Throughout the course of history, there have been many powerful beings who influenced the people around them. The common crowd followed these beings of high authority, without even a simple question. The former civilizations of Germany, Russia, and Iraq are all stellar examples of an ignorant population clinging to others of gigantic power. Another society that might have fallen into this trap was Rome under the rule of Julius Caesar. In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Julius Caesar”, a group of men (most notably Brutus and Cassius), feared that the esteemed Caesar was getting too powerful. They decided to take action and assassinate the military general without considering how the people would react. After the death of Caesar, Brutus and Mark Antony tended to their own discourse out to the plebeians and each uniquely affected the Roman commonfolk. Though Brutus’s speech had a considerable effect on the people, Antony’s clever use of rhetoric outshined Brutus’s speech in almost every way possible. Mark Antony swayed the plebeians to rise to mutiny through his skillful utilization of persuasive devices such as logos, pathos, and verbal irony.
One of the most glaring examples of persuasion in Antony’s speech was his use of logic, otherwise known as logos. In Antony’s words, “You all did see that on the Lupercal / I thrice presented him a kingly crown, / Which he did thrice refuse” (3.2.105-106). Antony tries to ask the audience how Caesar was ambitious when he refused the crown three times, which is factual, concrete information. By referencing a recent event that they all witnessed, he effectively questions the audience. He attempts to innocently contradict Brutus’ main reason for killing Caesar: Caesar’s increasing ambition. Furthermore, he also talks about how Caesar greatly improved the city: Shakespeare writes, “He hath brought many captives home to Rome, / Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill” (3.2. 97-98). In this example, Antony tells the audience that Caesar brought home many war captives, and as a result, the city gained many riches. In addition to showing Caesar’s strength, this quote makes the plebeians ponder how Caesar was a threat when he vastly improved the citizens’ quality of life. Also, Antony uses the universal language of money here, which makes it so that everyone understands his point.
Of equal importance was Antony’s employment of pathos, which is appeal to emotion. Mark Antony remarks, “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” (3.2.144-147). When Antony says this, he uses creative diction to evoke certain emotions in the crowd. Firstly, he shows hows much blood was shed from Caesar’s multiple wounds: this creates empathy in the plebeians’ minds. He also calls the blood sacred, hinting that Caesar was a saintlike figure. He tries to create sympathy for Caesar (as opposed to Brutus making him look like the villain) by saying that Caesar left the Plebeians everything, and once they hear his will, they would immediately go and kiss Caesar’s dead body. In addition, Shakespeare writes, “It will inflame you; it will make you mad” (3.2.156). Antony’s use of the word “inflame” dramatically gets his point across about how much Caesar loved the plebeians. It creates a sense of bitterness among the plebeians and stimulates boorish feelings towards the conspirators. Ultimately, Antony creates love for Caesar in the hearts of the plebeians and makes them blame Brutus for taking away their noble leader.
Importantly, Antony also ties in verbal irony when he addresses the onlookers. Antony maintains, “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” (3.2.93-96). In Brutus’ discourse, Brutus says that he is a very honorable man, which adds credibility to his speech. In any case, Antony takes this very reasoning and skewers it, creating a large amount of doubt in the brains of the listeners. With Antony’s expressing, it is anything but difficult to tell that Antony does not trust that Brutus is decent, and rather he is taunting the possibility of Brutus having honor. Moreover, Antony notes, “I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke, / But here I am to speak what I do know” (3.2.109-110). Although Antony says he doesn’t want to disprove Brutus, he is actually aiming for the opposite. Antony’s language subtly lets the people know what he is doing. His usage of sarcasm inside the address passes on a feeling of trickiness that gave rise to the rebellion of the Romans against the schemers.
In conclusion, Brutus’s fatal mistake of not harming Antony shows itself when Antony persuades the common people to rise to mutiny. Antony achieved his staggering impact on the plebeians through his usage of logos, pathos, and verbal irony. As Lao Tzu said, “There is no greater danger than underestimating your opponent”. A perfect example of this is shown “Julius Caesar”, when Antony, a reveler and a playboy, sets the honest conspirators’ downfall in motion. Instead, if Brutus heeded Cassius’s warning and killed Antony along with Caesar, a great war could have been avoided.
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