Brutus and Mark Antony: An Analysis of Their Pervasive Styles of Persuasion

Rebecca G. Agee
SPCH-S 303, Propaganda and Persuasion
Dr. Jerome Mahaffey
February 1, 2008
Brutus and Mark Antony:
An Analysis of Their Pervasive Styles of Persuasion
Among the major theories of oratorical persuasion are the ‘argumentative reasoning’ and ‘sophist’ styles.  The sophistic style originated in ancient Greece and is pragmatic in the sense that its followers believe that the ‘ends justify the means’ in terms of persuasive tactics. In other words, sophists have little or no regard to ethical implications as they apply their persuasive arts. An example of the sophistic method can be found in the advertisements for cigarettes from the 1950’s and early‘60’s.  In both print and television ads, the advertisers strongly implied (by using attractive imagery and/or ‘catchy’ phrases or jingles) how smoking brand ‘x’ cigarettes would make one sophisticated, sexy or cool—yet they failed to mention (or ‘played down’ by using fine print, for instance) the fact that smoking any cigarette could also cause one to develop emphysema and various forms of cancer. The sophistic speaker makes the negative (or the worse) of alternatives or choices appear to be the better.
Argumentative reasoning (or reasoning by analogy) basically consists of a description and/or examination of an issue, stance or item—followed by a comparison to a model of an analogous or symbolic one (185).  Larson states, “We also frequently see argument by comparison in advertising, with competing products compared in terms of cost, effectiveness, safety and so on…(185). In what follows, I will explicate the classic speeches of Shakespeare’s Brutus and Mark Antony (Julius Caesar) in an attempt to demonstrate both the sophistic and argumentative reasoning styles of persuasion.
Firstly, the speech by Brutus is quick, rather simplified and to the point. Brutus suggests that Caesar became ‘ambitious’ and therefore, had to be killed. Although his oratory is much-less wordy than that of Antony, he does offer a reasoned argument, as when he asks, “Have you rather Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live all free men?” (3. 2).  Knowing the context of his argument—that of the possibility that the Senate could declare Caesar king thus effectively putting an end to the Roman Republic—offers weight to Brutus’ defense of Caesar’s murder.  Another example of Brutus’ use of  reason are the steps of logic he displays when he says (effectively) if you love Rome, then I have not offended you (by murdering Caesar) because I did it out of love for Rome..His argument here utilizes both pathos and logos. In still a further statement of reason (and again infused with pathos) Brutus assures the crowd that he has the dagger ready to kill himself—if the good of Rome should call for it. Brutus uses the expenditure of his own life (thereby comparing the lesser-value of individual life to the greater value of Rome in general) Also, his audience can assume that Brutus does place some value on his own life—therefore there may be little (or no question) that he did, indeed, love Caesar—and—consequently–did have strong reasons for murdering him. Brutus argues that personal life (although individually valuable) should/must be sacrificed (if need be) for the good of Rome. Again, it is the ‘bigger picture’ of a safe, successful Roman Republic that is important to Brutus—and it is to that end that the small, personal nuances of the individual–its passions, its loves—its very existence—are to be surrendered. Brutus wins his audience—but he fails to keep them. His mistake was in his assumption that the crowd would stay with him—therefore, he did not need to work too hard (or too long) at maintaining his position. He would have been better served had he heeded Cassius’ earlier warning.
In contrast, Mark Antony’s speech exhibits much more of a sophistic style. His oratory–despite of his protestation to the contrary (“I’m no orator…” 3. 2)—is much more artful and cunning than that of Brutus.  The manner in which Antony ‘works the crowd,’ so to speak, is like that of a skillful, seasoned politician or a fisherman who casts, plays and eventually—successfully–reels in his catch. Antony’s speech is much longer than Brutus’—and is also that much more effective. Initially, Antony says, “I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” (3.2).  The statement is not true: Antony came to praise Caesar, fault Brutus, Cassius, etc. and to incite the crowd into taking action. Further, Antony claims that he speaks not to disprove what Brutus has said; once again, however, this is not true—disproving Brutus is exactly his intent.
Also, it must be said, that Antony does use some reason in his speech–exemplified by his countering Brutus’ claim that Caesar was ambitious: “You all did see that on the Lupercal I thrice presented him a kingly crown which he did thrice refuse: Was this ambition?” (3. 2) Primarily, however, Antony’s words are full of sophistry and irony. He starts out seemingly supportive of Brutus’ deeds and words, displaying his belief with the phrase, “…Brutus is an honorable man” (3. 2). But soon his speech becomes peppered with suggestions and notions that (stealthily) serve to shake and undermine the audience’s faith in Brutus. By the time Antony has uttered his fourth “honorable man”—it is apparent that Brutus (and his cohorts) are anything but honorable men.
Further, Antony’s mix of sarcasm and unaffected emotion allows the crowd to listen to what he is NOT saying—to read ‘between the lines’ or fill in the blanks for itself.  By doing so, Antony taps into ‘crowd psychology’ and motivates his audience to do what seems to be the opposite of what he says. A good example of this ploy is when he states, “Tis good you know not that you are his heirs, For if you should, O, What would come of it!” (Italics mine, 3. 2). Also, “…if I were to stir your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage, I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong…I will not do them wrong…” (3. 2). Further, it is not the crowd who “compels” Antony to read Caesar’s will, rather, it is Antony who compels the crowd…Anthony, further still, plays on the pathos of his audience. While he reminisces about Caesar’s life via his mantle-he also points out each deadly wound, naming who was the responsible party—thus, juxtaposing moments of Caesar’s happy life with the sources of his unhappy death.
As far as a sense of ethics plays into their oratories, both men seem to have good reputations. Antony, however, in particular seems to be the more ‘natural’ of the two: He physically (and therefore, emotionally) comes down to crowd level, while Brutus stays above as he delivers his speech. Antony (seemingly) is not the ‘elevated’ orator that Brutus seems to be; he is not ‘above them’ delivering a prepared, political speech.  He even joins the crowd—inviting them in a bonding circle around Caesar’s corpse. Moreover, he speaks of Caesar’s worth as a friend of Caesar—mentioning Caesar’s kind acts toward people, toward individuals. Antony, however, is ethically remiss in his persuasion tactics—he purposely plays on the crowd’s sentiment and emotion at a time when he knows all are vulnerable.
Brutus, as aforementioned, seems to have the crowd at hand (“Let him be Caesar,” 3. 2) only to lose them as Antony speaks.  In contrast, Antony does not have the crowd initially (“Twere best he speak no harm of Brutus here,” 3. 2); however, he soon gathers the crowd under his oratorical sway (“This Caesar was a tyrant,” 3.2). Eventually, Antony’s persuasion takes full hold, as citizens yell: “All Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire…We’ll burn the house of Brutus!” (3. 2).
Finally, as with most of Shakespeare’s works, much can be gleaned by the speeches of Antony and Brutus.  Shakespeare imbues his characters with truths of emotion and reason that transcend both time and distance (which is why his plays are so relevant today).  They are comprised of human elements—social, intellectual and emotional—of which all can identify. The words of Brutus and Antony reveal how easily and completely an audience can be both won and lost in terms of persuasion.   Like the sophists, like modern mass media—Shakespeare was well aware of which ‘buttons’ to push, and when and how often—in order to gain the greatest persuasive advantage.

Shakespeare, W. (1600-01).  The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.



19 thoughts on “Brutus and Mark Antony: An Analysis of Their Pervasive Styles of Persuasion

  1. continue such good work. add a comparison of antony and brutus as orators also.

    Posted by DANIEL ELIAS VARGHESE | April 22, 2009, 5:43 am
  2. this is a very good piece of information about the speeches of antony and brutus……..
    it will be good if antony and brutus are compared as orators

    Posted by Arun.V.S | May 3, 2009, 7:12 am
  3. good work.compare them as orators too.

    Posted by Athul T. Narayanan | May 10, 2009, 3:58 am
  4. woaa .. thnx a ton !! it really helped me with my assignment !!

    Posted by Aarushi | July 5, 2009, 4:28 pm
  5. awesome work……much better than other websites……..common people can understand it……….great work……..carry on…

    Posted by MDT | September 13, 2009, 7:00 am
  6. awesome. really precise and clear

    Posted by ASGsaldkghaew; | December 5, 2011, 2:52 am
  7. awesome good work really helped

    Posted by matt | December 11, 2011, 7:29 pm
  8. hail caesar!! this has helped me a lot…. thank you….

    Posted by rohan oommen eapen | January 11, 2012, 2:25 pm
  9. Excellent!! Wow. Amazing.

    Posted by smtccca | January 30, 2012, 12:04 am
  10. Eh tu, Brute?
    Wow nice Line from Caesar to Brutus.

    Posted by Ashleigh Sierra | February 17, 2012, 5:29 pm
  11. Great!!! Thanx alot

    Posted by sk | November 1, 2012, 10:00 am
  12. ausum work….praiseful it is..helped a lot with ma assignment..!

    Posted by sajal | January 2, 2013, 10:25 am
  13. “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”
    thnx mate!!
    helped me a lot
    keep up the good work

    Posted by Nikhil | January 17, 2013, 4:59 pm
  14. Amazing piece, very helpful! thank youu

    Posted by Farah Kamel | March 2, 2013, 8:00 pm

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