These three lines are perhaps the three most famous in all of Shakespeare’s dramatic works. They are filled with emotion and begin a speech that has commonly been compared to the most effective real-world political speeches in history.
Mark Antony Act III, Scene 2, Julius Caesar (by William Shakespeare) 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 interrèd 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 answered it.
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“Friends, Romans, countrymen” Meaning
“Friends, Romans, countrymen” is an address that Mark Antony uses in the history play, Julius Caesar. It begins with one of the most famous speeches in all of William Shakespeare’s dramatic works.
He uses the three-word opener to unify the crowd before he begins to describe Caesar’s death, purported ambition, and his opinion of Brutus. The crowd is immediately drawn to his side after he addresses them as equals.
Where Does Shakespeare Use “Friends, Romans, countrymen?”
William Shakespeare used this quote in Act III, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar. It appears in line 82 of that act and is spoken by Mark Antony at the beginning of his famous eulogy. He is speaking at Julius Caesar’s funeral, attempting to share his beliefs about the leader’s death and rouse the crowd against the conspirators who assassinated him, while at the same time not appearing to do so.
Here is the quote in context:
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 interrèd 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 answered it.
In the next lines, Antony shares his opinion of Brutus, albeit sarcastically. He says:
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is an honorable man;
So are they all, all honorable men),
Come I to speak in Caesar’s funeral.
His description of Brutus’ honor continues. He adds (first about Caesar), “He was my friend, faithful and just to me, / But Brutus says he was ambitious, / And Brutus is an honorable man.” His repetition of the word “honor” is quite obvious, even to the crowd listening to the speech. As he progresses, it becomes clear that he’s using the word sarcastically. He also says:
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.
Here, he reminds the crowd that everything Caesar did, he did for Rome. He cried when the public cried, and he wanted the best for his people. Yet, he adds, “Brutus says he was ambitious.” He is putting Brutus’ statements at odds with what the crowd knows for a fact about Caesar. The final lines of the speech read:
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. Bear with me;
My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar,
And I must pause till it come back to me.
Once again, Antony uses the word “honorable.” He tells the crowd, sarcastically, that he is not there to “disprove what Brutus spoke.” He’s there to speak about Caesar and honor his legacy. It is the latter who had true honor, he’s implying, not his assassins.
Antony’s emotions in this speech come through quite clearly. They are honest, and the crowd interprets them as such. This presents a strong contrast against Brutus’ flimsy depiction of Caesar as “ambitious.” The speech ends in line 108 when Antony says that he has to pause for a moment in order to regain his composure. He says he has to wait till his heart comes back to him, as it is too tied up in his love for Caesar and is resting along with the leader in his coffin.
Why Does Shakespeare Use “Friends, Romans, countrymen?”
Shakespeare includes these words at the beginning of a speech delivered by Mark Antony at Caesar’s funeral. Although Antony is at odds with Brutus (and the conspirators) who murdered his friend and the leader of Rome, he’s allowed to speak (as long as he doesn’t blame those truly responsible for Caesar’s death in the speech). He immediately unites the crowd by saying that they are all “Friends,” “Romans,” and “countrymen.” They should be united in the same purpose, just not the one Brutus believes in.
Brutus believes that letting Antony, someone who was close to Caesar, speak at his funeral will make the country’s leadership appear unified. But, Antony is far cleverer than Brutus believed. Through the speech, Antony proves his resilience and wit. As the speech progresses and he continues to call Brutus and the conspirators “honorable men,” it becomes increasingly obvious that he is being sarcastic.
Following the opening lines of the speech, Antony refutes the idea that Caesar was rightfully killed due to his ambition. He says that the leader’s actions were only for the good of the Roman people. A few lines later, as he becomes overwhelmed in his grief for his lost friend and the crowd begins to turn against the conspirators.
This is all within Antony’s plan. Previously, he revealed through a monologue (one that the audience watching the play would be aware of, but Brutus would not be) that he intended to rouse the crowd against the conspirators. In this previous impassioned soliloquy, he used the famous lines:
Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth.
Other Julius Caesar Quotes
- “Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” – a quote used in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, in Act II, Scene 2.
- “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interrèd with their bones” – a quote spoken by Mark Antony. It is appears to be about Caesar but is actually about Brutus. It is used in Act III, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar.
- “Beware the ides of March” – a quote spoken by the Soothsayer to Julius Caesar in regard to his fate. It is used in Act I, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar.
“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war” – a quote used in Act III, Scene 1 of Julius Caesar. Mark Antony speaks it in regard to his plans to rouse the crowd against the men who killed Caesar.
- Read: Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
- Read: Beware the Ides of march. But Why?
- Watch: Julius Caesar 1970 Film