Here, you will find a summary and questions/answers to the chapter “Mark Antony’s Speech” by William Shakespeare which is a part of the Class 12 syllabus for students studying under the Nagaland Board of School Education (NBSE).
Summary: In Julius Ceaser’s Mark Antony’s speech ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’, Shakespeare shows the use of rhetoric, using one thing to imply something else entirely without ever saying so. The funeral speech of Mark Antony is given following the assassination of Julius Ceaser by Brutus and the conspirators.
While Mark Antony’s speech begins by justifying Brutus’ and the assassins’ actions, he ultimately uses rhetoric and genuine reminders to portray Ceaser in a positive light.
As Antony continues to refer to the conspirators as “honourable men,” his implicit sarcasm becomes increasingly obvious. Initially, he attempts to dispel the idea that Ceaser deserved to die for being ambitious, claiming instead that his actions served the Roman people, whom he deeply cared for. Ceaser’s three denials of the throne are well documented by many witnesses, so he denies that he wanted to become king.
Considering Ceaser’s death, Antony is overwhelmed with emotion and deliberately pauses. The crowd turns against the conspirators as he does so.
The audience then requests Antony to read the will of César, which he refuses to do. Antony asks the audience to be patient and expresses his fear that he will wrong the honourable men whose daggers killed Ceaser by reading their will. The enraged crowd yells at the conspirators that they are traitors and begs Antony to read its contents.
He directs the crowd’s attention to Ceaser’s body rather than reading the will right away, making a point to stress the conspirators’ betrayal of a man who had believed them, especially Brutus. As a response to the crowd’s fervour, Antony denies attempting to provoke them. He seems to suggest that Brutus has misled the crowd with his deceptive rhetoric. He claims that if he were eloquent like Brutus, he could speak for all the wounds Ceaser received.
Then, Antony delivers his final blow to the crowd by revealing Ceaser’s will, which provides every Roman citizen with money and land. In a dramatic gesture, he concludes his speech, “Here was a Caesar, but when will we have another like him?” The crowd is enraged and seeks out the assassins with the intent of killing them.
A. Answer these questions
1. ‘I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him’. What does the opening line suggest to you? What does this line prepare you for?
Answer: Mark Antony’s speech’s opening statement suggests that he has no other motive than to bury Caesar.
This line foreshadows the irony in Antony’s speech, as Antony is a close friend of Caesar and will never betray him.
2. What do you understand by the term ‘ambitious’ used as it is for Caesar? Does it carry a negative connotation?
Answer: Caesar’s use of the term “ambitious” implies that he was ruthless and inconsiderate. When Brutus and the conspirators referred to Caesar as “ambitious,” they meant he was blinded by his worldly desires for money, fame, and power.
Yes, it does have a negative connotation.
3. ‘Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.’ What is Antony referring to? Does the crowd agree?
Answer: Antony is referring to the accusations made by Brutus and the conspirators against Caesar. They claimed that because Caesar was ambitious, he needed to be assassinated for the sake of the country. Antony claims that if Caesar had been truly ambitious, he would not have sympathised with the poor or refused the kingly crown.
Yes, the audience agrees with Antony.
4. Why, according to you, might Caesar have refused the kingly crown? Does it tell you something about him?
Answer: If Caesar had accepted the kingly crown, it would have demonstrated his ambition, in my opinion. The kingly crown may have been offered by the senate in order to make him appear guilty in the eyes of those who accused him of having kingly aspirations.
It indicates that Caesar was not as ambitious as the conspirators claim.
5. “…now lies he there’ – Where is Caesar lying?
Answer: Caesar’s body is on display at the forum, where the funeral is being held.
6. What parchment does Antony reveal to the Romans? Does it hold any significance for them? What significance?
Answer: Antony shows the Romans a parchment with Caesar’s will on it. Yes, it is important to the Romans.
The parchment is significant because Caesar left a large portion of his wealth to the Roman citizens in his will.
7. Why does Antony prepare the people to shed their tears? Was he successful in his attempt?
Answer: Antony warns the Roman citizens that they will cry because Caesar mentioned them in his will and they are his heirs.
Yes, he was successful in his endeavour. The crowd was enraged after hearing Mark Antony’s speech and demanded vengeance for Caesar’s death.
8. Why does Antony refer to the stabbing of Caesar as the ‘unkindest cut of all’?
Answer: Antony refers to Caesar’s stabbing as “the unkindest cut of all,” as he was stabbed by Brutus, whom Caesar adored. When Brutus stabbed Caesar, it was the cruellest cut because, as Caesar’s angel, Brutus was supposed to protect him, but Brutus betrayed him and assassinated him along with the conspirators.
B. Think and answer
1. Do you agree with the opening lines? Why do you think Antony would have started his speech in the way he did?
Answer: Mark Antony’s speech begins ironically. He tells the people of Rome that he has come to bury Caesar rather than praise him, but he denies this and praises Caesar while questioning the motives of the conspirators. Antony’s first line is ironic. I disagree with the opening lines because what appears on the surface does not correspond to reality.
Because of the political situation at the time, Antony begins his speech by appearing to support the conspirators. Antony was not allowed to openly criticise the conspirators because the citizens of Rome supported them, and Antony was given the opportunity to speak at the funeral on the condition that he not criticise the conspirators. He pretends that he has no ulterior motive other than burying Caesar, but as the speech progresses, his motive appears to be the polar opposite of what he claimed in the opening lines. Antony uses irony and sarcasm brilliantly to turn the crowd against the conspirators and in favour of Caesar.
2. Trace the progression of the citizens’ reaction to Mark Antony’s speech.
Answer: When Antony takes the pulpit, a citizen suggests that he not say anything negative about Brutus, implying that they believed him when he told them that he and the other conspirators had assassinated Caesar for the good of all concerned.
Following Antony’s demonstration that Caesar was not ambitious, the four citizens mentioned express their feelings. The first states that Mark Antony’s speech appears reasonable, while the second states that if the circumstances of Caesar’s death are properly considered, it appears that he suffered a great wrong. The third citizen disagrees and expresses concern that Caesar’s assassination has paved the way for a far worse leader than the assassinated Caesar. The fourth citizen believes that the others have not paid close attention to what Antony has said. He claims that if they had listened carefully enough, they would have heard that Caesar had refused the throne three times. This, he believes, demonstrates his lack of ambition.
It is clear that the citizens’ feelings toward Caesar, the conspirators, and Antony are still somewhat ambiguous at this point. When they turn their attention to Antony, their feelings shift, and it is clear that they have compassion for him. They take note of his outpouring of grief and decide to give him a fair hearing.
Antony is referring to Caesar’s will, which he left behind. This motivates the citizens to press Antony to read the will. Antony continues to play with the crowd’s emotions, and they practically beg him to reveal the contents of Caesar’s will. The crowd accuses the conspirators of being traitors, murderers, and villains. Antony manipulates the audience in the same way that a puppeteer manipulates a puppet. He knows that once he has them at their most emotional and expressive, nothing can stop them. When Antony realises the time has come, he informs them of the contents of Caesar’s will. The agitated crowd erupts into a frenzy. They make the decision to annihilate the conspirators and everything they own.
3. From your reading of the above play, draw a character sketch of Antony. Do you really think he was an orator par excellence? Support your answers with valid reasons.
Answer: Antony was a great orator, able to capture the audience’s attention and persuade them to believe his words.
In his speech to the public at Caesar’s funeral, he manages to persuade the audience that he is one of them while also persuading them to oppose the conspirators. Despite the fact that the Romans are dissatisfied with Caesar, Antony manages to make them outraged by his assassination. Antony employs literary devices such as sarcasm, irony, repetition, and rhetorical questions to great effect.
When Antony speaks to the audience, he deftly undermines Brutus’ speech without even appearing to do so. He never directly condemns Brutus; in fact, he continues to refer to Brutus and the conspirators as “honourable men,” while contradicting Brutus’ claims that Caesar was too ambitious and thus had to be killed. He accomplishes this by citing examples of Caesar’s generosity and compassion for the people, as well as a time when Caesar refused to accept a crown offered to him.
This clever literary device is the repetition of the phrase “Brutus is an honourable man.” When Antony says it, he’s being sarcastic. This has a cumulative effect on the audience as they watch Antony demolish all of Brutus’ arguments. In effect, Antony uses Brutus’ own words against him.
Antony adds to his appeal to the crowd by claiming modesty, claiming that he is not a good orator like Brutus. Antony denies having any speaking ability, comparing himself unfavourably to Brutus as an orator; however, his entire address demonstrates his mastery of verbal manipulation.
Antony was also skilled at inciting the crowd to rise and rebel against the conspirators. As a result, all of this demonstrates that Antony was a master orator.
4. Can you spot ‘mob mentality’ in this scene of the play? Write a note expressing your views on the same.
Answer: The citizens of Rome are Julius Caesar’s most important characters. They are the mob, and their presence has a significant impact on both the audience and the characters in the play. The mob mentality is evident here, as the mob acts as one and turns violent by the time Antony finishes his speech. Antony can easily sway the fickle mob, and he uses them to his advantage. They begin to have reservations about Brutus and the conspirators. Antony arouses the mob’s suspicion by asking why they are holding their tears now and reminding them that they all once loved Caesar.
When Antony mentions Caesar’s will, the crowd is moved by compassion, curiosity, and greed, and they demand that the will be read aloud. Antony tells the mob what they want to hear but politely declines their demand, knowing that if they learn that Caesar has made them his heirs, there will be mutiny and bloodshed. In his will, Caesar leaves 75 drachmas to each citizen, as well as his private walks and gardens to be used as public parks.
After this, there will be no stopping the mob. In a frenzy of excitement, they rush to burn down the conspirators’ houses while Antony sighs with satisfaction that he has succeeded in unleashing mischief. The mob turned against the conspirators as a result of Antony’s speech.
5. Antony uses Caesar’s will to turn his audience completely in his favour and against the injustice of the assassination. Write a short note on this incident.
Answer: Mark Antony delivers his powerful funeral oration for Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene ii. His goal was to expose the conspirators as murderers and to incite the Roman people to oppose the conspirators.
He used a variety of strategies to achieve his objectives. One of the most powerful weapons was Caesar’s will. In order to demonstrate Caesar’s love for Rome and its citizens, the will demonstrated that he was generous to the people. Antony teases the crowd with the will several times until they beg him to read it.
Caesar bequeathed all of the lands he owned on the Rome side of the Tiber River that had been developed into parks and gardens in his will. These would be used for recreation by the people.
The murder of such a great man who would share his wealth with the common man shocked and enraged the people. They set out to track down and assassinate the assassins. As a result, we can see that Caesar’s will was crucial in swaying the audience completely in his favour and against the injustice of the assassination.
As Antony addresses the plebeians and declares that he has come to speak of his friend, the tone of his speech shifts from one of apparent sincerity and love. Surreptitiously, Antony inserts his ironic remark that “Brutus is an honourable man,” and then casts doubt on this honour by presenting arguments against the conspirators’ claims against Caesar. Then Antony takes on a dramatic tone as he points to where Cassius’ and Brutus’ daggers pierced Caesar. Antony abruptly changes tone and, using the rhetorical technique of apostrophe, invokes the gods as he refocuses his speech on the conspirators as “traitors” and their actions as “bloody treason.”
Ron’e Dutta is the Co-Founder and Editor of Online Free Notes. He is a journalist, a blogger, a creative writer, and a teacher. He is currently writing his first thriller novel on time-travelling. Read the prologue of the novel here. Connect with him on social media.