This quote appears in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, one of his best-known history plays. While these lines are not quite as well known as some of Shakespeare’s quotes, the lines evoke something that most readers are going to be able to relate to. Shakespeare is suggesting that the memory of goodness fades from the world far sooner than do the effects of evil.
Explore The evil that men do lives after them...
Important Vocabulary to Know:
- Interrèd: refers to placing a corpse in a grave. The word also implies that funeral rites of some kind are performed. Here, the “good” that someone commits goes to the grave with them while the evil lives on.
- Oft: this is the shortened form of “often.” Here, Shakespeare is saying that the “good is often interréd with their bones.” It’s another example of how certain words are shortened, due to linguistic styles at the time, as well as how it works with poetry.
Where Does Shakespeare use this Quote?
Shakespeare uses this quote in Act III, Scene 2 of Julius Caesar.
Mark Antony speaks these words at Julius Caesar’s funeral. 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.
Here, under leave of Brutus and the rest
(For Brutus is an honorable man;
Antony begins by telling those listening, his countrymen, that he has come to “bury Caesar, not to praise him.” He suggests that he will not spend his speech giving Caesar more compliments than he deserves. The famed quote follows, suggesting that evil lives on after a man’s death, but the good fades much faster. That suggests that it’s more important to refrain from doing evil, even if it means one is forgotten more quickly.
Antony goes on, referring to the words of Brutus, who spoke before him. He told everyone that Caesar was ambitious and “grievously hath Caesar answered it,” or paid for it. The speech also includes a famous refers to Brutus’s honor in these lines:
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–
Here is a famous example of sarcasm. Antony calls Brutus, the murderer of Caesar, “noble,” but when one looks closer at the words, it’s clear that he means the opposite. By using words like “honorable” and “noble” in this speech, he is suggesting that Brutus actually exhibits the opposite traits. It is Brutus’s evil that is going to live on the longest.
Why Did Shakespeare Use this Quote?
Shakespeare used this quote to allude to the nature of legacies, particularly as it comes to Julius Caesar and Brutus. The speaker, Mark Antony, fills his speech with allusions to Brutus’ assassination of Caesar that readers will be well aware of. This is also an example of Antony being ironic. He suggests that the words apply to Julius Caesar when in fact, he’s talking about Brutus.
This quote is part of a longer passage in William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It is spoken by Mark Antony at Julius Caesar’s funeral. But, despite being in a speak about Caesar, it’s actually about Brutus, his killer.
His speech at Caesar’s funeral, which begins with “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” is about the leader’s death. He’s not allowed to blame Brutus and his conspirators in it, so he talks around the subject.
Antony says that the “good” that men do is buried with them while the evil lives on, in the effects of their deeds, for far longer.
Brutus believed in the Republic more than he believed in remaining loyal to his friend Caesar. He is manipulated into believing that this is the right thing to do as Caesar was amassing more power.