Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears

August 5, 2015 § Leave a comment


Pitted against one another, in Act III scene ii of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, are reason and sentiment; logic and emotion. Brutus’ words rely on the righteousness of his act; of having rid Rome of a tyrant. He refrains from using oratorical skill, opting instead for simpler, plainer language and wishing to appeal to his audience’s reason.

Romans, countrymen, and lovers!
hear me for my cause,and be silent,
that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour,
that you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may be the better judge.

Antony’s monologue is laden with sentiment and delivered with ingenuity, so as to stir up the emotions of the Roman mob:

O judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Look in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;

The thin veneer of praise soon cracks revealing the vitriolic sarcasm beneath:

Here under leave of Brutus and the rest–
For Brutus is an honourable man;
So are they all; all honourable men–

And so as to the fan the flames of mutiny and revolt, Antony cunningly adopts an attitude of self-deprecation:

I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friend; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouth,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stone of Rome to rise and mutiny.

It is only very recently that majority of people have been able to read and write. For centuries prior to the demographic changes required to support scribes, the invention of the printing press, and indeed the revolutionary paperback, these were skills possessed by a very select few. It was the spoken word that prevailed amongst the majority. From the Norse sagas to Homer’s Iliad, information from one generation to another was disseminated by way of speech. To this day the spoken word continues to mesmerize us: injustice has been fought; diabolical deeds have been committed; tears have been shed; and the flame of seething rage has been kindled. All due to the utterances of a few. The power inherent in words, and the men that wield them, is boundless.

Image: “Brutus and the Ghost of Caesar” by Edward Scriven [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


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