Julius Caesar is murdered, and the public wants justification. Act III Scene ii of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar begins with Brutus’ speech that attempts to validate his murderous act. He claims that Caesar was a tyrant and his place in power was only hurting Rome. However, his speech has several flaws: it is delivered in prose and filled with irony. After Brutus finishes, Antony harangues the crowd with his famous funeral oration. This oration is said to be some of Shakespeare’s finest writing. The meticulous lucubration that encompasses Rogerian structure and clever word association allows Antony to manipulate the plebeians in opposition of Brutus.
To begin, it is widely known that Brutus was a leading conspirator in Caesar’s death. In order to refute any charging accusations or opinions, Brutus orates a speech that is given in prose in attempt to associate himself with the plebeians, who speak in prose to portray their lack of education and their barbarianism. Ironically enough, brutus in Latin means ‘stupid’. By using prose, Brutus brings himself down to the plebeian social level, one usually viewed as scum. Arguably, Brutus fits into this category perfectly after he brutishly murders Caesar. Although he attempts to appeal to the plebeians by doing this, he actually flaunts his stupidity and downright vileness. From a rhetorical standpoint, Brutus’ prose also creates a larger gap in the eloquence of Brutus’ speech and Antony’s oration.
Since the more educated, like Antony, use verse, which shows intelligence, Antony portrays himself as cultured and well-spoken while Brutus’ use of prose shows his utter stupidity. Not only is the delivery ironic, but the actual text as well. “Here comes [Caesar’s] body, mourned by Mark Antony, who, though he had no hand in his death, shall receive the benefit of his dying”(III.ii.43-45). In this instance, along with several others, Brutus obliviously uses such mordant words like ‘benefit’.
Brutus thinks that he shall prosper and achieve more from Caesar’s death, this being the real reason behind Caesar’s murder. However, after Antony’s oration, Brutus is the target of violent mutiny and fated for death. Mark Antony on the other hand, as is his plan, will not only be revered by the plebeians, but achieve great political prowess as part of the second triumvirate. Thus, Antony is the real beneficiary from Caesar’s death, which is exactly what Brutus says, although thinks opposite. Overall, Brutus’ speech is ironic, both in delivery and text, which allows for Antony’s speech to be all the more persuasive.
Antony’s speech is superior to Brutus’ in two fundamental ways. Foremost is his Rogerian structure epitomized by “I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke”(109). The acknowledgment of Brutus’ ‘correctness’ creates credibility from the plebeians. Credibility forces the plebeians to listen to what Antony is saying, whereas, with Brutus, they dare not speak against him for fear of chastisement, no matter how controversial his words may be. Because the plebeians are not afraid of Antony and finally realize Brutus’ great wrong, they revolt in mutiny against him, thus showing Antony’s argument more persuasive.
Antony’s oration is also rhetorically superior due to downright clever word association. “Brutish beasts”(114) creates not only the allusion of beasts but associates them with the word ‘brute’ stemming from the same Latin root brutus meaning stupid and alluding to Brutus the character as well. He also skillfully associates the ‘honorable’ Brutus with ambition, the same flaw that Caesar was supposedly killed for expressing. “Brutus says [Caesar] was ambitious, / and Brutus is an honorable man”(95-6, 102-3, 107-8). This allows Antony to express the hypocrisy of Brutus’ argument (since he is also ambitious) and show the absurdity of Brutus’ ‘honor’ after committing such a horrendous act. As well, he creates credibility by never directly stating that Brutus is an ambitious hypocrite, all the while subconsciously linking the two ideas in the plebeians’ minds.
The justification has been given. Brutus is a murderer. His fatal flaws when giving his speech such as speaking in prose and ironic word choice suffice the plebeians for proper reasoning of Caesar’s murder. However, when Antony ascends and orates at Caesar’s funeral, his Rogerian structure and clever word association successfully persuade the audience against Brutus and result in citywide mutiny. Antony’s eloquent oration is clearly superb to Brutus’ speech and becomes the promoter of his future success.