Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Brutus's speech to the people

William Shakespeare

Listen

Julius Caesar Act III Scene 2

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 the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar's, to him I say, that Brutus' love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:--
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

For sheer eloquence, for oratory on the grandest scale, Act III of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is hard to match. This particular speech comes sandwiched between Antony's 'bleeding piece of earth' speech and the magnificient "Friends, Romans, Countrymen' oration. But there are other fine speeches here - in fact the entire act has this declamatory quality, as though the speakers, being greater than mortal men, spoke a language higher than that of the common tongue.

Because it is so swiftly outdone by Antony's, Brutus's speech at Caesar's funeral is, I feel, somewhat underrated. It is a marvellous speech, starting off with an appeal to reason and order, but ending on an exhortative, almost indignant note, and playing on the Roman people's regard for their civic freedoms. The only flaw in it, is that Brutus simply asserts that Caesar was ambitious without ever offering any evidence of this, and it is this weakness that Antony exploits to full advantage in his oration.

That said, a large part of the glory of Antony's speech comes from the fact that it must successfully follow this one. Brutus is more than a worthy opponent for Antony to be taking on, and Antony has the incredibly difficult task of changing the mind of a crowd that has been soundly convinced by Brutus's speech before him. Watching him pull that off is like watching a great tennis player come back with a stunning response to an almost impossible smash.

As someone who's always loved debating, and who spent long years in college on the debating circuit, I've always loved this interplay of arguments - it's always represented to me a magnificent and sublime ideal of what a great debate should be like. This speech, and the one that follows it, is part of the reason I became a debater.

4 Comments:

Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Maybe I don't understand enough, but "Julius Caesar" has always been one of my favourites.

Everything you say about Act III strikes a chord with me. I love the last two scenes of Act I as well. Casca, did you ever wonder what happened to Casca? "Aye, if I be alive, and the weather hold / and your dinner worth the eating".

Down-to-earth Casca, with his armour of cynicism penetrated by Brutus' idealism, led astray by Cassius' acid envy, is Terry Pratchett's Sam Vimes in a different time.

J.A.P.

5/04/2006 06:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Will Antony's speech follow?

5/04/2006 07:32:00 AM  
Anonymous biGbrOther said...

sounds to me like u are threatening the leader of my country just like that purdue kid

http://www.ibnlive.com/news/indian-student-threatens-bush-online/8981-3.html

i have sent a link to this page to the cia and the secret service

hope they send you on a sunny vacation to gitmo

5/04/2006 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Falstaff said...

JAP: Agree completely about Act I, and about Casca. Though the connection with Sam Vimes is one I'd never thought of before. Thank you.

Anon: No, actually. I initially had some vague notion of recording it, but then BM was kind enough to remind me of the Brando version and I decided I wasn't up to it.

Big Brother: The leader of your country? Really? Good to know I have readers in Ancient Rome? What's the connectivity like from over there?

5/04/2006 05:54:00 PM  

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