He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honourable man.
Brutus and Cassius enter the Forum with a crowd of plebeians. Cassius exits to speak to another portion of the crowd. Brutus addresses the onstage crowd, assuring them that they may trust in his honor. He did not kill Caesar out of a lack of love for him, he says, but because his love for Rome outweighed his love of a single man. He insists that Caesar was great but ambitious: it was for this reason that he slew him. He feared that the Romans would live as slaves under Caesar’s leadership.
He asks if any disagree with him, and none do. He thus concludes that he has offended no one and asserts that now Caesar’s death has been accounted for, with both his virtues and faults in life given due attention. Antony then enters with Caesar’s body. Brutus explains to the crowd that Antony had no part in the conspiracy but that he will now be part of the new commonwealth. The plebeians cheer Brutus’s apparent kindness, declaring that Brutus should be Caesar. He quiets them and asks them to listen to Antony, who has obtained permission to give a funeral oration. Brutus exits.
Antony ascends to the pulpit while the plebeians discuss what they have heard. They now believe that Caesar was a tyrant and that Brutus did right to kill him. But they wait to hear Antony. He asks the audience to listen, for he has come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. He acknowledges Brutus’s charge that Caesar was ambitious and maintains that Brutus is “an honourable man,” but he says that Caesar was his friend (III.ii.84). He adds that Caesar brought to Rome many captives, whose countrymen had to pay their ransoms, thus filling Rome’s coffers. He asks rhetorically if such accumulation of money for the people constituted ambition. Antony continues that Caesar sympathized with the poor: “When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept” (III.ii.88). He reminds the plebeians of the day when he offered the crown to Caesar three times, and Caesar three times refused. Again, he ponders aloud whether this humility constituted ambition. He claims that he is not trying to disprove Brutus’s words but rather to tell them what he, Antony, knows; he insists that as they all loved Caesar once, they should mourn for him now.
Antony pauses to weep. The plebeians are touched; they remember when Caesar refused the crown and wonder if more ambitious people have not stepped into his place. Antony speaks again, saying that he would gladly stir them to mutiny and rebellion, though he will not harm Brutus or Cassius, for they are—again—honorable men. He then brings out Caesar’s will. The plebeians beg him to read it. Antony says that he should not, for then they would be touched by Caesar’s love for them. They implore him to read it. He replies that he has been speaking too long—he wrongs the honorable men who have let him address the crowd. The plebeians call the conspirators traitors and demand that Antony read the will.
Finally, Antony descends from the pulpit and prepares to read the letter to the people as they stand in a circle around Caesar’s corpse. Looking at the body, Antony points out the wounds that Brutus and Cassius inflicted, reminding the crowd how Caesar loved Brutus, and yet Brutus stabbed him viciously. He tells how Caesar died and blood ran down the steps of the Senate. Then he uncovers the body for all to see. The plebeians weep and become enraged. Antony says that they should not be stirred to mutiny against such “honourable men” (III.ii.148). He protests that he does not intend to steal away their hearts, for he is no orator like Brutus. He proclaims himself a plain man; he speaks only what he knows, he says—he will let Caesar’s wounds speak the rest. If he were Brutus, he claims, he could urge them to rebel, but he is merely Antony.
The people declare that they will mutiny nonetheless. Antony calls to them to let him finish: he has not yet read the will. He now reads that Caesar has bequeathed a sum of money from his personal holdings to every man in Rome. The citizens are struck by this act of generosity and swear to avenge this selfless man’s death. Antony continues reading, revealing Caesar’s plans to make his private parks and gardens available for the people’s pleasure. The plebeians can take no more; they charge off to wreak havoc throughout the city. Antony, alone, wonders what will come of the mischief he has set loose on Rome. Octavius’s servant enters. He reports that Octavius has arrived at Caesar’s house, and also that Brutus and Cassius have been driven from Rome.
Cinna the poet, a different man from Cinna the conspirator, walks through the city. A crowd of plebeians descends, asking his name. He answers that his name is Cinna, and the plebeians confuse him with the conspirator Cinna. Despite Cinna’s insistence that they have the wrong man, the plebeians drag him off and beat him to death.
Act III, scene ii evidences the power of rhetoric and oratory: first Brutus speaks and then Antony, each with the aim of persuading the crowd to his side. We observe each speaker’s effect on the crowd and see the power that words can have—how they can stir emotion, alter opinion, and induce action. Brutus speaks to the people in prose rather than in verse, presumably trying to make his speech seem plain and to keep himself on the level of the plebeians. He quickly convinces the people that Caesar had to die because he would have become a tyrant and brought suffering to them all. He desires to convey that this message comes from the mouth of a concerned Roman citizen, not from the mouth of a greedy usurper.
Antony’s speech is a rhetorical tour de force. He speaks in verse and repeats again and again that Brutus and the conspirators are honorable men; the phrase “Brutus says he was ambitious, / And Brutus is an honourable man” accrues new levels of sarcasm at each repetition (III.ii.83–84). Antony answers Brutus’s allegation that Caesar was “ambitious” by reminding the crowd of the wealth that Caesar brought to Rome, Caesar’s sympathy for the poor, and his refusal to take the throne when offered it—details seeming to disprove any charges of ambition. Pausing to weep openly before the plebeians, he makes them feel pity for him and for his case.
Antony’s refined oratorical skill enables him to manipulate the crowd into begging him to read Caesar’s will. By means of praeteritio, a rhetorical device implemented by a speaker to mention a certain thing while claiming not to mention it, Antony alerts the plebeians to the fact that Caesar cared greatly for them: “It is not meet [fitting] you know how Caesar loved you . . . ’Tis good you know not that you are his heirs” (III.ii.138–142). Under the pretense of sympathetically wanting to keep the plebeians from becoming outraged, Antony hints to them that they should become outraged. He thus gains their favor.
Further demonstrating his charisma, Antony descends from the pulpit—a more effective way of becoming one with the people than Brutus’s strategy of speaking in prose. In placing himself physically among the crowd, Antony joins the commoners without sacrificing his rhetorical influence over them. First he speaks of Caesar’s wounds and his horrible death; he shows the body, evoking fully the pity and anger of the crowd. He claims, with false modesty, that he is not a great orator, like Brutus, and that he doesn’t intend to incite revolt. Yet in this very sentence he effects the exact opposite of what his words say: he proves himself a deft orator indeed, and although he speaks against mutiny, he knows that at this point the mere mention of the word will spur action.
Having prepared the kindling with his speech, Antony lights the fire of the people’s fury with his presentation of Caesar’s will. Caesar had intended to share his wealth with the people of Rome and had planned to surrender his parks for their benefit. Antony predicts and utilizes the people’s sense of injustice at being stripped of so generous a ruler. The people completely forget their former sympathy for Brutus and rise up against the conspirators, leaving Antony to marvel at the force of what he has done.
In the ensuing riot, the killing of Cinna the Poet exemplifies the irrationality of the brutality that has been unleashed; since Caesar’s murder, Rome has become so anarchic that even a poet finds himself in grave danger. This murder of the wrong man parallels the conspirators’ more metaphoric murder of the wrong man: although Brutus and Cassius believe that they have brought an end to Caesar’s charisma and authority, they have merely brought an end to the mortal body that he inhabited. While the body may lie dead, the true Caesar, the leader of the people, lives on in their hearts—as he does in the anxious minds of the conspirators: Brutus will soon encounter Caesar’s ghost near the battlefield. The populace will now seek a man who can serve as their “Caesar”—the word has now become a synonym for “ruler”—in his place; Caesar has instilled in the Romans a desire to replace the old republic with a monarchy.