Undoubtedly, the plight of Brutus in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is his devotion to his leader, the titular Julius Caesar, despite the evidence that Caesar’s reign has asphyxiated the Republic. Brutus’ agreement to the terms of the conspirators is one of great hesitation and chagrin. When the time comes to kill Caesar, Brutus was met with the soul- crushing utterance of “et tu, Brute,” a line that left him debilitated and spiraling into remorse (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene i).
Brutus’ love for Julius Caesar was founded through years of friendship, but he found Caesar’s death to be necessary to the preservation of the Republic that Brutus knew was doomed should Caesar continue to act as a monarch.
Therefore, when it came time to address the crowd that had gathered to hear of Caesar’s fate and scrape together some semblance of sense from this regicide, Brutus figured that he, the true friend of Caesar’s should be the one to make the speech and clear the mire surrounding the palace.
In his defense, it started out well. The speech begins with an appeal for the “Romans, countrymen, and lovers” to listen and “be silent,” so that his explanation may be heard (III, iii). Brutus capitalizes on the ideas of being honorbound, claiming that because of his honor, he has elected to step out and explain this situation to the people. Brutus is rooted in the idea of presenting this death as a necessary event, one that is painful but important to the preservation and restoration of democracy.
After all, everyone knows “that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his” (III, iii). As the body is carried out, Brutus remarks that those in attendance should go and witness the body, and listen to whatever Antony, who has sworn to keep Brutus’ honor out of the eulogy, has to say about the fallen Caesar.
Brutus’ speech is laden with neutrality and appropriate reason to keep things neutral. If he proposes that he had to slay Caesar for the good of the Republic, he immediately backtracks that his love of Caesar was great, even if it was not as immediate as his adoration of the old Republic. Brutus has the capacity to keep people entranced and, perhaps as a nod to Shakespeare’s other work King Richard III, offers in recompense a blade to his own throat, should the people wish to kill him. Stunned, the audience cries, “live, Brutus, live,” admonishing his gesture and thereby proving that they have accepted his apology (III, iii). Brutus asks that he may walk away, not paraded as a martyr, but instead left alone to mourn. Antony would be left to speak to the people, but, in Brutus’ mind, what more could he say?
Lend your ears to the lover’s beckon call! Antony, the right hand to Caesar, speaks now with aplomb! Antony crafts a speech that fascinates and enrages the people into a berserk frenzy, one that causes the tides to turn. Antony spends less time explaining the reasoning behind the assassination, but more about the emotion behind Caesar’s death. Antony brings up the aforementioned “ambitions” of Caesar, mentioning the offer of the crown from “which he did thrice refuse” (III, iii). The crowd discusses this amongst itself, but the major disappointment visible on Antony’s face, as his eyes burn “red as fire with weeping” (III, iii).
The citizens confess to themselves that there is “no man more noble” in all of Rome than Antony (III, iii). At this moment, Antony really appeals to the emotion of the citizens by picking up Caesar’s body, evoking imagery reminiscent of Michelangelo’s renowned pieta. He draws attention to the scars across the chest, citing each stab with the name of its inflictor. In stark contrast to the contract drawn between Antony and Brutus regarding honor, Antony remarks on Brutus’ actions specifically referring to his stabbings as “the most unkindest cut of all” (III, iii).
The final lines of Antony’s monologue truly seal the fate of the conspirators: “O, what a fall was there, my countrymen! Then I, and you, and all of us fell down, Whilst bloody treason flourish’d 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, marr’d, as you see, with traitors” (III, iii).
This drives the people insane: all of a sudden, the words of Brutus are as distant as Brutus himself! The cast of conspirators are no longer begrudging heroes, but rather virtueless villains who had slain the great Caesar for no good reason. Antony’s speech has overridden any progress made by Brutus’ speech. Why is this?
For one, Brutus’ talk with the people is reduced in value because it lacks two important elements: performance and emotion. While, in the world of debate and argument, it is harmful to rely solely on the merits of anecdotes and emotion, it is true that these such things linger in the minds of the audience much longer than simple numbers ever could. The way in which Brutus delivers, or performs, his speech is cold and neutral, advocating for a sense of benign tempers. If, after all, he wishes to prevent riots and vengeance from occurring, he must do his best to keep the people from feeling neither overwhelmed or underwhelmed by his explanation.
Antony, however, has no fear of such repercussions, as he feels that the mourning of this leader should be organically felt throughout the community. After all, the lover in this situation would want the people to share this pain, as it helps to alleviate the woe and grief (in reference to the archetypal grieving process) that has wracked the citizens. Antony, in this sense, improves on the speech by incorporating the body of Caesar into his speech, showing the people that the physical pain inflicted upon Caesar is shared in a psychological transfer to Antony’s soul. The use of the body is also important for naming off the traitors (and emphasizing Brutus’ role). The emotion on display is stunningly powerful and blasts through the crowd’s neutral state, exciting and enraging them. In short, Antony’s existence as a genuine lover evoked more feeling from the crowd than Brutus’ simple facts and attempts at appeasement.
In the ways of speechcraft, Brutus was doomed to his fate based on his inability to show emotion. While it is his tragic flaw in the matter, we must realize that his avoidance of emotion was instrumental in allowing him to escape the situation without the crowd going completely volatile. The lover in Antony preached to the crowd, inciting violence as a byproduct of true compassion and pain that swept over the crowd. In this situation, proving to be levelheaded is to condone the events, and after a speech like Antony’s, who would be so base as to deny their love for Caesar?