The following post is Casey Daggett’s second installment in a series relating Shakespeare’s timeless works and her love for literature to politics. Casey is a sophomore in the Department of Politics.
In the last few days of any election cycle, it is near impossible to avoid the sudden barrage of both advertisements and political rhetoric as each candidates works to ensure the ballots cast are in their favor. As someone who admittedly remembers only a few details about the past election and nearly none about the one prior in 2004, the past few weeks I’ve been nothing short of shocked at the constant stream of information from both respective candidates and the various groups supporting them. Websites I frequent are dotted with little advertisements, slogans and pictures arguing for either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney, highlighting their successes and the failures of their opponent. My study playlist on YouTube was suddenly interrupted by a message from the President and I’ve found myself getting a flurry of emails from organizations and groups I’ve absolutely no recollection of having any interest in, much less signing up for.
With these advertisements being basically unavoidable, one may as well take a closer look. After all, political rhetoric in the final days of any election cycle has one goal: to sway the voter’s opinion towards a candidate. However, the tactics of these ads are decidedly different from each other, with some issuing outright attacks on an opponent’s policies and political history, while others work by offering promises in exchange for election. In some races, these ads might only serve as occasional reminders to the voter or hope to sway a small, undecided percentage. Recently, however, nearly every poll taken shows both Romney and Obama neck and neck, only a few percentage points above or below each other, as pundits emphasize the importance of ‘swing states’ throughout the nation. Both candidates will be using whatever means they’ve purchased to make a final appeal to undecided voters, and to ensure that those who have decided make the trip to the polls.
The consideration, and effectiveness, of different forms of political rhetorical at so crucial at a time, with so important an outcome at stake, immediately brought to mind one of the most famous scenes of Julius Caesar. Following Caesar’s betrayal and murder at the hands of the Senators, both Brutus and Marc Antony address the Roman people at his funeral. Their very lives were at stake should the city turn against them. These two speeches, Antony’s in particular, are often, and rightly, considered to be two of Shakespeare’s greatest monologues, each determined to sway the angered, confused people to agree with their speaker. However, the two are decidedly different in their arguments and not surprisingly, one appears to make altogether more effective than its predecessor.
Brutus immediately begins by stating that they must listen to him as reasonable, logical citizens, to ‘censure me in your wisdom and / awake your senses, that you may be the better judge’ (III.II.16-17). He eloquently enforces that his actions were done out of a love for Rome, that Caesar had grown too ambitious and would have threatened the very foundations of the Republic should he have been granted the chance. A stoic, Brutus delivers logical reasoning to the tumultuous crowd, questioning ‘had you rather / Caesar were living and die all slaves, than that / Caesar were dead, to live all free men?’ (III.II.22-24). Brutus, for all his blunt nature, does speak true. He did care for Caesar, but he cared all the more for Rome and, in turn, believed it was his duty to slay the Republic’s greatest threat. While he speaks honestly, Brutus, nonetheless, appears cold in his strict delivery of facts and details. He does not appeal to the raging emotions of the Roman people, but instead calls for them to see his honor by logically and reasonably evaluating Caesar’s murder, to evaluate their very identities as Romans.
Marc Antony, however, speaks after Brutus and works to have his argument resonate with the Roman people through a decidedly different approach. From his very first words, Antony speaks of Caesar not as a tyrant lord, desperate for power and disconnected from the people beneath him, but as a flawed human who was betrayed for it. To further emphasize Caesar’s care and concern for the people of Rome, conflicting with the portrait Brutus had painted of a man interested in nothing but his own glory, Antony states that ‘when that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept: / ambition should be made of sterner stuff’ (III.II.91-92). Though appearing, at first, to respect Brutus by declaring him ‘an honorable man’, Antony challenges this very statement, his praises becoming mocking when repeated so frequently and questioningly throughout his speech. Marc Antony succeeds in swaying the Roman people to his cause, and in turn, the other conspirators are forced to flee the city. Antony does not use logic and emphasize ideals like Brutus does. Instead, by degrading his opponent, he triggers emotional responses in those listening.
As this election comes to a close, with both President Obama and Mitt Romney so close to each other in the various polls, it will be interesting to see how the American people respond to what arguments are made to them. I would argue that much like the Rome, voters, both decided and undecided, are frustrated, longing for a vision and explanation to guide America in the next four years. The last few advertisements of this week are arguably the most important to the election and each candidate will be doing his very best to make his appeals resonate. Therefore, seeing as it’s basically unavoidable, why not take a few moments to evaluate the rhetoric being presented as truth from each candidate and their respective party. Do they work to appeal to our democratic ideals, speaking of liberty, justice and the various other components that have come to be so essential the American identity? Does one candidate speak out against his opponent, respectful yet mocking in their assessment of both character and political history? Furthermore, out of all the tactics used by Brutus and Marc Antony to win over the people of Rome, which will succeed in winning over the American people? In less than a week, it seems as though we’ll have an answer.