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Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war

“Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war” is a quote William Shakespeare used in Act III, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar, his most commonly read history play.

Since William Shakespeare used it, the phrase has made its way into popular media. The entire quote has been featured in novels, short stories, films, and movies. Variations on the quote, using only the section “dogs of war,” have also been used.

Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war Meaning


“Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war” Meaning

Literally, the quote suggests that the “dogs of war,” or dogs trained for warfare, should be let loose on their enemies. But, “dogs” is used as a metaphor for the broader chaos and death that Antony is going to encourage.

War is personified in this quote in a way that should be familiar to readers of Shakespeare’s works. 

Antony uses the line as an expression of passion. It conveys his anger over his friend’s death as well as a suggestion of what he wants to happen next. It’s believed that William Shakespeare took this quote from The Life of Marcus Brutus, part of Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Greeks and Romans. 

Important Vocabulary to Know

  • Havoc: destructive chaos. The word “havoc” was used as a military signal in the Middle Ages to signal that the soldiers can pillage, or take and destroy whatever they want. 
  • “Dogs of War:” literally— dogs trained for war that are let off their leashes. Figuratively- any destructive force that can be let loose. 


Where Does Shakespeare Use “Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war?” 

The quote is used in Act III, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar. It is spoken by Marc Antony. It can be found in line 273. In this scene, Antony is alone with Caesar’s body. This allows him to express his emotions clearly, unlike in later scenes during which he’s unable to state his feelings outright. Here is the line in context:

O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, 

That I am meek and gentle with these butchers! 

Thou art the ruins of the noblest man 

That ever lived in the tide of times. 

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood! 

Over thy wounds now do I prophesy,– 

Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips, 

To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue– 

A curse shall light upon the limbs of men; 

Domestic fury and fierce civil strife 

Shall cumber all the parts of Italy; 

Blood and destruction shall be so in use 

And dreadful objects so familiar 

That mothers shall but smile when they behold 

Their infants quarter’d with the hands of war; 

All pity choked with custom of fell deeds: 

And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge, 

With Ate by his side come hot from hell, 

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice 

Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war

That this foul deed shall smell above the earth.

It’s at the end of this quote that a servant enters the room, and Antony asks him if he serves “Octavius Caesar.” When reading this passage, it’s interesting to take note of the speaker’s cruelty of language. He has no mercy for those who have betrayed their leader. After reading this passage, it’s interesting to re-analyze the speech that Antony gives at Caesar’s funeral. It is filled with allusions to who he sees as the real villain. “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interrèd with their bones” is a great example. 

Why Did Shakespeare Use “Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war?” 

William Shakespeare uses this quote, spoken by Mark Antony, as a way of conveying the emotions of the character after his friend’s death. The quote is used in a soliloquy during which Antony reveals that he’s going to inspire the crowd at Caesar’s funeral to rise up against the leader’s assassination. Throughout the soliloquy, Antony considers the future. He can imagine the crowd seeking revenge with Caesar’s spirit joining in. “Havoc” or dangerous chaos is going to reign, and “war” may follow. 

Antony is left alone on the stage when he uses these words. Throughout the quote, he uses sharp and dark language, punctuated by words like “butchers,” “ruined,” “bloody,” “wound,” “fury and fierce civil strife,” and “hands of war.” The last two lines of the quote truly convey his emotion: “That this foul feel shall smell above the earth / With carrion men groaning for burial.” It’s this result that he hopes the “dogs of war” will bring to Rome.

FAQs

Who says “Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war?”

This line is spoken by Mark Antony in Julius Caesar, a famous history play by William Shakespeare. He uses it in a soliloquy delivered while the character is on stage alone, mourning the death of Julius Caesar.

What are the “dogs of war?”

The phrase “dogs of war” is a metaphor for the violence that Antony wants to be unleashed on Rome, specifically, the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar. He wants “havoc” to rain down on anyone who betrayed Caesar.

Why did Mark Antony say “Cry “Havoc!” and let slip the dogs of war?”

He uses this phrase while looking at his dead leader’s body. He is planning what he’s going to say to the crowds at Caesar’s funeral. It’s his intention to inspire them to rise up, unleash the “dogs of war,” and bring “havoc” on those who assassinated Julius Caesar.


Other Julius Caesar Quotes 


Other Resources 

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