I find myself on the road again, this time in Marietta, Ohio–which, like Prague (my January stop) has a river running through it. Two rivers, actually.

It is a little different in other ways, though.
(Employing the rhetorical figure of meiosis in the category of omission, understatement from our Rhetoric Flashcards.)

I stopped here once before–same hotel, right on the banks of the Ohio. Last time, the 2016 Presidential debates were on in the bar and I went down to hear what was said–both by the candidates and these people in the heartland–right here on the border of Ohio and West Virginia.
Last night, I listened to Part 2 of the Democratic candidates debate in the same hotel.

Politically, not much has changed.
(Rhetorical Figure: litotes, Category: omission, understatement in the negative)

As I listened to both parts one and two, I thought a lot about Hal and the Agincourt speech. About how the candidates did (and didn’t) engage with ethos, pathos, and logos. I found myself especially sensitive to the use of the singular pronoun versus the collective. When there were lots of “I’s, me’s, my’s”, I tuned out more than when I heard “our, the people, us”. In other words, when I was part of the story, I was more engaged. I cared.

I watched some other politicians speak earlier this week. As I sat in the preview of Julius Caesar last Tuesday (opens July 5!), I was struck by the way the singular and the collective change the room.

After Brutus and the other conspirators slay Caesar, they must answer for the crime to the irate crowd. Brutus approaches and begins:

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….

Noticeably, Brutus frames the speech in terms of him. It is in prose, so there is no indication of the stress for the personal pronouns he chooses, but the repetition of them–as well as the use of the third person, calls even more attention to Brutus the man, and leaves little space for the crowd to see themselves in what has happened. He does use erotema at the end (the fancy term for “rhetorical question”), but it is with questions that are impossible to affirm–leaving no actual space for audience response–though the act of questioning seems engaging, it is in fact the opposite.

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.

No one will raise their hand or say “yes” to becoming a slave, or agree that they are rude, or don’t love their country. It is a ruse. And, he continues the focus on himself–”have I offended”, “I pause…”.

Antony, on the other hand, takes another tactic.

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 judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason….

Rather than demanding he be heard, as Brutus did, he asks that they lend ears. He lays down facts, (Casear filled the coffers of Rome, he cried with the poor, he refused to be made king) and then leaves the conclusions to them. The repetition of honor and ambition, like that of the personal pronoun above, shapes the message. For Brutus, the focus is on him, but Antony leaves conclusions to the people to whom he is speaking–which reinforces the faith her has in their intelligence and loyalty. When extended that faith, his audience concurs and supports his cause.

As the 2020 election heats up and the US citizenry hears from the candidates, I wonder how many will consider the lessons Shakespeare’s leaders provide. Making the choice to focus on the capability of the people to whom they speak, and to trust them with the facts and lead rather than demand may open minds and hearts as it did for Antony. Of course, he also had a will with lots of benefits to offer–but I’d suggest that he had them before he started to reveal all of the good that would result.

Add a Comment

Leave a Comment