This is a plaster cast of a bust of Brutus by Michelangelo (1475–1564). The original was made after 1539 and is currently in Florence. While Michelangelo’s sculpture portrays the character of his subject by the skilful carving of marble, Shakespeare’s Brutus is shaped through the type and quality of the rhetorical language he is given.
How does Shakespeare portray Brutus through the use of rhetorical devices?
Actors and directors such as Orson Welles have felt that despite the title, Brutus is the real star of Julius Caesar. And perhaps rightly so – he has almost five times the number of lines. His most crucial speech comes at Caesar’s funeral. Up to this point, there has been a high proportion of verse spoken by the characters. Much of this is iambic pentameter, such as the memorable lines in which Caesar resolves to ignore warnings to the contrary and go to the Senate: ‘Cowards die many times before their deaths / The valiant never taste of death but once’ (2.2.31–37). Brutus, however, decides to deliver his speech in carefully measured prose: ‘Romans, countrymen and lovers, hear me for my cause and be silent, and that you may hear. Believe me for mine honour and have respect to mine honour, that you may believe’ (3.2.13–14).
Does this mean Brutus’s speech is unsophisticated?
No. The poet Cicero dedicated two books on rhetoric to the historical Brutus, and Shakespeare’s version also shows evidence of learning. The critic Jean Fuzier counted 30 different rhetorical figures in the speech. For the critic Garry Wells, it is ‘so overdone that it approaches what is comic elsewhere in Shakespeare’. Through his prose, Brutus is aiming at an unemotional reasonableness, and referring constantly to himself. It sounds very like he is reading a prepared piece rather than fully involving and invoking his audience. Despite all of this, his biggest mistake is to have allowed Antony to have spoken afterwards and subtly refute his arguments. Fuzier counted 36 rhetorical devices in his speech but, most importantly, they were better used, and delivered in verse rather than prose.
- Full title:
- Plaster Cast of Brutus after the marble original by Michelangelo
- after 1539 (sculpted); c. 1864 (cast), Firenze (Florence)
- Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Stiattesi (Signor) (Maker)
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© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
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