When we first started using Tumblr, we told ourselves that we’d write summary/reviews of the literature we have to read for classes. You know, to share what we’ve discovered with the Internet. All of the learning without all of the possibly boring lectures.
It’d be simple, we thought, to write up a little something every time we finished a piece.
That was before the reality of being English Education majors, the one of reading up to 4 books a week, reared its ugly head. Taking technically 20 hours was not helping things at all.
So maybe we can’t write things up for every book/play/whatever we read. But we’ve decided to try doing it again, this time on a regular basis; probably about once a week.
Since we originally commented on readings from our Shakespearean Tragedy class, I’ll start us off from where we left off.
[TW: violence, death]
We really enjoyed The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, although the title is really just false advertising. The tragedy isn’t even focused on Caesar at all, since he spends relatively little time on stage. The character who experiences the Aristotelian model of tragedy—the rise to and subsequent fall from greatness— is Brutus, the man who killed “in a general honest thought/and common good to all” (5.5.71-2).
From a rhetorical perspective, the speeches of Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony were very interesting examples of how to make a good speech.
Brutus does make a convincing argument. His simple prose was honest and humble, which does bring the mob of angry plebeians to his side.
But then he screws it all up by letting Antony stand up and have his say.
Antony knows how to take Brutus’ argument and knock it down piece by piece. Brutus claimed that the assassination was noble; Antony presents the crowd with Caesar’s bloody corpse, which is riddled with stab wounds. His words are filled with grandeur—they’re even written in iambic pentameter, which Shakespeare always used as shorthand for “what I’m saying is a Big Deal, y’all.” Brutus claims that Caesar was ambitious, but Antony turns that around and makes the conspirators seem like power-hungry fools.
Antony plays the audience, drawing in their attention by withholding the reading of Caesar’s will until the end. By that point the Plebeians were already turned against Brutus and the conspirators; then Antony reveals that Caesar left them all money and his lands for public use. It’s really no wonder that they turn so quickly.
Like most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, the interesting stuff doesn’t really happen until Act 3. But the second half is so complex and the wordplay is so interesting that it’s well worth the read.