Uploaded by Selwyn Milborrow

Mark Antony is arguably the most astute politician in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Selwyn Milborrow
12 March 2022
Julius Caesar – a study by Selwyn Milborrow
Some people possess a very specific set of skills that not only elevate their stature in society
but changes their world. Mark Antony, a good friend of Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare’s
play, Julius Caesar possesses such skills. At Caesar’s funeral, Antony succeeds in engaging
his audience with new information combined with subtle persuasion. His political experience
and oratory skills ultimately pave the way for him to jointly rule Rome alongside Octavius and
Lepidus. It proves that an ambition effectively planned and executed, could irreversibly impact
one’s life. This theory, supported with evidence from the text, explores how Mark Antony is
arguably the most astute politician in Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony is shattered after his friend’s murder at the hands of the conspirators led by
Cassius and Brutus. This happens a day after Caesar’s victory parade after defeating the sons
of the deceased Roman general Pompey in battle. Since Antony was loyal to Caesar, he thinks
the conspirators want to kill him too and flees his home. However, he sends a conciliatory
message to the conspirators, and Brutus in turn persuades them not to kill him, “And for Mark
Antony, think not of him: for he can do no more than Caesar’s arm when Caesar’s head is off”
(Act 2, Scene 1). Antony plays along by shaking the hands of each conspirator, and in (Act 3,
Scene 1) tells them if they felt justified in their actions, he has no choice but to agree:
Therefore I took your hands, but was, indeed,
Sway'd from the point, by looking down on Caesar.
Friends am I with you all and love you all,
Upon this hope, that you shall give me reasons
Why and wherein Caesar was dangerous.
(Shakespeare, 2018)
This apparent harmless response of Antony seems to calm the conspirators’ fears of vengeance
for Caesar’s assassination. Antony’s treachery surfaces a second time when he apologises to
the dead Caesar “O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with
these butchers!” (Act 3, Scene 1). At the funeral, Brutus speaks first and is pleased with the
crowd’s favourable reaction. Knowing how double-minded and inconsistent the crowd is,
Antony starts his famous speech by addressing them as “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend
me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” (Act 3, Scene 2). Anthony is on purpose
addressing them as these titles. The goal of a persuasive argument is to have your audience
believe that your ideas are valid, or more valid than someone else's. Antony “wants his speech
to be personal and is bringing together the social gap between the plebeians [also known as
peasants] and him, a person who is higher up in the Roman society” (Bright Kite, 2019). His
words initially do not show any blatant political aspirations, but he subtly changes his rhetoric
as he incites the crowd to turn against the conspirators. He uses seemingly insignificant rhetoric
that Brutus and Cassius are honourable men, has the desired effect as the irony starts to sink
“I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.
(Act 3, Scene 2)
Antony increases the incitement as he displays Caesar’s blood-soaked cloak. He reminds the
crowd that he presented Caesar with a crown three times, and each time Caesar rejected it. This
convinces them that the conspirators’ act was truly a cold-hearted murder committed by powerhungry leaders. As an astute politician, Mark Antony knew that passionate, powerful, and
inspiring communication is one of those forces that move people. He finds loopholes in
Caesar's will and continues his rhetoric:
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;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!
(Act 3, Scene 2)
Antony is satisfied with his persuasive tactics when the crowd insists that he reads the will,
“The will, the will, we will hear Caesar's will” (Act 3, Scene 2). He concedes and reads, “Here
is the will, and under Caesar's seal. To every Roman citizen he gives, To every several man,
seventy-five drachmas” (Act 3, Scene 2). Upon hearing this, some in the crowd call for the
revenge of Caesar’s death. Satisfied with the crowd’s reaction, he continues to read:
Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! When comes such another?
(Act 3, Scene 2)
There is nothing more effective than an opportunist with ambition, to cleverly disguise a speech
to catapult him into a leadership position. Mark Antony’s ambitious plan finally pays off when
the crowd appears shocked and calls for revenge. He hears that Brutus and Cassius have fled
Rome, and assumes they have heard how his speech had stirred up the crowd against them. It
was checkmate for him. His carefully planned speech had sunk the conspirators’ plan to rule
Rome. “The consul Antony was not a new dictator, but he had skilfully gathered into his hands
great power” (Scullard, 2003). He brought the complexities of politics from four centuries ago,
closer to twenty-first-century power politics. By comparing today’s politics with that from
Mark Antony’s era, one can deduce that little to nothing has changed; today’s ambitious
politicians, under ideal conditions, continue to transgress their moral code in order to achieve
their self-centred ambitions. The Greek philosopher Aristotle, believed that persuasion occurs
when three components namely ethos (credibility), logos (persuasion through logic), and
pathos (an act of appealing to emotions) are presented. Mark Antony has skillfully and
successfully applied these components to qualify as arguably the most astute politician in
Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar.
Bright Kite, 2019. Bright Kite. [Online]
Available at: https://brightkite.com/essay-on/rhetorical-analysis-of-mark-antony
[Accessed 20 March 2019].
eGyanKosh, 2018. eGyanKosh. [Online]
Available at: http://egyankosh.ac.in/bitstream/123456789/26924/1/Unit-9.pdf
[Accessed 18 March 2019].
Scullard, H., 2003. From the Gracchi to Nero A history of Rome 133 B.C - AD68. London: Routledge.
Shakespeare, W., 2018. Julius Caesar. s.l.: Global Grey ebooks.