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Mark Antony’s Funeral Oration in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar”

Date: Monday, Aug. 9 | 7:00–8:30 PM EDT

Our lives today would be immeasurably different if a speech delivered in 44 BCE by a Roman general, known to be a reveler, over the assassinated body of his friend, a colossal empire-builder, was not successful in turning the plebian crowds into violent mobs. Mark Antony’s funeral oration over Caesar’s stabbed body, as brought to life by Shakespeare, is certainly one of the most masterful displays of histrionic rhetoric in the English language. Antony converts a population of citizens, previously disposed to bury Caesar once and for all and support Brutus in his crusade to restore the free Roman republic, into passionate partisans bent on revenge for Caesar’s murder and resumption of his kingly beneficence, ending, once and for all, Roman liberties. What lessons can we learn from this decisive moment in history, when people were moved to serve their passions and material ambitions, rather than their noblest spiritual callings? For had those crowds not been won over by Antony’s stirring oration, Caesarism might have ended there, and the founders of the American republic should have learned different lessons from the Roman example of how to maintain itself, given our common human lot in nature. Anyone who would assume importance on the stage of history could not ask for better immersion into the springs and issues of human action than Shakespeare’s plays, of which “Julius Caesar,” with this speech by Mark Antony at its center, stands out boldly apropos.

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