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Politics

Politics and the People

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Shakespeare often wrote about politics but he usually dealt with political infighting at court. Two of his Roman plays, however, deal specifically with politicians’ relationship with the people, the fickle masses. Julius Caesar and Coriolanus offer observations about these fraught relationships, which are as true today as they were both in Elizabethan and Roman times.

Like many of Shakespeare’s plays,
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Pandering, Contempt and the Masses

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Many of Shakespeare’s plays deal with political intrigue at court between political leaders. However, in Julius Caesar and Coriolanus, more than in other plays, the themes address the relationships between political leaders and the masses. Since both plays are set in historic Rome and not in Shakespeare’s England, they can deal with the themes of democracy and the wisdom of the populace to govern themselves through a republican form of representation.
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Political Rhetoric and the Masses

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Brutus’s tour de force of interwoven rhetorical devices in Julius Caesar (3.2.14) sways the crowd away from their anger at the assassins to cheering them. This speech, however, is outdone by Mark Antony’s masterpiece of manipulation (3.2.82), which whiplashes the crowd back to outrage and riot. But, in fact, Brutus had failed in his speech even before Mark Antony opened his mouth.
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Video: Friends, Romans, Countrymen

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Marlon Brando as Mark Antony in the 1953 film of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar directed by Joseph Mankiewicz.


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