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What is the meaning of Antony's words "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff" in Act III of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar?

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The origin of the expression is Shakespeare's Julius Caesar Act III, Scene V:

He was my friend, faithful and just to me:

But Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

He hath brought many captives home to Rome

Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:

Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:

Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;

And Brutus is an honourable man.

the meaning here is to argue that Caesar was, in fact, not ambitious, that if he were, he would be more dedicated to his ambition, i.e., Ambition should be made of sterner stuff.

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In present-day English, the term ambition is often used with a positive connotation; see the third meaning listed in Wiktionary:

A personal quality similar to motivation, not necessarily tied to a single goal.

Shakespeare used an older meaning of the term that corresponds with the first meaning listed in Wiktionary:

Eager or inordinate desire for some object that confers distinction, as preferment, honor, superiority, political power, or literary fame; desire to distinguish one's self from other people.

Caesar makes sure not to appear as ambitious. In Act 1, scene 2, Casca reports to Brutus and Cassius that Mark Antony had three times offered Caesar a crown and that Caesar had refused it each time. Still according to Casca, Caesar had noticed that "the common herd was glad he refused the crown", in other words, Casca sees the refusal as a trick to make Caesar more popular with the plebeians.

In Act 3, scene 2, Mark Antony, an opponent of the conspirators who killed Caesar, speaks the following words:

When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff

Stern has two meanings (Wiktionary):

  1. Having a hardness and severity of nature or manner.
  2. Grim and forbidding in appearance.

When Caesar wept, he did not appear as "hard or severe"; by claiming that Caesar did not possess "a hardness and severity of nature or manner", he denies Brutus's accusation that Caesar wanted to grab power ("ambition"). Of course, he conveniently ignores that the goal of Caesar's military campaign in Gaul was to gain command over a number of war-hardened legions that would be loyal to him and that his crossing of the Rubicon with the 13th legion, which was illegal, was nothing less than an act of insurrection against the Roman Senate. Caesar's ambition was definitely made of the "sterner stuff" that Mark Antony denies him.

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