Julius Caesar: "Friends, Romans, countrymen...."

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Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;

From a rhythmic perspective, the trochaic feel of this opening immediately commands attention. The succession of hard stresses is also Shakespeare's way of using the verse to help Antony cut through the din of the crowd. Antony also echoes the opening line that Brutus uses ("Romans, countrymen, and lovers!"), but conspicuously rearranges it; where Brutus begins with "Romans" to reflect his appeal to their reason, Antony begins with "friends," which reflects the more emotional tact he will take throughout the rest of his speech. Remember also that Antony has entered the Forum with Caesar's body in tow and will use the corpse as a prop throughout his oration.

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I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.

Antony follows with a line of straight iambic pentameter punctuated with a feminine ending. Here's the first irony of Antony's speech, in that he is unequivocally here to praise Caesar. Antony is, in fact, lying. This is a calculated tactic to disarm a crowd firmly on the side of Brutus when Antony takes the pulpit.

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The evil that men do lives after them;

This is a line harder to scan than it might seem at first. The hardest word to scan is lives; if you scan it as stressed, you have four consecutive stresses in a row, and the line scans iamb/pyrrhic/spondee/spondee/iamb. While that isn't completely out of the realm of possibility, it's a bit of a stretch. Besides, the real subject of Antony's rhetorical parallelism is good and evil, not living and dying. Also, while Antony is clearly referring to Caesar in the line and the one that follows, it's not hard to imagine him making a subtle innuendo here about the conspirators.

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The good is oft interréd with their bones;

Here is a case where the regular iambic rhythm following the more varied rhythm of the line above aids the contrast that Antony conveys. Oft is a common Elizabethan contraction for often; Shakespeare often uses oft to avoid the extra unstressed syllable in his verse. The marked pronunciation of interréd (Middle English enteren, via French enterrer, which derives from Medieval Latin interrare meaning "within earth") is another trick to keep the meter strict in this line; otherwise, he would have written it as interr'd. Here, only two lines after Antony say he hasn't come to praise Caesar, he already slips in the backhanded implication that some good died with Caesar.

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So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus

This line is a bit of an oddity, in that it's 12 syllables and doesn't read as an alexandrine or even particularly iambic. Out of the six feet, only two are iambs. Although it's probably overanalyzing Shakespeare's intent, the line marks the point where Antony, satisfied that he has placated the crowd, begins the whittling away at the reasoning behind Caesar's assassination. The irregular meter could be a way of subtly reinforcing that shift.

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Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:

The regularity of the meter and the nine syllables leads one to believe Shakespeare's intent was that ambitious be pronounced am-BI-shee-US rather eliding the end to SHUS as we do now. Notice how Antony subtly plugs in the language of doubt; "Brutus tells you Caesar was ambitious" is a lot different than "Caesar was ambitious." By the way, ambition originally derives from the Middle English word ambicioun, which comes from French via the Latin stem ambire, meaning "to solicit for votes."  Also, for the novice orator who may have to recite this, be very wary of this line. You don't want it to come out as, "The noble Brututh hash told you." Nobody said Shakespeare doesn't take some practice.

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If it were so, it was a grievous fault,

Building upon the previous thought, Antony continues eroding the base upon which Brutus's argument is founded. This is masterful. All Antony has to do is introduce that four-word qualifier, "if it were so," to form the crux of his argument to come. Grievous here denotes "deserving of censure or punishment" in context, but sets up a play upon the word in the line that follows.

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And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.

Although the traditional reading of grievously in context is "painfully or heavily," it's an interesting play upon meaning to read Antony's meaning as akin to "it was a criminal fault that was criminally dealt with." This illustrates a rhetorical figure of speech known as polyptoton (also known as metabole), in which the same root word is repeated for effect with different cases or inflection (e.g., grievous and grievously). Answer'd here denotes "atoned," while there is an understood "for" omitted from the clause for the sake of the meter.

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Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest—

Aside from a trochaic inversion to begin this line, the meter is regularly iambic. Antony, according to his agreement with Brutus, must acknowledge that he is speaking by permission (under leave) of the conspirators. Brutus intends that this should show the conspirators in a good light; unfortunately for Brutus and the rest, it gives Antony an opening to elaborate upon them in what will evolve into a most unflattering refrain.

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For Brutus is an honourable man;

And here we have one of Shakespeare's most cited examples of verbal irony. The tone here is at its most subtle; Antony has to make this particular occurrence as benign as possible at first. The irony as he returns to the phrase throughout his speech is dependent upon a progressive contrast between Antony's words and his inflection.

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So are they all, all honourable men—

Here again, we have a sense of disjointed meter that underscores the tension in what Antony says. The line scans here as trochee/iamb/spondee/pyrrhic/iamb, which gives the line a choppy rhythm. The repetition of "all" with the midline caesura gives the speaker a naturally stressed inflection that betrays some of Antony's underlying scorn.

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Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.

Antony returns to the actual predicate of his statement with innocuous metrical regularity. The line is all but a throwaway; Antony doesn't want the crowd dwelling on the idea that he is speaking here by permission. The preceding parenthetical insertion of Brutus and the rest being "honourable men" displaces his emphasis and lessens the impression that Brutus holds sway over him. In doing so, Antony effectively obeys the letter of his agreement without yielding to its spirit.

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He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

Metrically, Shakespeare employs a trochaic inversion centered upon a midline caesura. Antony, rather unsurprisingly, begins his formal eulogy of Caesar by recalling their friendship. On the rhetorical level, this will also help call into question the reasoning that Brutus gives for Caesar's murder.

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But Brutus says he was ambitious;

Antony contrasts his experience with what Brutus has said. The obvious implication is that Brutus and Antony have different views of Caesar. The more subtle implication is that since both men have claimed him as their friend, they have equal authority to speak on the subject of Caesar's disposition. Antony, however, has the advantage of not needing to justify his actions. Instead, Antony can focus on sawing the limb out from under Brutus's argument.

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And Brutus is an honourable man.

At this point, Antony is still ostensibly speaking well of Brutus—at least to the crowd. A plebian might think that at worst, perhaps, either Antony or Brutus has made an honest mistake in his judgment of Caesar. On the other hand, the words says, ambitious, and honourable are becoming impossible to miss.

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He hath brought many captives home to Rome

The pronoun, given the preceding reference to Brutus, can sometimes be a tad confusing at first; the "He" refers to Caesar. The second foot of the line is the only tricky one to scan. An iamb seems the best choice—scanning brought as unstressed—given that Antony is emphasizing the "many captives" Caesar brought, rather than stressing that he brought captives.

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Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

It's tempting to think that Shakespeare meant general (meaning "public" in this context) to be pronounced more like gen'ral to adhere more strictly to iambic meter. As it stands, it's just as easy to read general as a dactyl substitution in a predominantly iambic line. "General coffers" refers to the public treasury of Rome, and Antony uses Brutus's logic about acting for the good of Rome to show that Caesar was also acting for the good of Rome. Antony also displays the mark of a true politician: he appeals to their wallets, reminding the crowd that what was good for the economy was good for them.

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Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

The question, of course, is rhetorical. The scary term for this style of rhetorical question is anacoenosis, a tactic of posing a rhetorical question to one's audience for dramatic effect. The trope also implies a bond or common interest between the speaker and the audience, that both are of like mind. By this technique, Antony asserts that Caesar was not ambitious—and hence implies that Brutus was either misguided or lying—while leading the citizens to conclude his assertion seemingly on their own.

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When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

This line demonstrates the two most common trochaic inversions in Shakespeare's verse: an initial trochee to begin the line, and another following the caesura. Antony knows his audience well. Patricians and the upper crust of Roman society that comprised the Senate were known to be indifferent, even callous, to the suffering of the lower classes. To portray Caesar as sympathetically weeping for their plight is fanning the flames, although Antony is saving his proof (Caesar's will) as a trump card for later.

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Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Antony, were he speaking on television today, could be accused of going for a good soundbite. Stern denotes "pitiless; cruel or unkind." (The word derives from the same etymological root as "stare," the Old English verb starian.) This is another way that Antony uses circumlocution to call Brutus's account into question without ever averring that Brutus is a liar.

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Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

This is the third time in this speech that Antony utters this refrain. Every time he says this, it draws Brutus in an increasingly harsher light. The recurring repetition amplifies the question in the mind of the audience, There is a rather obscure rhetorical term for this technique; it's known as repotia, which describes using the same phrase with minor variations in tone, diction, or style. Of course, the line also demonstrates qualities of ploce (repetition of a single word—ambitious—for rhetorical emphasis) and epimone (persistent repetition of the same plea in much the same words), also known in Latin as commoratio (dwelling on or returning to one's strongest argument). This is why people don't study classical rhetoric the way they used to. It's best just to understand that Antony is hammering home a theme by repetition.

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And Brutus is an honourable man.

Part of the real genius of this speech is the way that Shakespeare uses this phrase intertwined with "Brutus says he was ambitious" to amplify the irony. Every time Antony chimes in with "Brutus is an honourable man," he refashions Brutus as a foil to Caesar. He has to take this approach; the outrage he seeks to generate must have a proper target.

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You all did see that on the Lupercal

Antony hearkens back over the next three lines to the ceremony described by Casca in Act I, sc. ii. The metronome regularity of the verse over that span combined with the phrasing quickens the pace a little here. Lupercal was the cave at the foot of the Palatine Hill in which the suckling wolf nurtured Rome's founding brothers, Romulus and Remus. In Caesar's era, the fertility festival known as the Lupercalia was celebrated there on February 15. The Lupercalia outlived the Western Empire, finally being abolished by Pope Gelasius I in 496; legend has it that the pope's creation of St. Valentine's Day on February 14 was designed to usurp the Lupercalia.

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I thrice presented him a kingly crown,

The "crown" scene was drawn directly from North's translation of Plutarch's Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans. This is Antony's best evidence to contradict the speech of Brutus, and Antony knows that the majority of his audience will see it as he portrays it.

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Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?

On the surface, of course it's not. Antony is grandstanding with his rhetorical question. On the other hand, a cynical listener might reflect on the Lupercal scene and think it a publicity stunt, the empty gesture of a de facto autocrat. That might lead one to believe that there was indeed some ambition in Caesar—and perhaps some reason for concern. Keep in mind that Rome was a centuries-old republic founded upon the overthrow of its original monarchy. For any one man to have consolidated such power for himself at the expense of the Senate would have been a crack in the very foundation of the Roman Republic.

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Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

Shakespeare here makes yet another use of polyptoton in Antony's speech. The juxtaposition of Antony's prior rhetorical question with the now-familiar refrain of "Brutus says he was ambitious" is as close to a direct attack upon Brutus as Antony will make in this stretch of his speech. Note how the end positions of ambition/ambitious in their respective lines magnify the contrast between Caesar and Brutus.

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And, sure, he is an honourable man.

The final tally after 27 lines is seven instances of ambitious or ambition and five instances of honourable. Antony has deflated ambition and transformed honourable from a laud to an epithet. The final straw is the insertion of sure into the line. Nowhere does Antony say anything that literally denigrates Brutus, but his subtextual meaning cannot be more clear by this time.

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I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,

Of course not. For Antony is an honourable man....

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But here I am to speak what I do know.

For all intents and purposes, Antony now puts his case to the crowd as, "Who will you believe, Brutus or me?" This is the heart of Antony's approach: pathos, or emotional appeal, versus the dry logos, or logical appeal, of Brutus. Antony understands that between two men who claimed deep friendship with Caesar, the one who seems more genuinely affected by his death generates more sympathy. Building upon that, Antony uses his emotion to bolster both his credibility and his argument.

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You all did love him once, not without cause:

This line features another trochaic inversion around the caesura marked by the comma. The phrase "not without cause" is an example of litotes, a form of rhetorical understatement that the speaker uses to affirm or accentuate an idea by denying its opposite (such as saying that something is "not bad" to mean that it is, in fact, quite good). This and the following line also illustrate anadiplosis with the use of cause both to end this phrase and begin the next.

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What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?

Satisfied that he has made his point about Caesar to the crowd, Antony now appeals to their conscience. It was, after all, the commoners that celebrated Caesar's triumph over Pompey, that cheered Caesar when he was presented a crown, that sought to make Caesar their king. Antony reminds them that if they had cause to love him—and as he's refuted the rationale behind Caesar's assassination—then they have every reason to lament his death.

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O judgment! Thou art fled to brutish beasts,

You can scan the "O" as unstressed, but because the beginning of the line is an interjection—and a somewhat melodramatic one at that—it reads better with the marked stress. Antony risks alienating the crowd by shaming them (or at least suggesting that they're suffering a lapse in reason) for believing Caesar to be a tyrant in the making. Shakespeare also risks the redundancy of "brutish beasts" (which literally translates to "bestial beasts") to make the deliberate pun upon Brutus's name.

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And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;

The end of the line scans as iamb/spondee because of natural inflection as well as the sense of what Antony is saying. Reason denotes "the ability to think rationally" in this context. Antony's emoting is setting up for a dramatic pause to give both himself and the crowd a brief respite.

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My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,

The regular iambic rhythm of the line and the feminine ending both help soften this line's tone, which contrasts the high fervor of "O judgment!" It's a simple metaphor that holds up well four centuries later. To Antony's credit, the sentiment is grounded in his love for Caesar; it's also quite telling of the character that he's able to use this emotion in such a cynical enterprise.

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And I must pause till it come back to me.

There is actually a rhetorical term for this dramatic pause: aposiopesis (from Greek, literally meaning "becoming silent"). It refers to a point where the speaker abruptly stops, and is most often employed to depict the speaker as being overwhelmed by emotion. The last few lines are frequently cited as a paragon of this figure of speech. Antony is taking a moment both to gauge his appeal to the audience and to give them some time to let his words sink in. By the time he resumes his speech, Antony is ready—and the crowd ripe—for the shift from persuasion to outright manipulation.

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