Friends, Bhakts, Anti-Nationals; Lend Me Your Ears

O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
– Mark Antony’s funeral speech from Julius Caesar

A set of people headed by Brutus conspire and kill Julius Caesar. Okay, why Caesar now? We are in the midst of a watershed election. Don’t you know it? Unfortunately, I do. That’s why it pays to revisit the last act of the Shakespearean play.

Never before have we got caught up and consumed by the half truth and blatant lies of people who are making history. Our history makers reversed the adage and made us fall for it – ‘Words speak louder than action’. That is why it pays to look at another situation wherein words created irreversible history.

Brutus and company who styled themselves as liberators believed, only Caesar’s death will bring in ‘Roman Republic’. Brutus, Cassius, Cinna (A leader of a party) and a few others succeeded in killing Julius Caesar. However, Caesar was very popular among masses and middle class. Fearing blood bath by Caesar’s supporters, Antony leaves Rome dressed as a slave. Seeing the people succumbing to authority, Antony returns. The conspirators have to save themselves. Antony has to take revenge for Caesar’s death. Terms of engagement were finalised. Brutus speaks first and Antony was also allowed to speak by the conspirators – subject to a caveat. Antony is not allowed to blame the conspirators for Caesar’s death.

Brutus goes first. He suggests, he speak where he was and let Cassius go with a few others to the next street where Cassius would speak so that citizens can compare truth behind Caesar’s death. Brutus spoke on with whoever stayed.

‘If there is any friend of Caesar in the assembly, let me tell you, my friendship with Caesar is no inferior to you. My love for Caesar is no less than yours. It is just that my love for Rome is more than my love for Caesar. I did not love Caesar less, but I love Rome more. I have tears for his death, honour for his valour, but I needed death for his ambitions. I had to choose between death of all slaves and life of Caesar. I would rather that all men are free and Caesar is dead. Am I wrong?’.

Caesar’s slain corpse lay in the open, blood stained cloth covering it. Antony goes on with a sarcastic speech, that starts with, ‘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.’

‘Brutus says Caesar was ambitious, If it were so, it was a grievous fault, Caesar was my friend and faithful to me. Brutus says he is ambitious. Caesar brought captives and their ransom filled Rome’s coffers and Rome prospered. Brutus says he is ambitious. When Caesar saw poor, he cried and ambitions are made of sterner stuff. I presented him crown thrice and thrice he refused, yet Brutus says he is ambitious.’ He goes on to incense the crowd and when he read Caesar’s will, the crowd goes berserk and turns into a mob.

Antony’s Speech

Writer Asokamitran wrote a piece in Kanaiyazhi magazine on mass anger more than thirty years ago. I was probably like a millennial youth voting for the second time. Asokamitran wrote on the mass behaviour after Antony’s speech.

Mark Antony’s speech made the mob maniacal and the heightened emotions made the crowd to chase Brutus, Cassius, Cinna et al and they wanted to kill them all. The conspirators had to run for cover. Relentless chase continued.

A noble looking person was along the way. Someone shouted, “Here is Cinna”. The mob ran towards him.

The man cried. “I am not traitor Cinna”, I am Poet Cinna”.

Someone shouted back. “It doesn’t matter. His poems are bad. Kill him”. And they killed him.

I don’t remember in which context Asokamitran wrote this piece. I vaguely remember it had to do with Writer Sujatha. But somehow it stuck with me and became part of my persona. I was a different personality when I was in crowd during my younger days. But I can’t pretend, I understood the magnitude of his words fully then. It would take years and it would take Sikh Riots, Bombay Riots and Godra and Gujarat to fully understand the implications of mass anger.

Unleashing mass frenzy – either way – may be easy and fun. All it takes is a few forwards and a few photoshops. Containing the beast may prove to be very painful. It doesn’t take much to understand the magnitude. All we have to do is to listen to conversation among friends and set our eyeballs on social media.

Here are the speeches of Brutus and Antony if you are interested.

Brutus About to Speak -Photo Courtesy You Tube

Thus spake Brutus
Then follow me, and give me audience, friends.
Cassius, go you into the other street,
And part the numbers.
Those that will hear me speak, let ’em stay here;
Those that will follow Cassius, go with him;
And public reasons shall be rendered
Of Caesar’s death.

Be patient till the last.
Romans, countrymen, and lovers! hear me for my
cause, and be silent, that you may hear: believe me
for mine honour, and have respect to mine honour, that
you may believe: censure me in your wisdom, and
awake your senses, that you may the better judge.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of
Caesar’s, to him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar
was no less than his. If then that friend demand
why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
—Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved
Rome more. Had you rather Caesar were living and
die all slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to live
all free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him;
as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was
valiant, I honour him: but, as he was ambitious, I
slew him. There is tears for his love; joy for his
fortune; honour for his valour; and death for his
ambition. Who is here so base that would be a
bondman? If any, speak; for him have I offended.
Who is here so rude that would not be a Roman? If
any, speak; for him have I offended. Who is here so
vile that will not love his country? If any, speak;
for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.

Then none have I offended. I have done no more to
Caesar than you shall do to Brutus. The question of
his death is enrolled in the Capitol; his glory not
extenuated, wherein he was worthy, nor his offences
enforced, for which he suffered death.
[Enter ANTONY and others, with CAESAR’s body]
Here comes his body, mourned by Mark Antony: who,
though he had no hand in his death, shall receive
the benefit of his dying, a place in the
commonwealth; as which of you shall not? With this
I depart,—that, as I slew my best lover for the
good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself,
when it shall please my country to need my death.

Good countrymen, let me depart alone,
And, for my sake, stay here with Antony:
Do grace to Caesar’s corpse, and grace his speech
Tending to Caesar’s glories; which Mark Antony,
By our permission, is allow’d to make.
I do entreat you, not a man depart,
Save I alone, till Antony have spoke.

Damian Lewis as Antony in Julius Caesar – Photo Courtesy Youtube

Thus spake Antony
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; 1620
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 honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable 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 honourable man.
He hath brought many captives home to Rome
Whose ransoms did the general coffers fill:
Did this in Caesar seem ambitious?
When that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept:
Ambition should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And Brutus is an honourable man.
You all did see that on the Lupercal
I thrice presented him a kingly crown,
Which he did thrice refuse: was this ambition?
Yet Brutus says he was ambitious;
And, sure, he is an honourable man.
I speak not to disprove what Brutus spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love him once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for him?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

But yesterday the word of Caesar might
Have stood against the world; now lies he there.
And none so poor to do him reverence.
O masters, if I were disposed to stir
Your hearts and minds to mutiny and rage,
I should do Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong,
Who, you all know, are honourable men:
I will not do them wrong; I rather choose
To wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you,
Than I will wrong such honourable men.
But here’s a parchment with the seal of Caesar;
I found it in his closet, ’tis his will:
Let but the commons hear this testament—
Which, pardon me, I do not mean to read—
And they would go and kiss dead Caesar’s wounds
And dip their napkins in his sacred blood,
Yea, beg a hair of him for memory,
And, dying, mention it within their wills,
Bequeathing it as a rich legacy
Unto their issue.

Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it;
It is not meet you know how Caesar loved you.
You are not wood, you are not stones, but men;
And, being men, bearing the will of Caesar,
It will inflame you, it will make you mad:
‘Tis good you know not that you are his heirs;
For, if you should, O, what would come of it!

Will you be patient? will you stay awhile?
I have o’ershot myself to tell you of it:
I fear I wrong the honourable men
Whose daggers have stabb’d Caesar; I do fear it.

You will compel me, then, to read the will?
Then make a ring about the corpse of Caesar,
And let me show you him that made the will.
Shall I descend? and will you give me leave?

If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.
You all do know this mantle: I remember
The first time ever Caesar put it on;
‘Twas on a summer’s evening, in his tent,
That day he overcame the Nervii:
Look, in this place ran Cassius’ dagger through:
See what a rent the envious Casca made:
Through this the well-beloved Brutus stabb’d;
And as he pluck’d his cursed steel away,
Mark how the blood of Caesar follow’d it,
As rushing out of doors, to be resolved
If Brutus so unkindly knock’d, or no;
For Brutus, as you know, was Caesar’s angel:
Judge, O you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him!
This was the most unkindest cut of all;
For when the noble Caesar saw him stab,
Ingratitude, more strong than traitors’ arms,
Quite vanquish’d him: then burst his mighty heart;
And, in his mantle muffling up his face,
Even at the base of Pompey’s statua,
Which all the while ran blood, great Caesar fell.
O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down,
Whilst bloody treason flourish’d over us.
O, now you weep; and, I perceive, you feel
The dint of pity: these are gracious drops.
Kind souls, what, weep you when you but behold
Our Caesar’s vesture wounded? Look you here,
Here is himself, marr’d, as you see, with traitors.

Good friends, sweet friends, let me not stir you up
To such a sudden flood of mutiny.
They that have done this deed are honourable:
What private griefs they have, alas, I know not,
That made them do it: they are wise and honourable,
And will, no doubt, with reasons answer you.
I come not, friends, to steal away your hearts:
I am no orator, as Brutus is;
But, as you know me all, a plain blunt man,
That love my friend; and that they know full well
That gave me public leave to speak of him:
For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
To stir men’s blood: I only speak right on;
I tell you that which you yourselves do know;
Show you sweet Caesar’s wounds, poor poor dumb mouths,
And bid them speak for me: but were I Brutus,
And Brutus Antony, there were an Antony
Would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue
In every wound of Caesar that should move
The stones of Rome to rise and mutiny.

Why, friends, you go to do you know not what: 
Wherein hath Caesar thus deserved your loves? 
Alas, you know not: I must tell you then: 
You have forgot the will I told you of.
Moreover, he hath left you all his walks, 
His private arbours and new-planted orchards, 
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you, 
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves. 
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?

And the rest is History

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