In Act III, Scene I of the play Julius Caesar, when the conspirators are approached by Mark Antony after they have assassinated Caesar, they assure him that they do not wish to kill him and ask him to wait until they have gained control of the situation to be satisfied of the legitimacy of their motives. Antony responds with the following:

I doubt not of your wisdom.
Let each man render me his bloody hand.
First, Marcus Brutus, will I shake with you;
Next, Caius Cassius, do I take your hand;
Now, Decius Brutus, yours; now yours, Metellus;
Yours, Cinna; and, my valiant Casca, yours.
Though last, not least in love, yours, good Trebonius.
Gentlemen all — Alas, what shall I say?
My credit now stands on such slippery ground
That one of two bad ways you must conceit me,
Either a coward or a flatterer.
That I did love thee, Caesar, O, ’tis true!
If then thy spirit look upon us now,
Shall it not grieve thee dearer than thy death
To see thy Antony making his peace,
Shaking the bloody fingers of thy foes,
Most noble! in the presence of thy corse?
Had I as many eyes as thou hast wounds,
Weeping as fast as they stream forth thy blood,
It would become me better than to close
In terms of friendship with thine enemies.
Pardon me, Julius! Here wast thou bayed, brave
Here didst thou fall; and here thy hunters stand,
Signed in thy spoil, and crimsoned in thy lethe.
O world, thou wast the forest to this hart;
And this indeed, O world, the heart of thee!
How like a deer, stroken by many princes,
Dost thou here lie!

Now I know that Antony plans to manipulate them into thinking that he is on their side, but is the section of the speech starting from "That I did love thee..." part of the manipulation (maybe to appear more credible?) or is he simply overcome by genuine emotion there and speaking from his heart?

1 Answer 1


The nature of a play is that we have the character’s words, and not their thoughts, so that the same words are playable in multiple ways. An actor could play Antony as “overcome by genuine emotion” in this speech, and that’s just how Harrison Morris presented it in his prose retelling for children:

Again his love for Caesar overcame him, and he cried, “That I did love thee, Caesar, O, ’tis true; if then thy spirit look upon me now, shall it not grieve thee to see thy Antony making his peace, shaking the bloody fingers of thy foes?”

Harrison S. Morris (1894). Tales from Shakespeare, volume II, p. 181. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott.

However, in my opinion this is not the best interpretation of the speech, and by detailed inspection of the rhetoric it is possible to make a case that Antony is being both honest and manipulative. The key lines are just before the section you asked about:

Gentlemen all—Alas, what shall I say?
My credit now stands on such slippery ground
That one of two bad ways you must conceit† me,
Either a coward or a flatterer.

† conceive, understand

Antony anticipates two obvious suspicions that the conspirators are likely to entertain: that he is a coward (that is, willing to make an agreement with the conspirators, despite his former loyalty to Caesar, in order to save his own skin) or a flatterer (that is, trying to court the favour of the conspirators, even though they have murdered his patron). This self-deprecation has the effect of diminishing the speaker, reducing the immediate threat that he poses, but it does more than that: Antony offers the conspirators a choice between two alternatives (coward or flatterer), but if they pick either option they have already swallowed the idea that Antony means to make a deal with them. With this rhetoric Antony slips this crucial idea past the guard of Brutus, though Cassius remains suspicious.

Then Antony gives us the three emotional passages. The language seems sincere. But in each case the purport is that Caesar would be disappointed with Antony for dealing with the conspirators. In the first passage, the spirit of Caesar would grieve “To see thy Antony making his peace”—the point being to suggest to the listeners that Antony is making his peace with them. In the second, weeping tears from many eyes would be better than “to close in terms of friendship with thine enemies”—the point again being to suggest that Antony is making friends with them. And in the third, Antony begs “Pardon me, Julius!”—the point being to suggest that he is doing something requiring pardon.

So in this speech Antony expresses his genuine grief, while also suggesting, apparently as a subsidiary point or afterthought in each case, the message that he wants his listeners to take away without knowing that they took it from him.

The quick subtlety of Antony’s intellect has grasped the whole situation, and with irresistible force he slowly feels his way towards using the conspirators’ aid for crushing themselves and avenging their victim. The bewilderment of the conspirators in the presence of this unlooked-for force is seen in Cassius’s unavailing attempt to bring Antony to the point, as to what compact he will make with them. Antony, on the contrary, reads his men with such nicety that he can indulge himself in sailing close to the wind, and grasps fervently the hands of the assassins while he pours out a flood of bitter grief over the corpse.

Richard Moulton (1885). Shakespeare as a Dramatic Artist, pp. 198–199. Oxford: Clarendon.

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