Mark Anthony's famous speech beginning with the lines "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" is a funeral oration for Julius Caesar in William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. It is one of Shakespeare's most famous speeches and is a loose adaptation of Anthony's funeral oration for Caesar in Plutarch's Livesof Anthony and Brutus.
The speech takes place at Caesar's funeral following his murder at the hands of Brutus, Cassius, and their allies in the senate commonly called "the conspirators." They have reluctantly given Mark Anthony permission to speak.
- Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 2 :|: Open Source Shakespeare
A Link to the Scene on Open Source Shakespeare
The speech sets up Anthony as a counterpoint to Brutus and the conspirators and also helps expand some of the comments that the play makes about politics and social life.
Anthony is presented as a schemer who cleverly manipulates the crowd. As opposed to Brutus who murdered his friend Caesar for Rome's sake, Anthony would sacrifice Rome to avenge the death of his friend. Anthony begins by pretending to be on the side of the conspirators, reminding the crowd they are "honorable men" and reassuring his audience that he comes "to bury Caesar, not to praise him." However, as the speech progresses, Anthony begins to call into question the conspirators. He slowly works praise of Caesar while still repeating that Brutus "is an honorable man" until the phrase grows ironic. By the end of the speech, Anthony has worked around to sorrow at Caesar's death and anger at the conspirators.
This scene and the speech not only demonstrate the effectiveness of a good speaker on the common people but also highlights the fickleness of the people. They go from praising Brutus and the conspirators as liberators to hating them for their assassination of Caesar. Anthony's reading of Caesar's will certainly helps turn the crowd in his favor but there is no denying that his moving speech set the stage for this turn. This passage demonstrates Shakespeare's interest in the power of speech and clever speakers.