The Art of Persuasion — II

by Mortimer J. Adler, Ph.D.


Part II

In Shakespeare’s play, you will remember, Julius Caesar has just been assassinated. The citizens of Rome, gathered near his dead body in the forum, grieving for their loss, angrily demand an accounting. Brutus, one of the conspirators who took part in the assassination, mounts the rostrum to address them:

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.

The citizens reply in unison: “None, Brutus, none.” Then, satisfied that he has persuaded them that the assassination was justified, Brutus yields his place to Marc Antony. Before Antony can speak, the populace, completely won — or sold — by Brutus, shower him with acclaim and proclaim the public honors they wish to bestow upon him in dead Caesar’s place. Brutus quiets them and implores them to listen to Antony, to whom he has granted permission to speak. Thus introduced, Antony addresses them:

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. 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 judgement! 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.

The short speech of Brutus mainly illustrates the role of ethos, as does the somewhat longer opening portion of Antony’s address. Brutus, satisfied that he has exculpated himself and his fellow conspirators, does not try further to arouse the citizens to any course of action. He asks them only to allow him to depart alone. Antony, on the other hand, has a further purpose in mind. He wishes to avenge Caesar’s death by arousing the multitude to take drastic action against the conspirators, especially Brutus and Cassius. (Honorable men, indeed!) To do this, he resorts to pathos and logos, the other two factors in persuasion.

Whereas ethos consists in the establishment of the speaker’s credibility and credentials, his respectable and admirable character, pathos consists in arousing the passions of the listeners, getting their emotions running in the direction of the action to be taken.

Pathos is the motivating factor. It makes its appearance fairly early in Antony’s speech, commingled even in the opening passage with the development of the speaker’s ethos. Antony reminds them of all the things that Caesar did for Rome, things from which they benefited, and as he recounts these benefactions, he repeatedly asks them whether they can believe that Caesar displayed self-seeking ambition rather than dedication to the public good.

Antony thus succeeds in changing the mood that Brutus had established. One citizen cries out: “Caesar has had great wrong”; another exclaims: “He would not take the crown; therefore, ’tis certain he was not ambitious”; and still an other expresses the admiration for Antony that Antony’s use of ethos sought to produce, saying: “There’s not a nobler man in Rome than Antony.”

Satisfied now that he has established his own good character and also that he has their emotions running in the right direction, Antony proceeds to reinforce the passions aroused by adducing reasons for the action that he has sought to motivate.

Logos — the marshaling of reasons — comes last. Just as you cannot bring motivating passions into play, feelings in favor of the end result you are seeking to produce, until you have first aroused favorable feelings toward your own person, so there is little point in resorting to reasons and arguments until you have first established an emotional mood that is receptive of them.

Reasons and arguments may be used to reinforce the drive of the passions, but reasons and arguments will have no force at all unless your listeners are already disposed emotionally to move in the direction that your reasons and arguments try to justify.

How does Antony in the concluding portions of his address commingle pathos and logos so effectively that he succeeds in moving the citizens of Rome to take arms against Brutus, Cassius, and their associates?

First of all, in the course of other remarks he slyly gets around to mentioning Caesar’s will and intimating that, when the citizens learn of its provisions, they will find themselves Caesar’s beneficiaries:

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.

The citizens beseech Antony to reveal the contents of Caesar’s will to them. But before he tells them that the will provides a gift of seventy-five drachmas to every citizen, he launches into a peroration that raises their passions to a fever pitch:

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: 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 statue, 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.

This speech has the calculated effect. The citizens cry out for revenge against the assassins and their cohorts, calling them traitors and villains. They are no longer honorable men. But Antony, to be sure that he has won the day and sold the populace of Rome the action he wishes to be taken, takes one more step to consolidate his gains. As the opening lines of his speech indicate, this action plays once more on the ethos of Brutus as compared with the ethos of Antony, epitomizes the reasons — the logos — for the action to be taken, and confirms the feelings — the pathos — he has already aroused:

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 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 .

“We’ll mutiny!” the citizens roar. “We’ll burn the house of Brutus” and we’ll go after the other conspirators. Then, and only then, does Antony clinch the matter by revealing how every citizen of Rome benefits from Caesar’s will. That does it. The citizens cry out “Go fetch fires Pluck down the benches… Pluck down forms, windows, anything.” Satisfied that he has done the job, Antony retires, saying to himself: “Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot, take thou what course thou wilt!”

To Part III…

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