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The Power of Persuasion

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Persuasion is an aspect that is always prevalent in our lives. We all try to make people see our point of view, to change their opinion to that of our own. The effectiveness of our persuasion varies widely, however. Some fall short entirely, most are only moderately skilled at it, while others brilliantly sway their audience through a variety of techniques. One such example of the latter is in the play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare. In this tragic play, Julius Caesar is murdered by Brutus, Cassius and a group of other conspirators. Mark Anthony, a supporter of Caesar, pretends to accept the conspirators, but really sets out to rally the people against them. In his funeral speech, Anthony uses highly effective persuasion to convince the Roman people to support him through his use of examples, metaphor, praise, irony, and repetition.

To begin with, Anthony uses real-life examples to persuade his audience. In Brutus’ funeral speech before, he cited Caesar’s ambition as being a reason he needed to die. Anthony turns this around by relating an anecdote that shows Caesar as being humble rather than ambitious: “You all did see that on the Lupercal/I thrice presented him with a kingly crown/Which he did thrice refuse. Was this ambition? (lines 97-99)” By mentioning this situation, Anthony uses a logical appeal to show that, because of the way Caesar behaved, he was not overly ambitious and that Brutus was wrong to kill him. Therefore, Anthony uses real-life instances to effectively win over the Plebians.

Second, there are metaphors in his speech that appeal to the audience’s emotion. These imaginative comparisons help influence the audience’s opinions by stimulating certain feelings. For example: “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar/And I must pause till it come back to me” (108-109). His heart is of course not literally in the coffin, but by saying it is he makes them feel sorry for him and sad for the death of Caesar. By swaying their emotions with metaphors like this one, Anthony puts up a strong persuasive front.

Another technique Anthony employs is praise. In Brutus’s speech, he talks to the audience in the regular, “low” speech of the common folk. In contrast, Anthony uses iambic pantameter, the speech of the more educated class, to compliment them. This can be seen in the following quote: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears/I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” (75-76). This shows he is using the “higher” tongue, iambic pantameter, to flatter them by showing he thinks they are refined enough to deserve such language. He also compliments them by calling them “friends.” Because of this, praising the audience is one important way that Anthony persuades them.

Fourth, Anthony uses irony to drive his point home. Instead of insulting the other side, he uses verbal irony by complimenting them while really saying they were wrong. For example, he says, “Brutus is an honorable man”(96). Although he says Brutus is honorable, appearing to compliment him, he is also being sarcastic and subtly pushing the audience to the conclusion that Brutus is a traitor. As this shows, irony is one element of Anthony’s speech that helped convince the people of Rome to believe him.

Additionally, Anthony makes good use of repetition to win his argument. Repetition is used in conjunction with the aforementioned irony to really drive his point home. In lines 88-89, he says “But Brutus says he was ambitious/And Brutus is an honorable man.” Later he expresses the exact same sentiment: “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious/And Brutus is an honorable man” (100-101). By repeating phrases such as these over and over, he emphasizes and draws attention to them. It also makes the sarcastic irony all the more clear, and every repetition makes Brutus seem less and less honorable. This strong use of repetition aids Anthony by expertly inducing the Plebians to see his point of view.

In conclusion, Anthony demonstrates excellent persuasive techniques as he convinces the people of Rome to support him instead of Brutus and the other conspirators. Logical appeals come in the form of real-life examples that show Caesar as being less ambitious than Brutus claimed. Emotionally charged metaphors serve to persuade the Plebians by making them feel sad for the death of Caesar. Anthony also praises the audience, thereby encouraging them to listen to and like him. Irony helps prove his point, like when he says Brutus is honorable while pushing the audience to the opposite conclusion. The repetition of certain phrases accentuates their meaning and makes the irony more powerful. Every day people try to persuade each other, and very often they fail. But there are those who, like Anthony, are able to competently harness the power of persuasion and use it to bend the audience’s mind to fit their own. This is the true power of persuasion.

Works Cited List

Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.” Elements of Literature, Fourth Course.
Kathleen Daniel and Richard Sime. Austin: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2003.

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