The Capitol guards were having difficulty keeping order. The people were shouting and jostling and trying to break through the cordon. When Brutus led the conspirators out there was a huge roar and tribunes immediately surrounded him to protect him. As they came down the steps the citizens demanded an explanation. Brutus stopped.
‘Then follow me,’ he said. ‘Come and hear me.’ They fought their way through the crowd, going towards the market place. When they got there it was clear that the crowd was unmanageable. Brutus turned to Cassius. You go down the other street so that there won’t be so many people in one place.’ He turned back to the crowd. ‘Those that want to hear me speak, stay here. Those that want to hear Cassius, go with him. And you will hear the full reasons for Caesar’s death.’
The crowd divided. Brutus ascended the pulpit and waited. The word went round that he was ready to speak. When they were all quiet he began.
‘Romans countrymen and friends, listen to what I have to say and be silent so that you can hear. Trust me for my honour and show respect so that you will follow what I say. Judge me according to your wisdom and use your understanding so that you will be able to judge better. If there is anyone in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s, to him I say that Brutus’ love for Caesar was no less than his. If then that dear friend demands to know why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer – not that I loved Caesar less but that I loved Rome more. Would you rather Caesar were living, and all die slaves, than that Caesar were dead, to all live as free men? As Caesar loved me, I weep for him: as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it: as he was brave, I honour him: but as he was ambitious, I killed him. There are tears for his love: joy for his fortune: honour for his valour: and death for his ambition. Is there anyone here so lacking in pride that we wants to be a slave? If there is, speak, because it’s he I have offended. Who is here so low that he doesn’t want to be a Roman? If any, speak, for it’s him I have offended. Who is here so vile that he does not love his country? If any, speak, for him I have offended.’ Brutus paused. There was silence. ‘I’m waiting for a reply,’ he said.
They all shouted at once, then, all telling him that there was no-one like that.
‘Then I’ve offended no-one,’ said Brutus.
‘I have done no more to Caesar than you would do to Brutus. The things that Caesar died for are recorded in the Capitol. His glory, for which he was renowned, is not understated: not his offences exaggerated, for which he suffered death.’
Antony walked slowly into the market place, carrying Caesar’s body in his arms.
‘Here comes his body, mourned by Mark Antony, who, although he had no hand in Caesar’s death, will receive the benefit of his dying – a place in the commonwealth, as which of you won’t? With this I leave you: that as I slew my best friend for the good of Rome, I have the same dagger for myself when it shall please my country to need my death.’ He took the dagger out and held it up.
The people began shouting. ‘Live, Brutus, live! Live’ they shouted. ‘Carry him in triumph home to his house,’ shouted one. ‘Give him a statue along with his ancestors,’ roared another. Another shouted: ‘Let him be Caesar!’ And another called for him to be crowned. They made to lift him to carry him home on their shoulders.
‘My countrymen,’ he said, holding up his hand.
Those at the front of the crowd called to the others to be quiet because Brutus had more to say. ‘Good countrymen,’ he said. ‘Let me leave here on my own. And for my sake, stay here with Antony. Pay honour to Caesar’s corpse and hear Antony speak about Caesar’s glories. Mark Antony is allowed to speak with our permission. I do ask you most seriously that not one of you leave, except me, until Antony has spoken.’
The crowd cheered and urged Antony to go up into the pulpit.
Antony tried to talk above the crowd’s roar. ‘For Brutus sake, I’m obliged to you,’ he began.
The people were discussing this situation. ‘What’s he saying about Brutus?’ said one. His companion told him what Antony had just said. ‘He’d better not say anything bad about Brutus,’ the man said. ‘Caesar was a tyrant. Rome is well rid of him,’ said another. ‘Quiet, let’s hear what Antony could possibly say about it,’ someone said.
Antony tried again. ‘You gentle Romans.’
Some of the crowd hushed the others. ‘Quiet there. Let’s hear him.’ The noise subsided and they watched as Antony prepared to speak. Caesar’s body lay on the platform beside the pulpit.
‘Friends, Romans, countrymen,’ said Antony. ‘Lend me your ears: I have come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The bad things that men do are remembered after their deaths: the good are often buried with their bones. Let it be so with Caesar. The noble Brutus has told you Caesar was ambitious. If that was so it was a terrible fault and Caesar has paid a terrible price for it. Here, with permission of Brutus and the rest – for Brutus is an honourable man, so are they all, all honourable men – I have come to speak in Caesar’s funeral order.’
Antony paused. No-one stirred. He had their full attention.
‘He was my friend,’ he continued. ‘Faithful and true to me. But Brutus says he was ambitious. And Brutus is an honourable man. He has brought many captives home to Rome, whose ransoms filled the treasury. Did this in Caesar seem ambitious? When the poor cried out in their unhappiness Caesar wept. Ambition should be made of something harder. Yet Brutus says he was ambitious, and Brutus is an honourable man. You all saw on the Lupercal, I presented him with a crown three times, which he refused three times. Was this ambition? Yet Brutus says he was ambitious. And certainly Brutus is an honourable man. I’m not speaking to contradict Brutus, I’m only here to tell you what I know.’
Some of the people were beginning to nod. Antony was talking sense.
‘You all loved him once, not without cause. What cause do you now have to refrain from mourning for him?’ Antony looked up at the sky. ‘Oh reason, you have entered the bodies of animals and men have lost you.’
He began to weep. He stopped talking and his shoulders heaved. The crowd stood silently. Tears began to roll down the cheeks of some of them. Antony finally spoke. ‘Bear with me,’ he said. ‘My heart is there with Caesar’s body and I must pause till it comes back to me.’
‘Hmm,’ one man commented to his neighbour. ‘I think there’s a lot of sense in what he’s saying.’ ‘When you think about it,’ his neighbour replied, ‘Caesar has had a great wrong done to him.’ Another man joined them. ‘Has he? I fear there’s going to be someone a lot worse replacing him.’ The man in front of them turned round. ‘Did you hear what he said? Caesar wouldn’t take the crown. That proves he wasn’t ambitious.’ The first man nodded gravely. ‘If that’s true there are some who are going to regret this.’ A woman was wiping her eyes. ‘Poor soul,’ she said. ‘His eyes are as red as fire from weeping.’ Her husband drew himself up. ‘There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony,’ he said. ‘Hush,’ one of them said. ‘Pay attention. Antony’s starting to speak again.’
‘Only yesterday,’ said Antony, ‘Caesar’s word was the most powerful in the world. Now he’s lying there. And now we’re all superior to him. Oh, people of Rome, if I wanted to stir your hearts to rioting and rage I would be doing Brutus wrong, and Cassius wrong, who you all know are honourable men. I will not wrong them. I choose rather to wrong the dead, to wrong myself and you, than to wrong such honourable men.’
He reached into his pocket and withdrew a scroll. ‘But here’s a parchment with Caesar’s seal on it. I found it in his study. It’s his will. If the people heard this will which, pardon me, I don’t intend to read, they would go and kiss Caesar’s wounds and dip their handkerchiefs in his sacred blood, yes, beg to have one of his hairs, to remember him by. And when they were dying they would leave it in their wills, bequeathing it as a rich heirloom to their children.’
‘Let’s hear the will,’ shouted someone. ‘Read it Mark Antony.’ A roar went up. ‘The will! The will! We want to hear Caesar’s will!’
Antony held his hand up for silence and got it instantly. ‘Have patience, gentle friends, I must not read it. It’s not fitting for you to know how Caesar loved you. You’re not unfeeling wood or stone, you are men: and being men, hearing the will of Caesar, it will inflame you and make you mad. It’s a good thing that you don’t know that you are his heirs because if you did know then oh, what would come of it!’
The crowd shouted loudly, urging him to read the will.
‘Will you be patient?’ said Antony. ‘Will you just wait? I have overdone it even to tell you about it. I fear I’m wronging the honourable men whose daggers have stabbed Caesar. I really do fear it.’
Everyone was now in a rage. ‘They were traitors. Honourable men!’ and ‘The will! Read the will!’ and ‘They were villains, murderers, read the will!’
Antony held the scroll up and there was silence again. ‘You’re compelling me to read the will? Then form a ring around the corpse of Caesar and let me show you the man who made the will. Shall I step down from the pulpit? Will you let me?’
‘Yes, you can.’
‘A ring, come on.’
Stand back from the body.’
‘Make room for Antony, most noble Antony.’
‘No, don’t crush me,’ said Antony. ‘Stand back a little.’
‘Stand back, stand back, give Antony room.’
When they were all in place there was s circle with Antony and Caesar’s body in the middle of it. ‘If you have tears prepare to shed them now,’ said Antony. He knelt down and lifted the robe that covered Caesar’s body, which lay covered with a cloth. Then he stood up again. You all recognise this robe. I remember the first time he wore it. It was on a summer’s evening in his tent: the day that he had his greatest victory: over the Nervii.’ He put his hand through one of the blood rimmed holes. ‘Look, this is the place Cassius’ dagger ran through. See what a rent the envious Casca made. Through this one the well-loved Brutus stabbed: and as he pulled the cursed steel out, see how the blood of Caesar followed, as though it wanted to see whether it was Brutus knocking as a visitor or not, because, as you know, Brutus was Caesar’s best friend. Judge, oh you gods, how dearly Caesar loved him. This was the most unkind cut of all: because when the noble Caesar saw him stab, Brutus’ ingratitude, more powerful than a traitor’s weapon, overwhelmed him. And his mighty heart burst with grief. And in this robe, which muffled up his face, at the base of Pompey’s statue, which was itself shedding blood, great Caesar fell. Oh what a fall that was, my countrymen! When that happened I and you, and all of us, fell down, while bloody treason triumphed over us.’
The people were shocked and their tears flowed profusely.
‘Oh, now you’re weeping and I see that you’re feeling the force of pity. These are holy drops. Kind souls, how you weep when you see only Caesar’s wounded robe?’ He whipped the cloth off Caesar’s corpse. ‘Look at this,’ he said. ‘Here he is himself, mutilated, as you can see, by traitors.’
A gasp went up, then a general wailing.
‘Oh piteous spectacle!’
‘Oh noble Caesar!’
‘Oh terrible day!’
‘Oh traitors, villains!’
‘Oh most bloody sight!’
‘We will be revenged!’
‘Revenge! About! Find them! Burn! Fire! Kill! Murder! Let not one traitor live!’
‘Wait, countrymen,’ said Antony.
‘Quiet there, listen to the noble Antony.’
‘We’ll listen to him, we’ll follow him, we’ll die with him.’
‘Good friends, sweet friends, don’t let me stir you up to such a sudden flood of civil disorder. Those who have done this deed are honourable. What personal grievances they may have had that made them do it I don’t know. They are wise and honourable and will no doubt answer you with their reasons. I didn’t come here to steal your hearts. I’m not an orator like Brutus. I’m as you see me, a plain, blunt man that loves my friend. And those who publicly gave me permission to speak about him know that. I have neither the intelligence, nor the words, nor the worthiness, action, expression nor the power of speech to stir men’s blood: I only speak plainly. I’m telling you what you know already and show you dear Caesar’s wounds, poor poor silent mouths, and I ask them to speak for me. But if I were Brutus and he me, there would be an Antony who would ruffle up your spirits and put a tongue in every wound of Caesar that would move the stones of Rome to rise in rebellion.’
The crowd was impatient now.
‘We’ll burn Brutus’ house!’
‘Come on, find the conspirators!’
Antony raised his hand again. ‘Hear me, countrymen, yet hear me.’
‘Quiet there, listen to Antony, most noble Antony.’
‘Why friends,’ said Antony. ‘You’re going off to do things you know nothing about. Why does Caesar deserve your love? Sadly you don’t know. I’ll have to tell you then. You’ve forgotten the will I told you about.’
They looked at other. Of course, the will.
Antony unrolled the scroll. ‘Here is the will, and under Caesar’s seal. To every Roman citizen he gives, to every single man, seventy-five drachmas.’
There was uproar.
‘Most Noble Caesar! We’ll revenge his death!’
‘Oh royal Caesar!’
‘Listen to me patiently,’ shouted Antony.
They hushed again.
‘Moreover, he has left you all his parks, his private gardens, and newly planted orchards on this side of the Tiber: he has left them to you and your heirs forever, public pleasure-gardens to walk in and recreate yourselves. Here was a Caesar. When will there be another?’
‘Never! Never! Come, let’s go, let’s go. We’ll burn his body in the holy place, and with the fire brands burn the traitors’ houses. Bring the body.’
‘Go and get fire.’
‘Get some benches.’
‘Get doorways, windows, anything!’
They rushed in different directions, frenzied, angry. Some of them raised Caesar’s body and carried it away.
Antony watched until he was the only one left in the market place. He nodded. Now let it work. Mischief was afoot. Let it take what course it would.
Octavius Caesar’s servant approached him. ‘Sir, Octavius has arrived in Rome.’
‘Where is he?’
‘He and Lepidus are at Caesar’s house.’
‘I’ll go straight there. He comes at a good time. Fortune is smiling and in this mood will give us anything.’
‘I heard him say that Brutus and Cassius have fled like madmen through the gates of Rome.’
‘They probably knew what the people were up to and how I have moved them. Take me to Octavius.’