Julius Caesar

by: William Shakespeare

Important Quotations Explained

2
He was my friend, faithful and just to me.
But Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honourable man.
. . .
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept.
. . .
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And Brutus is an honourable man.
. . .
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
And sure he is an honourable man. (III.ii.82–96)

Antony speaks these lines in his funeral oration for Caesar in Act III, scene ii. He has asked Brutus’s permission to make the speech, and Brutus foolishly allows him the privilege, believing that the boost in image that he and the conspirators will receive for this act of apparent magnanimity will outweigh any damage that Antony’s words might do. Unfortunately for the conspirators, Antony’s speech is a rhetorical tour de force, undermining the conspirators even while it appears deferential to them. This clever strategy recalls the previous scene (III.i), in which Antony shook hands with each of the murderers in turn, thus smearing Caesar’s blood among all of them; while appearing to make a gesture of reconciliation, he silently marked them all as guilty. In both the handshake and the speech, Antony damns the murderers while appearing to pay respect, showing his consummate skill as a politician and rhetorician.

The speech draws much of its power from repetition. Each time Antony cites Brutus’s claim that Caesar was “ambitious,” the claim loses force and credibility. Similarly, each time Antony declares how “honourable” a man Brutus is, the phrase accrues an increasingly sarcastic tone until, by the end of the speech, its meaning has been completely inverted. The speech wins over the crowd and turns public opinion against the conspirators; when Antony reads Caesar’s will aloud a few moments later, the dead Caesar’s words join with Antony’s in rousing the masses against the injustice of the assassination.