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.
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.
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.”