In honor of Professional Speakers Day, let’s dive into two of the canon’s most iconic speeches: those of Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony. We’ll compare their effectiveness using concepts from the officia oratoris, a set of recommendations designed by classical Greek & Latin orators for delivering powerful speeches.
Before we begin, let’s review the play’s circumstances. In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, when rumor spreads that Caesar will become the emperor of Rome, Brutus & fellow conspirators plot to assassinate him. At Caesar’s funeral, Brutus delivers a public oration that justifies the assassination. Then, in opposition to Brutus’s justification, Antony’s speech successfully rallies the crowd against the murderers.
Now, we’ll discuss the speeches with regards to four crucial officia oratoris: inventio, dispositio, elocutio, and actio! For reference, both characters’ speeches are provided at the end of this article.
Inventio, or invention, refers to the orator’s selection of speech content. It consists of four components: exordium (introduction), narratio (narration: summary & cause of said event), confirmatio (confirmation: arguments to support speaker’s position), and conclusio (conclusion).
Dispositio concerns the arrangement of thoughts from the inventio.
Just as the placement of soldiers can dictate the outcome of a battle, the order of the thoughts can make or break a speech! Next up, we have...
Elocutio describes the speech’s style, which results from factors such as tone.
Another fun fact: While Brutus begins his speech with "Romans, countrymen and lovers," Antony greets the crowd as "Friends, Romans, countrymen." By identifying audience members foremost as friends, Antony immediately establishes his relationship with the audience as much stronger than the formal connection Brutus initiated with them through his commencement.
Actio refers to the speaker’s persuasiveness.
At the end of the scene, the crowd sides with Antony & Caesar and turns against Brutus who swiftly flees Rome. Discussion: If you were a Roman citizen witnessing the delivery of both speeches, would you have sided with Antony or Brutus? Let us know in the comments below!
Speeches for Reference
(from Julius Caesar Act III Scene II)
Parra Mansilla, Sara. "Officia oratoris in the discourses of Brutus and Mark Antony in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.” JACLR: Journal of Artistic Creation and Literary Research 3.2 (2015): 94-105
Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar.
McDonald R.Shakespeare and the Arts of Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.