Funeral Declamation in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” Essay

“What we learn through pleasure, we never forget” (A. Mercier), while “Pleasure is the flower that passes, remembrance, the lasting perfume” (Jean de Boufflers). Some scenes in literature stick in the mind well, even after the book goes back to the shelf. One such celebrated scene is the funeral oration in the play “Julius Caesar”, created by the multi-faceted maestro, William Shakespeare. “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon’em” -Twelfth Night As for his own greatness, Shakespeare certainly took the second path.He “achieved greatness” by his astonishing skill with the English language. The world’s most performed playwright had an incomparable ability to capture the verities of human existence in a few well-chosen words.

He expressed deep thoughts and feelings in words of great beauty and power. No other writer in the world is so quotable or so often quoted. Nowhere else in literature is there a like storehouse of the most delightful and the greatest ideas phrased with utmost power of condensed expression and figurative beauty.His surviving works, including some collaborations, consist of about thirty-seven plays, one hundred and fifty-four sonnets, two long narrative poems and several other poems.

“Julius Caesar” is a tragedy based on the Roman history, by this transcendent and unbounded genius. It portrays the conspiracy against the Roman dictator Julius Caesar, his assassination and its aftermath. Shakespeare probably used Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s ‘Lives Of The Noble Grecians and Romans’, as his chief source in writing “Julius Caesar”.But the source provided him only with bare or even crude sketch and by the power of imagination he has transformed it into the greatest literary masterpiece. “Julius Caesar” is a play that hinges upon rhetoric- both as the art of persuasion and an artifice used to veil intent. The most predominate and important aspect of this play are the speeches given to the Roman citizens by Antony and Brutus, the two main characters following the death of Caesar. First Brutus speaks and then Antony, each with the aim of persuading the crowd to his side.The funeral oration portrays the power of words- how they can stir emotion, alter opinion and induce action.

Brutus speaks to the Roman mob in prose unlike Antony, who uses verse in his rhetoric. Both Antony and Brutus use the three classical persuasive appeals employed in the speeches: Ethos, which is an appeal to the credibility; Pathos, which is an appeal to the emotion of the audience; and Logos, which is an appeal to the content and arrangement of the argument itself. Both speakers use an ethical appeal to the crowd and establish their credibility first.Brutus starts off by saying he was Caesar’s friend, and he loved him, but because Caesar was ambitious he had to slew him. Brutus knows that everyone in town think him to be an honorable man and he uses that to establish his credibility, unlike Antony, who has to work harder to gain the crowd’s attention. Antony begins his speech stating that he is there to “bury Caesar, not to praise him”. It is a great way to start since most of the people didn’t want to listen to some silly friend of Caesar saying wonderful things about him.

Antony also mentions that their hero Brutus is an honourable man. This helps the crowd to listen to him. The emotional appeal, pathos, is also used in both the speeches. Brutus appeals to the emotion of the crowd stating that the reason for killing Caesar is his great love for Rome. He says, “Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more” Brutus also assures the crowd that he has the dagger to kill himself- if the good of Rome should call for it.

Antony uses repetition to sway the crowd.He repeats again and again that Brutus and the conspirators are honourable men- the phrase, “And Brutus is an honourable man” accrues new levels of sarcasm at each repetition. He uses Caesar’s will as a tool to appeal to the emotion of the audience. Antony uses Caesar’s will as a prop in his speech. He speaks of Caesar’s wounds and his horrible death; he shows the body, evoking the pity and anger of the crowd. Logos, is an intellectual or logical appeal. Brutus knows how to lure the crowd , appealing to their better judgement as Romans.He tells them that he will let them judge the validity of his claims.

He states about “tears, love and ambition”. Brutus also asks the audience rhetorical questions which they could not answer: “Have you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, Than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men? ” Antony uses reason in his speech exemplified by his countering Brutus’s claim that Caesar was ambitious. Antony mentions how much Caesar had felt for the poor people of Rome and also at the feast of Lupercal Antony presented Caesar the crown of Rome, and all the three times Caesar had rejected.Although both gentlemen use the same three persuasive appeals in their speeches, Antony is obviously more effective. Brutus wins his audience- but fails to keep them. Unlike Brutus, Antony had to work hard to gain the crowd’s credibility, and his hard work makes him perform much better.

Antony’s speech is also three times the length in words than that of Brutus. Antony goes beyond mere words and successfully employs the visual sense as a potent tool of persuasion. Antony uses an assortment of persuasive devices such as specific evidence, repetition and props.Antony’s mix of sarcasm and unaffected emotion allows the crowd to listen to what he is not saying. Antony gets a great benefit of speaking after Brutus. This allows him to take everything that Brutus said and twist it apart and over analyze until he disapproves everything Brutus said. Thus all these help him to take the crowd on his side. The funeral oration is widely praised by different critics.

“Individual characters shape events by influencing the mob, and they influence the mob through rhetoric, by a kind of verbal seduction”, avers J. Peter Leithart . Antony’s speech to the people is a masterpiece of eloquence……; the line Brutus was an honourable man has been a stumbling- block, yet its intention is very evident”, asserts William Oxberry. Much can be gleaned by the speeches of Antony and Brutus.

The words of Brutus and Antony reveal how easily and completely an audience can be both won and lost in terms of persuasion. Shakespeare imbues his characters with truths of emotion and reason that transcend both time and distance and thus the funeral oration stands as a remarkable relic of English literature.