come to praise Caesar, and as if to drive that point home, he fills the next line with short words and stressed syllables (the EVil THAT MEN DO LIVES AFter THEM); the two spondees in the middle of the line pounds out the rhythm. Antony then shifts from Caesar (“So let it be with Caesar”) to Brutus (“The noble Brutus”, both III.ii.77). Seems simple enough. Only there’s a clue for the actor there. The first sentence of the line is comprised of three and a half iambic feet (so LET it BE with CAEsar); the second half of the line is made up of two iambs, plus an unaccented feminine ending to the line (the NOble BRUtus). To maintain the iambs, there needs to be a caesura, a pause where that first sentence ends (after “Caesar”); that’s natural and not unexpected. The pause takes the place of a stressed syllable (completing the iamb started by the second syllable of “Caesar”), but if we do that, then the line is a long one, six iambic feet. So the clue there is that this pause isn’t just a catch of breath, but a long pause, almost a full line. Antony is sizing up his audience.
The lines that follow are metrically unremarkable, but they set up the basis for Antony’s argument: Brutus says that Caesar was ambitious.
At line III.ii.82, Antony tosses off a seemingly throwaway couple of lines (“For Brutus is an honorable man, // So are they all, all honorable men”); in some editions, the couplet is set apart from the rest of the speech by dashes, in others, the phrase is literally parenthetical. Grammatically parenthetical, maybe, but absolutely crucial for Antony’s rhetorical strategy. The repeated use of “honorable m(a/e)n” puts that phrase at the forefront of our experience of the speech; we expect it to be picked up again (and it will be); it also links the idea of honor to Brutus specifically, and more globally (through the two spondee feet at the center of the line [THEY ALL, ALL HONor…]) to the yet unnamed co-conspirators. From this parenthetical reference, Antony turns his speech back to “Caesar’s funeral. // He was my friend, faithful and just to me” (III.ii.85). The repeated “F” sounds (Funeral, Friend, Faithful) ties those concepts together. Don’t think those concepts are important? Scan the lines; the meter supports it–all three words start with a stressed syllable, with a trochee (FAITHful) kicking off the second half of the second line, and a trochee (HE was) at the beginning of that line that further isolates, and thus emphasizes, the stressed syllable of “friend.” The importance of that word grows even more when you consider what was the first word of the entire oration: “Friends.” Think of the logic from the audience’s perspective: Antony is my friend, Caesar was his friend… Caesar was my friend, too. Caesar was faithful to Antony; Caesar would have been faithful to me as well. I should be faithful to Caesar. This subtle subtext is very powerful: it sets up turning of the audience away from Brutus and toward Antony (and revenge for their dead friend Caesar).
The next line (III.ii.86) takes the speech back to the basic premise of the argument: “But Brutus says he was ambitious.” Meaning Caesar, of course. Antony doesn’t mention Caesar by name in the line. He could have easily said, “But Brutus called Caesar ambitious” and kept the meter the same. But he didn’t, and in another subtle master stroke, Antony sets up a subconscious grammatical link: the antecedent of the “he” in the sentence is “Brutus”… Brutus is ambitious. Immediately, before we can allow that subconscious link to come to the surface, he again says “Brutus is an honorable man” (III.ii.87).
Antony uses the next few lines to question the ambition accusation. Then Antony repeats the cycle beginning in line 93 of the scene: “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, // And Brutus is an honorable man.” The subconscious linking of Brutus and ambition. The linking of Brutus and honor (which how has a bit of cognitive dissonance creeping in). Antony then, again, questions the argument of Caesar’s ambition in the lines following. And beginning with line 98 of the scene, he runs through the cycle one last time: “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, // And sure he is an honorable man.” More of the Brutus/ambition/honor linking… and more cognitive dissonance (are we really “sure” Brutus is an honorable man?).
Antony states, “I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, // But here I am to speak what I do know” (III.ii.100-1). A double negative (more cognitive dissonance) is linked to Brutus. In a situation in which the audience may now question what it knows, Antony is there to speak “what (he) do(es) know.” If you (the audience) are unsure, don’t worry: Antony knows what’s going on. And he lets the audience know this as simply as possible: this line is the first line in the entire speech that has only monosyllabic words, allowing for easy employment of extra stresses in two spondees (I AM … DO KNOW).
Antony then questions the audience’s willingness to mourn for Caesar, saying that reasonable thought, which would allow the audience to mourn, has instead been taken by “brutish beasts” (III.ii.104). Brutish. Any similarity between “brutish beast” and Brutus the beastly assassin is purely intentional. Antony then claims to need a minute to regroup as his “heart is in the coffin there with Caesar” (III.ii.106). There’s only one problem with that: The meter of the last five lines (starting a full two and a half lines before he says he needs to pause) is perfectly iambic (with a last line again comprised of only monosyllabic words). There’s no evidence that he’s upset, save for his telling us so.
SECTION/SPEECH 2 (III.ii.118-37; 20 lines)
If Antony needed to take a break at the end of section one to regain his composure (he didn’t, but let’s say he did), the opening of section two certainly shows us a composed and purely metrical speaker. Unwavering iambic pentameter.
After commenting on Caesar in the first three lines of the section, Antony moves his attention to himself and his audience, saying “if” he wanted, he could “stir // Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage” (III.ii.121-2). If he wanted to, he could. Mutiny and rage. Interesting combination, but more on that tomorrow. For now, however, if he were to do that, he says that he would “do Brutus wrong and Cassius wrong” (III.ii.123), expanding the scope of named conspirators from Brutus to Brutus and Cassius. Of course, he caps that statement with “Who, you all know, are honorable men.” And you can see where this is headed going. Antony says he would rather “wrong the dead, to wrong (him)self, and you, // Than (he) will wrong such honorable men” (III.ii.126-7). Interesting how he links Caesar (the dead), himself, and the audience members together in opposition and contrast to “such” honorable men. What should be a compliment has been tinged with sarcasm that would have sounded perfectly natural coming from Casca in Act One, Scene Two.
What happens in lines 11 and 12 of the section is equally as interesting. He changes subjects, and within the next two lines, he will speak three complete sentences: “But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar. // I found it in his closet. It is his will” (III.ii.128-9). Up to this point in the oration, there have been only two sentences of less than a line length; almost all are more than a single line. As the line before these two lines is end-stopped with a period, it would be expected to come with a pause. I’ll argue that it should be a big pause, as if he’s unsure of where this will take him. The next three sentences are short, clipped. Even a bit tentative. Why would he tentative and unsure? Well, as I mentioned yesterday, it’s very possible that Antony is lying and this is not a will. Or maybe his tenativeness is just another facade, like his emotional pause at the end of the first section of the oration. This would explain his statement after showing the will, that he “do(es) not mean to read” it (III.ii.131). Of course, he means to read it, and soon. Just not now. Now he wants to bait the audience, get them to force him to read the will. And why would they want to hear it? They are told if they hear it,
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood—
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.
That’s one extreme prophecy, outlandish almost, but you can almost see the thought bubbles above their heads: “Man, I want hear what would make me want to dip my handkerchief in his blood and pass it along to my kids when I die!” Outlandish, indeed. The meter gives some evidence that Antony may think so himself, and that he worries he has gone too far: while the lines of this section up to this point has been solidly iambic, these last three lines are filled with sponees and trochees (THEIR WILLS / AS a RICH LEGaCY / UNto THEIR ISsue). Regardless, the commoners have been convinced. They want to hear the will.
SECTION 3/SPEECHES 3, 4, and 5 (III.ii.140-6, 149-52, 157-60; 7, 4, and 4 lines, respectively)
The third section of the oration is comprised of three interconnected short speeches, all in which Antony teases the audience with the possibility of reading the will but backing off, stoking his audience’s desire, a desire expressed through exclamations that interrupt Antony’s lines. Much like the sequence in the middle of the second section that introduced the will, the opening three lines of this section have one sentence per line. Here, however, the rhythm is not purely iambic, but filled with odd feet. The third line, III.ii142, (YOU are NOT WOOD, YOU are NOT STONES, BUT MEN), in fact has no iambs in it at all; and all the rest of the lines have at least one trochee or spondee (or both). The line most recently referenced. as well as the last two lines of speech 3 (in which Antony wonders what will happen when they hear that they are Caesar’s heirs; III.ii.144-5) are purely monosyllabic. Also of note: what he says the citizens of Rome are not: stones. Compare that to what Murellus calls them in the first act of the play: “You blocks, you stones, you less than senseless things” (I.i.35).
When a commoner demands to hear the will, Antony asks them to be patient as he fears he has “o’ershot” (III.ii.150) by telling them of the will. Depending on the staging, this could be a legitimate fear that he’s gone too far, and the only way to come back from the ledge is to pull attention away from the will, and back to the “honorable men // Whose daggers stabbed Caesar” (III.ii.151-2). He has now expanded the group from Brutus, to Brutus and Cassius, to all the conspirators.
Antony is interrupted again by commoners who scorn the use of “honorable men” to describe the “villains (and) murderers” (III.ii.155) who killed Caesar. When Antony takes control of the speaking again, the meter shows that he’s taken control of his own emotions as well. No crazy rhythms, mostly just iambic feet, as he asks the crowd to let him come down and “show.. him that made the will” (III.ii.159). With their assent, Antony ends the first half of the speech and embarks on finishing what he’s started.
And that big finish comes… tomorrow.