Rhetorical Flaws in Brutus’ Forum Speech in Julius Caesar: A Carefully Controlled Weakness?

Dominic Cheetham


In Julius Caesar Shakespeare reproduces one of the pivotal moments in European history. Brutus and Mark Antony, through the medium of their forum speeches, compete for the support of the people of Rome. In the play, as in history, Mark Antony wins this contest of language. Critics are generally agreed that Antony has the better speech, but also that Brutus’ speech is still exceptionally good. Traditionally the question of how Antony’s speech is superior is argued by examining differences between the two speeches, however, this approach has not resulted in any critical consensus. This paper takes the opening lines of the speeches as the only point of direct convergence between the content and the rhetorical forms used by Brutus and Antony and argues that Brutus’ opening tricolon is structurally inferior to Marc Antony’s. Analysis of the following rhetorical schemes in Brutus’ speech reveals further structural weaknesses. Shakespeare gives Brutus a speech rich in perceptually salient rhetorical schemes but introduces small, less salient, structural weaknesses into those schemes. The tightly structured linguistic patterns which make up the majority of Brutus’ speech give an impression of great rhetorical skill. This skilful impression obscures the minor faults or weaknesses that quietly and subtly reduce the overall power of the speech. By identifying the weaknesses in Brutus’ forms we add an extra element to the discussion of these speeches and at the same time display how subtly and effectively Shakespeare uses rhetorical forms to control audience response and appreciation.



rhetoric, Julius Caesar, rule of three, tricolon, forum speech, Brutus, Antony, Shakespeare

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7575/aiac.alls.v.8n.3p.126


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