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Julius Caesar | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 3, Scene 2

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides an in-depth summary and analysis of Act 3, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar.

Julius Caesar | Act 3, Scene 2 | Summary



The Roman people (the plebeians) fill the Forum, the public gathering space, crying for answers about Caesar's death. Brutus calms the crowd, saying he loved Caesar as much as they did. But he loves Rome more. "Had you rather Caesar were living, and die all slaves ... [than] live all free men?" he asks. He praises Caesar's good qualities but says Caesar had to die due to his ambition. Brutus claims that he too will die if his country needs him to do so. The plebeians are visibly moved by this speech and call for Brutus to be named the new ruler. They agree Caesar was a tyrant and his death was best for Rome.

Brutus leaves after introducing Antony. Antony claims he won't praise Caesar, who had many faults. He begins to address Caesar's alleged ambition. Caesar, he says, offered faithful friendship, provided for Rome by bringing in captives, wept when his people wept, and refused the crown three times. "But Brutus says [Caesar] was ambitious," Antony repeats after each example, "and Brutus is an honorable man." He stops his speech to weep, and the crowd grows sympathetic, agreeing that Caesar was wronged.

Antony then reveals he has found Caesar's will, which he won't read. The crowd shouts for him to read the will. Antony protests that if the crowd knew what Caesar left them in his will, how much Caesar loved them, they'd become angry. He doesn't want to wrong the "honorable men" who killed Caesar. Now firmly on Antony's side, the crowd says those men were traitors. Antony leads the crowd to Caesar's body. He shows each of Caesar's stab wounds and names each of the conspirators. The crowd weeps and calls for revenge. Antony tells them to wait, and apologizes that he's not a great orator like Brutus. Undeterred, the crowd vows to burn Brutus's house. Antony says they still haven't heard the will, and reveals that Caesar left each citizen 75 drachmas and left all his private lands to the people.

The crowd, now a riotous mob, leaves to find the conspirators. Antony watches them go with pleasure, saying "Mischief, thou art afoot." A servant then tells Antony that Octavius is now in Rome and that both Cassius and Brutus have left town. Antony leaves to meet with Octavius.


The audience is reminded of a pivotal force that was on stage at the start of the play—the townspeople, or the court of public opinion. In one sense the scene at the Forum is a funeral for a beloved leader; in another it's a trial for the conspirators. Brutus argues his defense concisely and logically, and the jury understands. Then Antony argues passionately for the prosecution. The townspeople, earlier proven to be easily swayed by a triumphant victory or a strong personality, ultimately side with the best performer, the last voice in their ear.

Antony's funeral speech is one of the most famous examples in literature of rhetoric's power over the listener. Although he claims to be an inferior orator, Antony speaks with far more skill than Brutus. Brutus speaks plainly and honestly. Antony says one thing, that the conspirators are "honorable," while obviously intending another. He also deliberately withholds the will so the citizens clamor to hear it. His entire speech is a blatant emotional manipulation, including when he shows the people Caesar's body. It proves that Antony has an important skill for a politician—he knows how to work a crowd.

Brutus's thoughtful speech and selfless reasoning—"Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more"—appeal to the crowd's patriotism and desire for unity. He keeps his diction sparse, his ideas simple and vague enough to apply to any out-of-control leader. His sensible stance rubs off on the crowd, for a little while. After the first portion of Antony's speech, the plebeians discuss reasonably among themselves whether or not a worse evil will come after Caesar.

In contrast to Antony's funeral speech, Brutus isn't as specific in giving examples of Caesar's actions, and Brutus doesn't weep. Not only that, but he tells the crowd what's best for them. Antony leaves more room to let them decide for themselves—or to think they're deciding for themselves. Cassius employed a similar tactic when convincing conspirators, letting them come to their own conclusion that Caesar should die.

In his speech Antony is careful not to deliberately defame the conspirators. On the surface he respects them. He says the opposite of what he means. Many statements he makes have a double meaning, particularly "Brutus is an honorable man," a phrase that becomes more sarcastic and caustic upon each repetition. When he calls himself a "blunt man" in contrast to the senator Brutus, seemingly insulting himself, Antony is masterfully appealing to class anxieties. He's just a man who loved a friend. He's ordinary, like the plebeians. Everyone in the crowd can relate to him in a way they can't to the aristocratic Brutus, whose experience is suddenly a liability.

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