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Rhetoric is defined as “the art of speaking effectively, such as the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion”. Mark Antony, a character from William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, is a skilled orator who often uses rhetoric for his agenda. In this play, Antony depicts multiple themes, one of which being a strong use of rhetoric can influence and manipulate other’s actions and beliefs.
The first example of Antony’s strong use of rhetoric is depicted through his use of persuasive language when he meets with the conspirators after Caesar’s death. When Antony sees Caesar’s body he conveys anguish while mourning the murder of his friend. Angered by their actions, Antony wishes to gain the trust of the conspirators to pull information from the group. He begins by shaking the hands of the conspirators before asking, “Therefore I took your hands, but was indeed / Sway’d from the point by looking down on Caesar. / Friends am I with you all and love you all, / upon this hope that you shall give me reasons / Why and wherein Caesar was dangerous”. Antony uses logos to convince the conspirators to explain their reasoning to him. This example rationalizes his connection to the late leader with his request, wishing to comprehend the seemingly baseless actions performed against him. Brutus, the leader of the conspirators, replied to the question with his personal beliefs of Caesar’s ambition becoming toxic to the future of the Roman Republic. Caesar needed to be killed. This reveals that a request or statement that is strongly dictated can influence others to follow with action or adhere to the suggested belief. Another example of requests using persuasive language took place shortly after he asks for their reasoning, when Antony uses pathos to request to bring Caesar’s body to the marketplace for a proper memorial and to speak at his funeral: “And am moreover suitor that I may / Produce his body to the marketplace, / And in the pulpit, as becomes a friend, / Speak in the order of his funeral”. Antony drew on the emotions developed by his friendships to manipulate the senators into trusting him with little regulation. This example portrays how Antony could manipulate others to believe in him by pulling on their heartstrings and prior knowledge of his character, whether it was accurate with his current intentions or not. Soon after approving his request to speak at Caesar’s funeral, the conspirators left, leaving Antony to monologue about how he would turn the tide against the conspirators with his eulogy.
In his speech at Caesar’s funeral, Antony uses rhetorical devices to sway the crowd against Brutus and his reasoning for Caesar’s killing. In this scene, Brutus and Antony presented eulogies for Caesar, about his character and his life. Brutus addresses the congregation first, speaking about Caesar’s great ambition before leaving the marketplace, allowing Antony to say whatever he pleased. In his speech, Antony degraded Brutus’s honor and the trust the Roman congregation had in the conspirator with his use of anaphora: “[For/And] Brutus is an honorable man”. The repetition of this phrase begins to intensify in irony throughout the speech, making the surrounding congregation of Romans begin to question the validity of Brutus’s statements. This anaphora appeared throughout the entirety of his speech, ensuring the audience would not be able to remove the sarcastic suspicion they were being fed from infiltrating their thoughts on the ordeal. Throughout his speech, the repetition of the term honor created questions over the accuracy of their antecedent beliefs. Antony connected this irony to the juxtaposition of Caesar’s actions and Brutus’s claims about the former leader. Referencing different public actions, Antony declares, “You all did see that on Lupercal / 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 honorable man”. The juxtaposition of the congregation’s preexisting knowledge of their leader with the opinion of a well-respected official creates a question for the plebians; are they to believe what they have witnessed, or the words of someone else? This conflict of thought depends on the stark contrast between what is phrased as a humble act and an egotistical term described as if it were blasphemy to believe it possible. Antony specifically phrases this section of his speech so his audience would be forced to acknowledge the expectation they are to believe something directly opposite to an event they have witnessed. As well as using anaphora and juxtaposition, Antony also uses the persuasive language of logos to subliminally suggest the population go into mutiny against the conspiring senators: “O masters! If I were disposed to stir / Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage, / I should do Brutus wrong and Cassius wrong”. This excerpt subtly refers to Antony’s rage against the conspirators, as he uses logical reasoning against their actions. The suggestion digs into the minds of the plebians, causing anger and the desire to rebel against the senators; plebians began to refer to them as horrible people: “They were villains, murderers”. Antony’s strong use of rhetoric leads to the manipulation of the Romans’ thoughts and actions to be in his favor and to avenge Caesar’s death, eventually leading to a war between the conspirators and loyalists.
In William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Antony exemplifies the theme rhetoric can manipulate the beliefs and actions of others. His use of rhetoric created an entirely different world; without his powerful language, history would have taken a different course. Antony’s actions created a reality for the Roman civilization which would not have existed if not for his influential dialogue.
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