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Marc Antony’s Funeral Oration Essay

1450 words - 6 pages

In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony pleads with his “Friends, Romans (and) countrymen” to lend him their ears in an effort to exonerate Caesar from false charges laid against him. The three main conspirators in Caesar’s murder, Brutus, Casca and Cassius portrayed Caesar as an ambitious tyrant to the Roman people. After Caesar was unjustly killed by his friends and comrades, the crowd was persuaded to believe that his death was necessary for the good of the republic. However, Antony’s oration cleverly manipulates the crowd through the use of pathetic appeals, especially enargeia, into rebelling against the assassins and mourning the death of Caesar.

Caesar’s untimely and unnecessary death created a unique rhetorical moment that Marc Antony seized. Bitzer states in his article “The Rhetorical Situation” that “a particular discourse comes into existence because of some specific condition or situation which invites utterance” (Bitzer 41). According to the assassins, Caesar’s murder was necessary for the good of all the Roman citizens, who unquestioningly believed Brutus’s accusations that Caesar was ambitious and unfit to govern Rome. Marc Antony used his speech to win back the citizens and unite them in grief and outrage at Caesar’s murder. One of Marc Antony’s objectives as he ascended to the pulpit was to refute the claims of Caesar’s guilt of ambition: “I thrice presented him a kingly crown, / Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition? / Yet Brutus says he was ambitious; / And, sure, he is an honourable man. / I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke” (3.2.98-102). He reminded the public that Caesar had been offered the opportunity to be crowned King of Rome three times, and each time Caesar had refused it. As Antony implies, an ambitious man would most certainly take the opportunity to become king at the first offering. Marc Antony was given permission to speak at the funeral of Caesar, under the condition that he would not undermine the conspirators. And so, Marc Antony never directly states that Brutus and the other conspirators lied about their murderous motives. Marc Antony was constrained by the inability to publicly show his contempt for the gruesome murder, and so he took a more subtle approach by gradually turning the crowds against the murderers.

Prior to Marc Antony’s oration the crowd had been convinced by Brutus that the death of Caesar was just and warranted. They were led to believe that Caesar was a tyrant and so when Marc Antony ascended to speak they were already hostile to his argument. Crowley and Hawhee state that

members of an audience may hold one of three attitudes toward an issue or a rhetor’s ethos: they may be hostile, indifferent, or accepting. Communication researchers have found that it is easier to move people who care about an issue than it is to influence those who are indifferent. That is, it is easier to bring about a change of mind in those who are accepting or hostile than in...

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