Beware of Romans Bearing Compliments

Beware of strongly persuasive speakers. They will often say numerous things you agree with while convincing you to act against your core beliefs. The persuasive speakers also usually have goals different from your own. In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Brutus, thanks to Cassius’ manipulative and persuasive tendencies, came to the conclusion that Caesar was destined to wreak havoc on the Roman people and bring great despair, so he decides that the only way to save Rome was to murder Caesar. After doing this, Brutus speaks to the large crowd of people about the crime he had just committed but the crowd was not given any time to ponder his statements because Antony begins to deliver a speech that will discredit Brutus’ claims. In this compelling and eloquent speech, Antony utilizes the crowd’s emotions and self-esteem while simultaneously appealing to the audience’s sense of reason in order to destroy their perception of Caesar, Brutus, and Cassius and manipulate them to do as he wishes. 

By simultaneously using the art of sincerity and manipulation, Antony expertly persuades the audience to rise against the conspirators and strategically plants cunning language to appeal to the Roman people’s emotions and egos. The subtle, yet highly effective, placement of terms of endearment throughout the speech causes the audience to put trust in the words Antony says. A prime example of this comes when Antony proclaims, “Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it; / It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you. / You are not wood, you are not stones, but men” (3.2.150-152). The use of “gentle friends” (3.2.150) appeals to the Romans’ emotions and makes them feel as though they are on an equal playing field with people such as Antony, Brutus, and Cassius. Similarly, Antony commends Caesar while still, to a certain extent, respecting all of the men who played a part in his murder but is simultaneously turning the crowd against them. In doing this, Antony has made himself look reputable and has gained the trust and respect of the crowd. Antony, unbeknownst to the crowd, also uses mockery when he makes statements such as “I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it. / I fear I wrong the honorable men / Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar; I do fear it” (3.2.160-162).” The term “honorable men” (3.2.161) appears to be a term for respectable men but Antony will turn around and use this term to mock and ridicule the men who killed Caesar. Antony does this again when he derides the conspirators by saying 

Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up 

      To such a sudden flood of mutiny. 

     They that have done this deed are honorable.

     What private griefs they have alas, I know not, 

     That made them do it. They are wise and honorable. (3.2.220-224)

There is a sense of irony in the fact that Antony continuously uses ‘honorable’ to refer to the conspirators, but this simple word is a perfect example of how Antony manipulates his audience. Antony says the word in a sarcastic tone but then follows it up with something positive about Caesar. In doing this, Antony makes it tremendously easy for the audience to put credence in all that comes out of his mouth.  

In painting Brutus and Cassius in a poor light, Antony gains the trust and respect of the crowd by repeatedly attacking the pair of men with brutally honest claims regarding their relationship with Caesar. This is done mostly in a discrete fashion; however, there are times when Antony is exceedingly frank with the intentions of his words, which can be seen we he says, “I should do Brutus wrong and Cassius wrong, / Who, you all know, are honorable men” (3.2.133-134). Again, in a brilliant manner, Antony uses ‘honorable’ to undercut these men and show the audience that they deserve no such title. The repeated use of this word can be seen as a form of reverse psychology in order to cause the crowd to come to the realization for themselves that Caesar’s murder and these men are honorable in no way, shape, or form. In an attempt to tell the Roman people how much of a travesty and betrayal the murder was, Antony says, “For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel. / Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him” (3.2.191-192). By using the term “angel” (3.2.191), Antony makes it clear that he viewed Caesar as beloved and puts all of the blame directly onto Brutus. Antony then makes it clear when he says, “For when the noble Caesar saw him stab, / Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms, / Quite vanquish’d him. Then burst his mighty heart” (3.3.194-196) that Brutus’ treachery is what killed Caesar, not the stab wound. The disloyalty brought upon by Brutus was “the most unkindest cut of all” (3.2.193) and Antony clearly conveys that he believes that there is no denying this was the ultimate reason for Caesar’s perish. Antony ropes the crowd back in when he tells them “I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts. / I am no orator, as Brutus is” (3.2.226-227). Again, the use of terms of endearment comes into play in order to make the Romans feel as though Antony is just another one of them, an ordinary man. This claim is also ironic because Antony states that he is “no orator” (3.2.227); however,  in telling the Romans this, he proves to be an effective orator. 

In the time of Julius Caesar, just like today, persuasive speakers often have different goals and objectives from their target audience. Antony was a master of seeming to shower someone with compliments and praise while leading the listeners to a very different conclusion. That is one of the ways Antony subtly manipulated the Roman crowds to reach the conclusion he wanted. Another way persuasive speakers can manipulate their audience is by appealing to strongly held emotions and their sense of fairness or justice, as Antony did when he led the crowd to conclude that Brutus had disloyally betrayed Caesar. Many in the crowd would naturally imagine how they would feel if they were betrayed by someone close to them. Antony was able to turn the crowd against the conspirators while appearing to simply share the crowd’s feelings.