Shakespearean Rhetoric

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In order to learn how to use rhetorical devices successfully, the one should definitely appeal to the examples from the brightest masters of words. The selected passages from Act III, scene II of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar are the perfect tutorial for those who want to learn the basic rules of argumentation. This scene describes the events that took place after Caesar’s death. Brutus, who is the close friend of Caesar, is also one of his assassinators. He delivers an oration in order to defend himself. From the other hand, Mark Antony wants to persuade the audience that Brutus is guilty. He is not allowed to speak directly, which is why Antony uses special rhetorical devices. While reading the Act III, scene II of Shakespeare’s play, the one can clearly see that Antony’s speech is more persuasive than the oration of his opponent, as Brutus appeals to the rational reasoning of his audience, whereas Antony addresses to the weaker emotional side of humans’ minds.

Marcus Brutus appears to be the central character of the Shakespeare’s play, as he stands on the crossroad between patriotism, friendship, and demands of honor. Brutus faces with the inner psychological drama, which is why his speech has two main goals. First of all, he tries to persuade the audience that the assassination of Caesar is the necessary action made in order to save Rome from troubles. Secondly, Brutus tries to persuade himself that he killed Caesar because this was his duty, not for his own purposes. The character begins his speech with the rhetorical device of antimetabole. He repeats the words in successive clauses while placing them in reverse grammatical order:

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…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… (Act III, scene II).

Brutus emphasizes on his honour, in order to remind the audience that they must feel respect for him. Moreover, he tries to establish connections between the audience and himself. He uses the rhetorical device of rhetorical question or erotema for this purpose. Brutus asks:

… Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
All free men?… (Act III, scene II).

This question helps the audience to place themselves in the position of Brutus. If the listeners decide to justify themselves, they will also justify the actions of the speaker. The usage of rhetorical questions becomes even more persuasive, as long as Brutus uses such device as anaphora. By repeating the same groups of words at the beginning of his sentences, the speaker makes them sound more valuable and attractive. For example, he claims:

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… (Act III, scene II).

The last phrase here is also an intention to get the feedback from the audience. As long as Brutus’s speech is well-structured, he gains success in his desire to be justified, but not for long. Another strong point of the speech is a usage of contrast. Brutus tries to use the rhetoric device of paramologia. He admits the weaker points at first, and then he disproves these points with the stronger ones:

… Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more….
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…(Act III, scene II).

Again, the usage of anaphora is very effective here. All the rhetorical devices used by Brutus are successful. He managed to get approval from the audience. However, his speech did not bring him the final victory, as Mark Antony discredited his actions.

According to the play, Mark Antony would be allowed to make a funeral speech for Caesar only if he did not blame the conspirators for Caesar’s death. However, his intention was opposite to the promise he gave. Antony’s speech is strong because he uses emotionally charged rhetoric in order to manipulate with the position of the audience. At the beginning of the speech the audience stands completely by the Brutus’s side:

Fourth Citizen: “Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here”.
First Citizen: “This Caesar was a tyrant” (Act III, scene II).

Antony’s speech begins by justifying the actions of Brutus. It seems so because the speaker uses the device of contrast:

I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones… (Act III, scene II).

Antony uses rhetoric devices to remind the audience a positive image of Caesar. He repeats the same words in order to attract the audience’s attention to what his intention is:

I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know (Act III, scene II).

Throughout his speech, Antony states that “Brutus is an honourable man”. This claim is usually accompanied by the statement that Caesar was ambitious. The last statement is disproved step by step. As a result, the previous idea is also refuted. As long as the audience believe that Caesar was not ambitious, it gets the idea that Brutus is not an honourable man. Antony believes that he has brought his message to the audience. He uses the rhetorical device of aposiopesis in order to get confirmation. He breaks off in the middle of his speech and makes an emotional accent, which helps the audience to make a conclusion:

O judgment! 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.
First Citizen: Methinks there is much reason in his sayings. (Act III, scene II).

The irony is a strong weapon used by Antony. Brutus tries to speak pathetically and sincerely, in order to persuade both himself and his listeners. From the other hand, Antony has a clear position stated covertly. He believes that Brutus is wrong, which is why Antony uses this word several times:

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.

Antony appears to be more persuasive speaker because he lets the audience to make their own decisions. He uses rhetorical devices to push the audience to conclusions, which, however, are not stated openly. The reaction of the audience is stronger in this case, as people now believe that they were fooled by Brutus.

The analyses of the selected passages from Act III, scene II of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar shows that is better to persuade the audience by giving it a chance to make decisions instead of stating the final conclusion. The character of Antony makes a more effective appeal than the character of Brutus, as he is more confident in his desires, as well as he is more confident in what he says. The emotional approach seems to be more successful than the rational one.

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