leading characters in the play are all public figures, and as such
they are practiced speakers. In his book, Shakespeare, Mark van Doren
points out that the characters all tend to talk in the same efficient,
carefully structured way. But if all the characters are in a sense
orators, some are better at it than others. The supreme orator is
funeral oration contains one of the most famous examples of irony in
all literature. Irony occurs when the real meaning of the words is the
opposite of the literal meaning. In his speech in Act 3 Scene 2,
Antony plays on the word "honorable" like a musician extracting
different nuances from the same repeated note. The first time he uses
it ("For Brutus is an honorable man, / So are they all, honorable
men") the ironic intention is not yet apparent, at least to his
audience. The audience in the theater will be alert to it, however,
since Antony made his feelings and his intentions known in his last
speech of the previous scene.
pausing to weep, Antony repeats the phrase "Brutus is an honorable
man" three times, by which time his meaning is clear to everyone.
But through his use of irony he has managed to keep, at the
literal level, his agreement not to speak ill of the assassins.
the remainder of his speech, he repeats the word "honorable" no
less than five times, in reference to Brutus, Cassius and the rest of
the conspirators. The word acquires more and more ironic force with
each repetition, until it rings out as a fierce condemnation of
is also the master of another device often used in oratory, the
rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is one that is posed for
its effect; it does not require a reply since the answer is obvious.
The effect gained through the rhetorical question is greater than
would be the case if it were rephrased as a direct statement. For
example, imagine Antony's rhetorical question, "Did this in Caesar
seem ambitious?" rephrased as a statement, say, "This shows that
Caesar was not ambitious." Which is the more effective?
also uses rhetorical questions in his speech that precedes Antony's.
An important distinction between the two speeches is that Brutus
speaks in prose, whereas Antony speaks in blank verse. The
difference in the content and effect of the speeches is that Brutus
explains his actions in a straightforward, logical, well-reasoned way,
whereas Antony uses every trick in the book to stir up passion and