Julius Caesar Funeral Orations, Part Two: Antony (the overview)

Yesterday, we started to look at the funeral orations that come hot on the heels of the assassination in Julius Caesar, beginning with Brutus.

Today, we’ll continue with a look at Antony’s oration. Actually, we’re going to take a few days to get through this one, so we’ll quick tour of 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), setting up our deeper dive to follow…

SECTION/SPEECH 1 (35 lines)


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 interrèd 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 honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable 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 honorable 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 honorable 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 honorable 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.
  • III.ii.73-107

This first–and longest–section of the oration has the toughest job. Or rather jobs.

Antony must size up the situation. Will he be able to sow “domestic fury and fierce civil strife” (III.i.266), as he had promised/prophesied just a scene earlier. Of course, to accomplish that task, he must first get their attention. From the opening line, we can see that it isn’t an easy task. Once he gets going, however, he’s able to lay the groundwork, both in ideas (ambition?) and rhetoric (honorable men!), that he’ll exploit for the rest of the oration. He concentrates his focus first on Caesar (and the accusations of ambition), then on Brutus (the accuser). The section ends with Antony pausing, listening to the crowd to see if he’s turned them to his side (if he hasn’t, he’s at least got them not seeing Brutus as a hero).

SECTION/SPEECH 2 (20 lines)


But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world. Now lies he there,
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honorable men.
I will not do them wrong. I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honorable men.
But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar.
I found it in his closet. ‘Tis his will.
Let but the commons hear this testament,
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read,
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar’s wounds
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.
  • III.ii.118-37

In the second section, he expands his target from Brutus to Brutus and Cassius, allowing some Casca-esque sarcasm to creep into the mix. He continues with the rhetorical devise started in the first speech (honorable men), but the sarcasm undercuts what should in theory be a compliment. And it is in this section that Antony brings in one of the two main props of his speech: Caesar’s will. There’s only one problem. Antony claims he found it in Caesar’s “closet” (III.ii.129). Now, the word had many meanings in Shakespeare’s day including “cabinet” (“closet, n., 3.a.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 2 December 2014.), and the OED does actually cite this meaning as the one used in this case. However, that meaning, as well as “private room” (“closet, n., 1.a.”, OED), seems to reference a location within Caesar’s home. Only the last time we saw Antony, he was carrying Caesar’s body out of the Capitol just 130 lines earlier at the end of Act Three, Scene One, and he brings the body into this scene within 40 lines of its beginning. Can we believe that in the intervening 40 lines, Antony carried the corpse from the Capitol to Caesar’s home and then to the Forum? It’s a stretch. It’s conceivable that “closet” here means “a room in a palace used by the sovereign for private or household devotions” (“closet, n., 2.a.”, OED), and that this room was at the Capitol (even though the Capitol is not a “palace”). I’d argue, however, that there’s an altogether different interpretation: Antony is lying. He doesn’t have the will; he has a prop that he’s going to say is the will. It won’t be his last lie.

SECTION 3/SPEECHES 3, 4, and 5 (7, 4, and 4 lines, respectively)


Have patience, gentle friends. I must not read it.
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men.
And, being men, hearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you; it will make you mad.
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs,
For if you should, O, what would come of it?

Will you be patient? Will you stay awhile?
I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it.
I fear I wrong the honorable men
Whose daggers have stabbed Caesar. I do fear it.

You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar,
And let me show you him that made the will.
Shall I descend? And will you give me leave?
  • III.ii.140-6, 149-52, 157-60

In the third, fourth, and fifth sections, he struggles with the idea reading the will to the crowd who wants to hear it. It’s too early for that, though, if Antony wants “inflame” (III.ii.144) them, and we know he does. He continues the rhetorical use of “honorable men,” now expanding from Brutus and Cassius to all the conspirators, and fully sarcastic in his use of the term to describe them. The sections end with Antony descending to show the masses Caesar’s body.

SECTION 4/SPEECH 6 (29 lines)


If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle. I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on.
‘Twas on a summer’s evening in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii.
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through.
See what a rent the envious Casca made.
Through this the well-belovèd Brutus stabbed,
And, as he plucked his cursèd steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it,
As rushing out of doors to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knocked or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel.
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all.
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquished him. Then burst his mighty heart,
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statue
(Which all the while ran blood) great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I and you and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourished over us.
O, now you weep, and I perceive you feel
The dint of pity. These are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar’s vesture wounded? Look you here,
Here is himself, marred as you see with traitors.
  • III.ii.166-94

In the sixth section, he shows them his second prop, Caesar’s corpse–first basking in the nostalgia of one of Caesar’s victories, then fully revelling in the detailed description of Caesar’s final defeat. The only problem with this eyewitness testimony: Antony wasn’t present for the killing; he exits with Trebonius a full 50 lines before the assassination. He gets the order of the stabbings wrong (he has Cassius going first, as would make sense as he’s the one about whom Caesar warned Antony), and he makes quite a few embellishments, especially in regards to Brutus and “the most unkindest cut of all” (III.ii.180). That said, Antony’s description of Caesar’s “fall” (III.i.76) is pretty on-the-nose on how with Brutus’ action Caesar seems to give up the fight. During this section, Antony leaves out the “honorable” rhetorical device, and by the end of the section, calls the aassassins”traitors” (III.ii.194).

SECTION 5/SPEECH 7 (21 lines)


Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honorable.
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it. They are wise and honorable
And will no doubt with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts.
I am no orator, as Brutus is,
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man
That love my friend, and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him.
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech
To stir men’s blood. I only speak right on.
I tell you that which you yourselves do know,
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me. But were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.
  • III.ii.204-24

In the seventh section, Antony moves toward his call to action. His final rhetorical uses of “honorable” drip with contempt. He contrasts himself to Brutus, denigrating his own speech, and praising Brutus’ skill as an “orator” (III.ii.211). If he was Brutus, after all, he’d be able to move “the stones of Rome to rise and mutiny” (III.ii.234). And he’s succeeded. The mob is ready for revenge. But he holds them back…

SECTION 6/SPEECHES 8, 9, and 10 (4, 3, and 6 lines, respectively)


Why, friends, you go to do you know not what.
Wherein hath Caesar thus deserved your loves?
Alas, you know not. I must tell you then.
You have forgot the will I told you of.

Here is the will, and under Caesar’s seal:
To every Roman citizen he gives,
To every several man, seventy-five drachmas.

Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbors, and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber. He hath left them you,
And to your heirs forever—common pleasures
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! When comes such another?
  • III.ii.229-32, 234-6, 239-44

Antony uses the final three sections of the speech (sections eight, nine, and ten), to stir the mob further, reminding them of and then reading to them the will. Then, having linked his audience to Caesar, he “let(s) (them) slip” (III.i.276), as he had promised a scene earlier, turning them into “Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge” (III.i.273).

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