Vivid Language II
A Tearful Image
If the story of Cassius and Caesar fighting against the chilly and rough waters of the Tiber brought smiles to my face, the example in this essay brings tears to the eyes. The "vivid language" for today appears in the famous funeral speech of Antony, 3.2., universally recognized as one of Shakespeare's most powerful and engaging speeches.
To set the context: 3.1. portrays the betrayal and murder of Caesar as well as the resulting terror, confusion and deception among the conspirators and betweeen them and the plucky and ever-resilient Antony. Antony was one of Caesar's closest allies, and the conspirators debated before the Ides of March whether they should kill Antony also. Brutus nixed the idea, believing that "surgical" violence, to use a term from our day, would further their cause more than widespread killing. In the second half of 3.1., then, Antony gets on the good side of the conspirators or, more accurately, of Brutus, and he is allowed to speak at the funeral of Caesar.
Antony's Funeral Oration
3.2 then presents the speeches of Brutus and Antony at Caesar's funeral. Space does not permit an analysis here of the general rhetorical styles of Brutus and Antony, but suffice it to say that Antony speaks much more visually to the crowd, with appeals to the emotions and the memory, while Brutus confines himself to saying he would give "reasons" why Caesar deserved to die. Antony begins to speak in line 73 and, with some interruptions from the people, continues to speak for the next 150 lines.
A most powerful device Antony uses is to come down from the rostrum and bid the crowd gather around the body of Caesar with him while he points out the way that the conspirators' knives rent Caesar's garment and took his life. 3.2.169-96. After describing the wounds delivered by Casssius and Casca, he proceeds to point to the effects of Brutus' assault, "the most unkindest cut of all (3.2.183)." Listen to the words:
"Through this [hole in the garment] the well-beloved Brutus stabbed,/ And as he pluck'd his cursed steel away,/ Mark how the blood of Caesar followed it,/ As rushing out of doors to be resolv'd/ If Brutus so unkindly knock'd or no (3.2.176-80)."
Blood Rushing Out
The image is so powerful because it personifies the flow of blood after the stabbing. Antony interprets the sudden gushing forth of blood at the stabbing as if it is a concerned effort of the householder to answer the door, to see who is insistently knocking. We all know that blood is the life of a person, but here it is the living person, the one who inquires and searches and wants to discover. All of a sudden the murder takes on a tremendously poignant and painful dimension. Gone is the possible political interpretation of the act as a tyrannicide or regicide. Gone is any easy moral justification for the act such as a sacrifice to appease the disgruntled heavenly powers. All that is left is a poor and confused householder rushing to the door to see what the tremendous commotion is all about.
But what really makes the image work is the sense of oppositional movement, or the fact that the blood is going in the opposite direction of the wound. As the knife digs deeper the blood spurts further. This notion of contrary motion is also behind one of Shakespeare's most endearing (and erotic) images, the description of Cleopatra's royal boat as it is decked out to entice Antony (Antony and Cleopatra 2.2.190-218). After describing the incomparable beauty and allure of the barge, with the poop of beaten gold, the purple and perfumed sails and the silver oars, the servant Enobarbus continues,
"the oars were silver,/ Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made/ The water which they beat to follow faster,/ As amorous of their strokes (A & C 2.2.194-97)."
The brilliant picture that Shakespeare draws here is also driven by the image of contrary motion, where the water that has been stroked by the oar and shoved away from the oar makes circles and seems to follow faster after that same oar. This "following faster" is interpreted in amorous terms, as if the water is desirous of touching the oar which had just cut through it and pushed it aside. In Julius Caesar the "following faster" was a poignant and plaintive indication of betrayal and impending death. Love and death are captured in this peculiar and vivid technique of personified contrary motion.We can see the oar and the water rushing to meet it; we can see the wound and the blood gushing forth. Only Shakespeare could bring these actions to life with such vividness.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long