21 May 2014
Marc Antony’s Funeral Oration
, one of Shakespeare’s most renowned plays, is set in ancient Rome around
44BC during a time period when the Roman Empire was expanding and rising in power as well as in political discord. In the play Rome is afflicted with constant internal conflicts of leadership between powerhungry Senators and ambitious military leaders. Continuously plagued with selfserving competitors and underhanded betrayals of allegiance, there is an acute division amongst the people represented by the senate as well as an underrepresentation the masses of commoners. Of all the successors seeking to rule as the allpowerful emperor of Rome, Julius
Caesar in all of his conquests is the only man who would come close to being appointed that status. Those favoring a democratic rule feared that Caesar’s sudden advance to power would cast Rome into the shadow of an imminent dictatorship type of rule and so a group of Caesar’s colleagues conspired to act against this imposing threat. The group of conspirators including one of Caesar’s closest friends, Brutus assassinated Caesar; afterwards justifying their actions by accusing him of becoming too ambitious in his climb to power. Therefore, in order to protect the interests of the republic the conspirators conceded that it became necessary for Caesar to be terminated. Marc Antony, one of Caesar’s most loyal friends, voluntarily takes on the task of speaking at Caesar’s funeral. Although the conspirators distrust him for his friendship with
Caesar, Brutus still allows Antony to give a proper eulogy, but only after Brutus a formidable speaker himself has made his oration first to explain to the public his reasoning behind killing
Caesar. Brutus makes it clear that Antony may speak of Caesar’s good deeds and commemorate him as a good man, so long as Antony refrains from casting blame on the conspirators. Antony takes this opportunity to defend Caesar's name, however it is his actual intention to restore
Caesar’s credibility as a good leader and to expose the conspirators involved in Caesar’s assassination as the true enemies of the republic. Using the persuasive instruments of rhetorical devices in his oration, Antony proceeds to attack Brutus’ honor, while simultaneously bringing to light Caesar’s many good doings accomplished in service of the Roman Empire.
Antony's first used irony in his speech to convince the crowd that he is unequivocally here to, “…bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is often interréd with their bones ”. This is a calculated tactic to disarm a crowd, who at this point is on the side of Brutus when Antony first takes the to the forum. Only a few lines after Antony says he hasn't come to praise Caesar, he already slips in the backhanded implication that some good died with Caesar. Antony continues on to pronounce that, “…Brutus is an honourable man” which he repeats throughout the speech as a form of verbal irony and eventually a not so subtle contradiction. The tone here is at its most subtle; Antony makes his first statement of Brutus as being honorable as unthreatening, almost even patronizing at first. The irony as he returns to the phrase throughout his speech is dependent upon a progressive contrast between Antony's words and his inflection.
Antony uses Brutus's logic about acting for the good of Rome to show that Caesar was
also acting for the good of Rome reemphasizing that, “He hath brought many captives home to
Rome whose ransoms did the general coffers fill. Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? Ambition should be made of sterner stuff”. Here Antony kills two birds with one stone, by posing a rhetorical question to captivate his audience for dramatic effect and appeals to audiences’ wallets by reminding the crowd that Caesar was a true benefactor of the economy for