A crowd of plebeians follows Brutus and Cassius, demanding satisfaction. Half of them follow Cassius to hear his explanation, and half follow Brutus. Brutus begins to speak, asking his countrymen to believe him out of respect for his honor, and to use their wisdom to judge him. He explains that he rose against Caesar not because he loved Caesar less than anyone present, but because he loved Rome above all. Insofar as Caesar was good, Brutus honors him, but insofar as he was ambitious, Brutus slew him. He, too, should be slain for the good of Rome, should the day come when that’s necessary. The people shout their approval of Brutus. As Mark Antony enters with Caesar’s body, Brutus departs, charging the crowds to hear what they’ve given Antony permission to say.
Brutus appeals to the people’s reason—they should believe him on the basis of his honor, and judge him intellectually. This says much about Brutus’s outlook—he’s primarily driven by logic, so he assumes that this will prove most effective with his audience, too. He lays out a clear-cut, logical case for Caesar’s assassination for the sake of Rome. Notably, in response, the people praise Brutus himself instead of responding primarily to Brutus’s reasoning. This suggests that people tend to respond to superficial appearances more readily than to logic. Finally, Brutus’s arrogance is apparent in that he takes for granted that Antony’s speech will post no threat to him.
As Antony ascends the pulpit, the plebeians talk among themselves, saying that Antony had better not speak ill of Brutus, and that Rome is blessed to be rid of Caesar. Antony begins, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears. / I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He restates Brutus’s charge that Caesar was ambitious, observing that “Brutus is an honorable man,” a line he repeats several times. He also makes several observations about Caesar’s so-called “ambition”—that he wept for the poor, for example, and that he refused the crown. At one point, he weeps himself, prompting several plebeians to remark that “there is much reason in his sayings,” that Caesar was wronged indeed, and that no man is nobler than Antony.
The first part of Antony’s speech demonstrates how easily the public is swayed. At first, they appear to be convinced of Caesar’s ambition and Brutus’s honor. Ironically, Antony claims not to be praising Caesar and, in fact, to be praising Brutus instead—showing his giftedness at subtly moving others’ opinions through his use of language—and tears. By the time he pauses to weep, the crowd’s opinion has effectively been reversed; they even praise Antony as “rational,” despite his appeal to emotions over logic, and shift their loyalty from Brutus to him.
When Antony resumes his speech, he says that he would sooner wrong the dead than wrong the “honorable” Brutus and Cassius by stirring the public to mutiny. Then he shows them Caesar’s will, but declines to read it aloud, claiming that Caesar’s love for them would inflame the people too much. However, the people shout to hear the will read, denouncing the conspirators as traitors and murderers. They beg Antony to descend from the pulpit, and they all gather in a ring around Caesar’s body.
It’s clear that, no matter how much he protests otherwise, Antony is using rhetorical tricks—crying, making suggestive asides, “suddenly” remembering to pull out Caesar’s will—to stir the people’s passions and eventually provoke a riot. Gathering around Caesar’s corpse is also a powerful way of embodying opposition to the “traitors.”
Antony tells the people to get ready to cry. He points out Caesar’s mantle and recalls the first time Caesar ever wore it, pointing out the rips in the fabric caused by various conspirators—“the unkindest cut of all” having been given by Brutus. As the people weep, Antony lifts the mantle so they can see Caesar’s body itself. The people cry out for revenge, swearing to follow Antony to the death.
Antony’s masterful oratory performance continues, as he appeals to the people’s love of Caesar while simultaneously stoking feelings of vengeance against the men who killed him and manipulating them to transfer their loyalty to Antony. The sight of Caesar’s marred body is symbolic of an attack on Rome itself, which pushes the people to mutiny.
Antony reminds the people that they haven’t heard the will yet. He reads it: Caesar has left each man some money, as well as all of his property, to be used as recreational parks. The people are pleased, preparing to take Caesar’s body and also burn down the traitors’ houses. As they go, Antony remarks, “Mischief, thou art afoot; / Take thou what course thou wilt.” Meanwhile, the servant returns and reports that Octavius is now in Rome, and that Brutus and Cassius have fled the city. Antony attributes their flight to his success in stirring up the people against them.
Antony has cleverly kept back the reading of the will until the people have already been incited to a fever pitch. Now, persuaded of Caesar’s love for them, they head off in pursuit of the conspirators—and Antony’s triumphant words confirm that this was his intention all along. Octavius apparently ignored Antony's instructions, coming to Rome before word was sent. It’s also worth noting that Shakespeare manipulates time here—in history, Brutus and Cassius remained in Rome for a year after Caesar's murder. By condensing the span of events, Shakespeare again adds a sense of dramatic immediacy to the play’s action.