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In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Caesar is a soon-to-be monarch who is murdered by a group called the Conspirators whose justification for their actions may be debated. Throughout the story, Brutus switches sides several times, starting as Caesar’s best friend, then going on to kill Caesar, yet ultimately ending his own life with an apology to Caesar. The conversation between Antony, Octavius, Massala, Lucilius, and Stratus in Act 5, Scene 5, lines (50-81) portrays Brutus as a distinguished man whom everyone feels positively towards because he did not kill Caesar out of envy of power like the other conspirators and instead did all things for the common good, demonstrating his honorable and kind nature. In order to convey these ideas, Shakespeare uses assonance, logos, and foreshadowing respectively.
Shakespeare utilizes assonance to draw attention to Brutus’s selfless motives for killing Caesar. By acting for the good of the majority, Brutus is demonstrated to be a respectable man. Later when Brutus realizes that he had done wrong by murdering Caesar, Brutus takes an additional action deserving of repute by killing himself while stating “Caesar, now be still; I killed not thee with half so good a will” (V.v.50-51). Shakespeare helps to stress main points by using assonance; in this case, the sound “ill” is repeated in key words such as “still,” “kill,” and “will.” Having this pattern allows the words to individually pop out at the reader, thus underlining their significance to the passage. In accordance to what the ancient Romans believed, suicide preserves one’s honor in the face of defeat, moreover, preventing another from taking away one’s own honor. At the time of Brutus’s epiphany in how he made the wrong choice in killing Caesar and confrontation with defeat, he obeys this Roman law and impales himself upon his own sword, therefore maintaining his reputation as honorable. His final words show that Brutus is having regrets about his past while wondering about the real reasons that he committed suicide. Additionally, he wishes that “Caesar, now be still,” to rest in peace, and believes that he did a better thing in killing himself. Due to the assonance in this passage, Brutus’s last words tend to echo in the reader’s mind, leaving them with something to ponder upon as they continue reading.
Logos and a hint of personification help to portray Brutus as a gentle being in Antony’s speech. After hearing the story of how Brutus died, Antony says “This was the noblest Roman of them all […] Nature might stand up and say to the world, ‘This was a man!’” (V.v.68-75). Antony appeals to his audience using logos by giving logical examples of how Brutus is gentle, such as saying that Brutus aimed for “the common good.” Then, he praises Brutus as an example of goodness in nature with the words “Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ‘This was a man!’” Shakespeare also manifests personification here by characterizing nature as a literal figure with the qualities of a human. In Antony’s eyes, Brutus was the “noblest Roman” because he had not committed murder “in envy of great Caesar,” but instead for the common good. Brutus believed that by killing Caesar, he had liberated Rome and preserved its democracy, thus he would be doing something of benefit towards the majority. In the same way, the logic that readers see in Antony’s arguments assists Antony in his depiction of Brutus as a gentle being.
Notably, Brutus being an honest, gentle person — accentuated by Shakespeare’s foreshadowing of his honorable death — also pushed the others, such as Lucilius and Octavius, to think positively of him. In reference to Lucilius’s earlier prediction that no enemy would be able to take away Brutus’s honor, Lucilius speaks at time of Brutus’s death: “So Brutus should be found. I thank thee, Brutus, that thou hast proved Lucilius’ saying true” (V.v.57-59). A few scenes ago, Shakespeare foreshadows Brutus’s tragic death with Lucilius’s prediction that Brutus will not be found alive and instead be found like the honorable man that he is. This prediction already shows that Lucilius had seen Brutus as a benign figure. Having it to be proven true thus proves to Lucilius that Brutus is indeed a figure of virtue. Likewise, Octavius showed his positive opinion towards Brutus when he said “According to his virtue, let us use him with all respect and rites of burial” (V.v.76-77). After Octavius hears Antony’s analysis of Brutus’s goodwill during his time alive, Octavius offers a proper burial for Brutus’s body and similarly shows his acceptance towards Brutus by doing so. This acceptance is present in both Lucilius and Octavius in their common respect and understanding for what Brutus had to do. Applying foreshadowing in the earlier parts of this scene allows the reader a sense of satisfaction when events turn out to be what was predicted.
Ideally, Shakespeare incorporated assonance, rhetoric, and foreshadowing to emphasize significant points in the plot that contributed to conveying his overall message that Brutus was a good man. Not only that, his inclusion of these elements kept the readers engaged and thinking throughout the story. Using literary devices in such a way is the key to drawing detailed portraits of tragic heros.
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