Though there is certainly violence in Julius Caesar, characters spend far more time talking to one another than they do fighting or killing, and much of that talk takes the form of argument and debate. Though such argument and debate certainly involves the use of logic—the approach Brutus favors—other characters, namely Cassius and Antony, are skilled at manipulating language to make something seem logical when it is not. By contrasting these approaches and ultimately showing how Brutus’s adherence to logic fails, Shakespeare argues that logic alone is not sufficient to move people, but that skillful use of language, even manipulation of emotion, are vital to achieving real change.
In Act 1, Cassius picks up on Brutus’s reluctance regarding Caesar’s possible kingship. Seizing on this opportunity, he then gives a logical demonstration of Caesar’s less than godlike qualities. He uses Brutus’s instinctive regard for “honor” to prove that he and Brutus are no less worthy of public regard than the “godlike” Caesar. Remembering Caesar’s illness while they were on campaign together in Spain, Cassius remarks, “’Tis true, this god did shake […] And that same eye whose bend doth awe the world / Did lose his luster.” From this basis, he’s able to go on and establish a case for the conspirators’ obligation to oppose Caesar’s arbitrary elevation to monarchy. Along with logic, Cassius also uses his perceptive read of Brutus in order to effectively target his use of language and win Brutus over to his side.
Shakespeare also shows how logic functions in ambiguous ways. For example, another key in Cassius’s plan to sway Brutus is to leave anonymous notes praising Brutus’s virtues and blaming Caesar’s tyranny, but he uses an exceptionally light touch—he leaves large gaps in the letters (e.g., “Awake, and see thyself! Shall Rome, etc. Speak, strike, redress!”). This letter is basically illogical—it’s an unclear summons to action that requires the reader to infer what’s missing. Cassius cunningly plays on Brutus’s existing fears, knowing that he’ll interpret the letter as meaning that Rome is suffering under tyranny, and that Brutus himself should act to redress it. It’s another example of the crafty use of language, here making the illogical appear logical.
After Caesar’s assassination, it’s Brutus’s adherence to bare logic that ultimately leads to his undoing. On Antony’s fervent appeal, Brutus decides that Antony should be permitted to speak at Caesar’s funeral, and even that this will serve the conspirators’ advantage: “What Antony shall speak I will protest / He speaks by leave and by permission […] It shall advantage more than do us wrong.” Though the shrewder Cassius warns him “how much the people may be moved / By that which he will utter,” Brutus does not think this way—he assumes that if he prefaces Antony’s speech with a reasonable case that Caesar’s death was in the people’s interest, the people will agree. Ostensibly, it is a logical conclusion to reach, but because Brutus doesn’t account for the power of language beyond mere logic, he ends up undermining himself.
At first, it seems as though Brutus’s reasoning will prove to have been sound. In his funeral speech for Caesar, he builds a careful case for Caesar’s death, counting on the masses to grasp that it’s “not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved / Rome more…” Notably, the people respond favorably to this speech, with cries like, “Give him a statue with his ancestors!” and “Let him be Caesar!” They aren’t actually responding to the inherent logic of Brutus’s speech—in the passion of the moment, they’re praising Brutus himself, superficially transferring their allegiance from Caesar to Brutus (much as they did when celebrating Caesar’s defeat of Pompey at the beginning of the play). Shakespeare uses this detail to show that Brutus has an inadequate grasp of the psychology of the crowd—in other words, that logic alone won’t suffice to achieve his goals.
By contrast, Antony’s speech succeeds in capturing the plebeians, precisely because he gives vent to his emotions rather than relying on cold logic to do the job. Though he protests that, “I am no orator, as Brutus is,” the opposite is the case. Antony ably uses various rhetorical techniques—pausing to openly weep, for example, displaying Caesar’s will at the climax of his speech, and even using Caesar’s dead body as a sort of prop—to heighten the people’s emotions much more effectively than Brutus was able to do when he spoke. Significantly, too, his speech is not devoid of logic—his intentional refrain of “Brutus is an honorable man” is meant to paradoxically undermine people’s confidence in Brutus. And a plebeian’s comment that “methinks there is much reason in his sayings” ironically shows that this rhetorical tool is working, not necessarily by causing the crowd to use sounder logic, but by using language to incite a less fleeting emotional reaction.
In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare demonstrates that people’s motivations are more complex than they realize. After all, even Brutus is susceptible to manipulation when Cassius figures out his fears and uses them to make illogical things appear eminently logical. Likewise, the fickleness of the crowds throughout the play isn’t necessarily meant to suggest that the masses are unintelligent, but that, especially in moments of high drama, people are swayed as much by their emotions—and the proximity of others’ emotions—as by the precise arguments being presented to them.
Logic and Language ThemeTracker
Logic and Language Quotes in Julius Caesar
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears;
I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with Caesar. The noble Brutus
Hath told you Caesar was ambitious:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault;
And grievously hath Caesar answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest, —
For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men, —
Come I to speak in Caesar's funeral.
He was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honorable man.
Remember March, the ides of March remember:
Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
What villain touch'd his body, that did stab,
And not for justice? What, shall one of us
That struck the foremost man of all this world
But for supporting robbers, shall we now
Contaminate our fingers with base bribes,
And sell the mighty space of our large honours
For so much trash as may be grasped thus?
I had rather be a dog, and bay the moon,
Than such a Roman.