Thursday, 15 January 2015

Analysing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar - Who was the better Speaker, Brutus, or Antony?


Who was the better speaker, Brutus or Mark Antony?

The battle of the orators takes place at The Forum in Act III-Scene II. Brutus decides to go first, that is before Mark Antony and this is apparently a convenient way to discredit or nullify any adverse impact that Antony’s speech could have had on the common people of Rome. In fact, Brutus was himself so overconfident of his skills that he gave Antony permission to address the common people of Rome the order of Julius’s funeral in spite of Cassius’ warning not to do so! At that moment, Brutus had replied, ‘By your pardon; I will myself into the pulpit first, and show the reason of our Caesar’s death:What Antony shall speak, I will protest He speaks by leave and by permission.’
At the forum itself, Brutus immediately grabs the attention of the common people of Rome, effectively silencing the first and the second citizens. Brutus addresses the gathering in the following words, ‘Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my cause, and be silent that you may hear: believe me for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and awake your senses,…’. Here I would like to draw your attention to the very first words, ‘Romans, countrymen and lovers’ – a very formal address indeed, and yes this formality doesn’t provide scope for closeness, something that we will see in Antony’s speech, which, incidentally turns out to be more informal and warm! The next few words, ‘believe me for mine honour’ seem to suggest that the people should listen to him and believe in him just because he is an honourable man, (ironically and intentionally, Antony would be using the word ‘honour’ in an ironical sense later in his speech while referring to Brutus and the conspirator) now if being ‘honourable’ is cause enough to believe someone, then I guess Brutus was taking too much for granted. Anyway, the gathered citizens of Rome are so impressed by Brutus’ speech that by the end, they want to ‘Bring him with triumph home…Give him a statue with his ancestors…Let him be Caesar.’ It looks as if Brutus has finally stolen the show and people are already turning away, not giving a second thought to Antony. It takes Brutus’ exhortation to them to ‘let me depart alone, and for my sake stay here with Antony’. By now Brutus is fully convinced that he has nothing to fear from Antony, much to his folly! This sense of invincibility, and confidence in his own powers of oration suggest a tragic flaw in his character which will lead to his undoing!
It is true that Brutus was the better and more accomplished orator of the two,(Mark Antony makes this clear in one of his speeches in Act III, scene II when he says, 'I am no orator, as Brutus is') but still, his speech pales before  Antony’s speech which, although devoid of the superior skills of oration, is nevertheless, powered by truth, honesty and sincerity. Brutus’s speech is clearly hollow and devoid of specifics and facts and the single point that he focuses on is the assumption that Caesar was ‘ambitious’ and that life under his rule would be devoid of any form of freedom or liberty. In fact, Brutus binds the common people through his sophistry in such a way that they don’t dare challenge the reasons and the appropriateness of the conspirators’ need to kill Caesar. The question, ‘Had you rather Caesar were living and die all slave’ suggests that if Caesar were allowed to live then everyone would be a slave and whoever protests against the conspirators would be acknowledging that he was a slave! The common people are so enthralled by Brutus’ sophistry that they dare not challenge him lest they should reveal themselves to be, ‘base…a bondman, so rude that would not be a Roman’. No body dares speak! Apparently, none of those present dares to challenge Brutus lest they appear to be 'vile, bondmen' and not so patriotic!
Antony, on the other hand is less formal with his audience, and this is probably what helps him  touch a common chord in the people of Rome. Unlike Brutus, he addresses them, ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’. The word ‘Friends’ is less formal and more friendly than the word, ‘Romans’ that comes first in Brutus’s speech. The rest of Antony’s speech is ultimately more effective and powerful than Brutus’ because he uses irony very tactfully to demolish Brutus basis for killing Caesar, and the arguments in his speech are based on fact. Antony uses the word,’honourable’ frequently and ironically too while describing the conspirators. The first truth that Antony uses to refute Brutus’ allegation that Caesar was ambitious is that, ‘He hath brought many captives home to Rome whose ransoms did the general coffers fill’. In other words Caesar if Caesar had been ambitious, then he would surely have filled his own pockets rather than deposit the ransom money in the public coffers, but then Brutus claimed that Caesar ‘was ambitious’ and ‘he is an honourable man’ so Brutus is right and I am wrong.The second fact that Antony presents before the amassed citizens in support of his argument that Caesar was not ambitious is that ‘When …the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept’ meaning that Caesar was concerned about the common man and so he was not ambitious. The third fact is that Caesar, when he was offered the crown thrice in the festival of Lupercal refused the same thrice. ‘Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; and, sure,he is an honourable man.’ The premise is clear, Caesar was not ambitious because he refused the  symbolical crown (of Rome) thrice. Brutus’ honour, and that of the conspirators is at stake here because clearly their assumption that Caesar was ‘ambitious’ has been proved wrong by Antony. By this time, there is a stirring and a sense of restlessness in the gathered people and the third citizen even states, 'I fear there will a worse come in his place.'
Antony’s tactful presentation of facts coupled with a judicious use of irony and the right amount of sarcasm, somehow penetrates the clouded perceptions of the people present. Antony keeps his trump cards up his sleeves for the last moment, and when he sees that his words have somehow  begun to have their effect. He first hints about the will that Caesar had left for the people of Rome, and then keeps them guessing about the contents! When the citizens can no longer contain their curiousity, he reveals that Caesar had left to each Roman seventy-five Drachmas and his public walks, but then Antony literally draws the citizens to impatience by not revealing the contents of the will immediately. The other ace up his sleeve, is of course the cloak that Caesar had worn on the last day of his life, that is when he was stabbed. In what might be a most graphic manner, Antony describes in great detail each rent and tear in the fabric made by the daggers of the conspirators.
The gathered Citizens of Rome are finally incensed and inflamed by Antony’s speech and they decide to take revenge on the conspirators. In a dramatic manner the tides is turned against the conspirators headed by the great orator, Brutus. What carries the day in favour of Antony is his speech. Brutus might have been an accomplished orator, but then while his speech was built on a foundation of empty facts, sophistry and cleverly contrived logic, Antony’s speech came straight from his heart, it was built on a foundation of truth, it was based on true emotions and feelings and this is what finally gets across to the common people of Rome!  
Finally it can be said with great confidence that it was truth  coupled with a strong belief in his friend Caesar that empowered Mark Antony. Truth prevailed over the sophism and the skills of oration that Brutus was equipped with. Brutus may have been a better trained speaker than Antony, but then it was Antony's truthfulness and convictions that lead him to victory. His skillful use of irony, while referring to the conspirators as 'hounourable' and his oblique hints that Caesar might not have been, 'ambitious' after all turn the tides in his favour. Antony's tact, and the fact that he keeps his word by not  criticising the conspirators directly, or even blaming them ensures that the citizens realise the truth themselves by adding two and two. The speech wouldn't have been as effective as it was if Antony had taken on the conspirators head on. So what then is it that makes Antony the better speaker of the two, for according to him he has 'neither wit, nor words, nor worth, action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech'? -Act III, Scene II. He is, as he confesses, 'a plain blunt man'. The answer to this question lies in what he says while addressing the common citizens of Rome when he professes his 'love' for Caesar. While Brutus speaks through practice, and guile and clever words, but words without a substance of truth, nor any emotional connect, Antony says that he can 'only speak right on'! He speaks from the depth of his heart while Brutus speaks from the depth of his mind!
Note: This is an analysis of the play from the point of view of a reader and not a member of the audience viewing the play. In many cases it depends on the skills of the director and the actors playing the roles of Brutus and Antony that really matters. This is the basic difference between a play and a novel, that the emotions and expressions of the actor carry more weight than the written description, and the power of acting lies in the ability of the actor to put his all into the role! 

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