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Dylan Rivera

Ms. Woelke

AP English Language

20 March 2018

Julius Caesar Rhetorical Analysis

The most amazing superpower is the one of human language. It can read minds, persuade

others, build bridges or bear destruction. Whoevers masters it inevitably will master rhetoric, a

true showcase of the artistic use of language. In the play ​The Tragedy of Julius Caesar​,

playwright William Shakespeare demonstrates this innate human faculty through the rhetorical

battle between Calphurnia and Decius over Caesar’s inauguration ceremony as emperor of Rome

- to go or not to go? By the end of the selected passage, Decius overcomes Calphurnia’s inferior

argument so that Caesar goes on to be coronated all due to Decius’s witty, superior rhetorical


In the beginning of the passage Calphurnia makes several fatal rhetorical errors which

weaken her persuasive ability over Caesar. The fact that Calphurnia’s argument is based on a

narrative of her dream already presents itself as a weak basis for Caesar to feel strongly for her

cause - in her dream, as Calphurnia describes, death would come upon Caesar if he goes to the

coronation ceremony. A narrative presented in this fashion is inherently distinct from any logical

approach: it largely relies on the inner emotions of Calphurnia and offers no concrete evidence to

support that Caesar would indeed be murdered. The dream itself, explained through this

narrative, emotional style does not make a lasting impact on Caesar’s mind. Furthermore,

Calphurnia’s desperate tone makes her have a weak, unattractive argument. Her tone is largely
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based on an emotional plea and can be seen when an exclamation mark is used when she cries,

“O Caesar!” (line 13). This exclamation mark conveys a sense of urgency and indicates the

raising of Calphurnia’s voice, signaling her emotional distress and representing the desperateness

of her plea. This desperation may work on Caesar on the short term but would quickly crumble

once Decius presents his argument. Another weak point of Calphurnia’s use of rhetoric lies in

her extremely limited point of view: personalized pronouns (me, I, my) adhering to Calphurnia’s

subjective, fearful point of view over the situation. This is demonstrated in several lines

throughout the passage, including but not limited to, “Yet now they frighten me.” (line 2). These

first person point of view pronouns do not appeal at all to Caesar himself and are limited to

Calphurnia, which is a mistake since Caesar values himself and his ambitions highly. If

Calphurnia focused more on second person point of view pronouns while addressing Caesar -

you ​are, ​your ​ambitions, etc - her argument may have been more convincing. However, her

argument remains in her personal realm and fail to state anything truly meaningful to Caesar


Halfway through the passage Calphurnia makes her final arguments and Caesar claims he

will listen and stay back - until Decius enters the picture. Calphurnia delivers a final blow to her

argument when she uses an antecedent to refer to Caesar’s reason for not going in line 30: “Do

not go forth today. Call it my fear / That keeps you in the house, and not your own” (as “it”

refers to the reason for Caesar not to go). This declaration assumes that Calphurnia takes

responsibility for the reasoning behind staying back and “it” is justified through her personal

fears. This reason alone is irrational as a fear itself does not imply anything will happen -

Calphurnia’s dream was simply a false attempt at a foreshadow, in Caesar’s view. Thus, the
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antecedent in this case does not work and not sufficiently represent a valid reason for Caesar to

miss the ceremony of becoming emperor. Decius on the other hand presents a much more

rhetorically persuasive argument for Caesar to go to the senate building as he starts off by using

powerful, personalized imagery as he describes a fountain “spouting blood… in which so many

smiling Romans bathed” (lines 47-48). This imagery is a direct spin on Calphurnia’s vision that

blood would spill from Caesar’s statue, but in a way signifying his downfall - in Decius’s

reasoning, blood spilling from the fountain will actually represent the glory of Rome once Caesar

takes power and Roman’s pride in their emperor. This imagery, in Caesar’s personal ambition’s

favor, is compelling for Caesar as it not only promotes Caesar’s personal goals but also vividly

describes a scene of blood, a substance Caesar is familiar with from the battlefield. Since this

form of imagery is personalized to Caesar’s ambitions, and strikes a chord within him as the

power of spilling blood is a glory that Caesar understands and even used to seek for on the

battlefield, Caesar is more inclined to appreciate this use of imagery for a reason for him to go.

Overall, it is Decius’s more confident and positive tone which captures Caesar’s attention and

provide a smooth ambiance for Decius to stake his claim by the end of his rhetorical speech.

Decius’s tone can be seen in several lines and is already established through lines 45-52 due to

the fact that Decius makes no desperate statements and even - perhaps arrogantly - dismisses

Calphurnia’s dream as “all amiss interpreted” (line 45) and suggests a more positive view of her

dream as instead an omen for Caesar to go to the senate building. Decius’s confident tone

overrides Calphurnia’s desperate tone, appealing immediately to Caesar (as Caesar is a

confident, respectful man himself) and inevitably makes Decius’s words even more relatable.
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By the end of the passage, Caesar is convinced by Decius that he should go to the senate

building, thus changing his mind and not adhering to Calphurnia’s wishes. Decius seals the deal

by using positive, emotionally powerful diction in his discourse, such as by saying “mighty

Caesar” in line 56, where the word “mighty” appeals to Caesar’s pride and strokes his ego. Other

words are also used in this fashion, notably in a more positive and uplifting way than how

Calphurnia presented her argument. This is critical because Decius’s speech immediately differs

itself from Calphurnia’s choice of words, which were more concerned with fear - one may even

interpret them as counterintuitive to Caesar’s grand ambitions. Decius’s positive word choice is

hence more attractive than Calphurnia’s diction and is what grabs and maintains Caesar’s

attention. In addition, Decius poses a rhetorical question used in order to make Caesar reflect on

his image and his high held ego: “Lo, is Caesar afraid?” (line 63). This hypothetical question is

something that the senate would ask themselves if Caesar did not show up to his coronation, thus

inducing a subtle fear that the senate may even question Caesar’s character and thus merit at

deserving role of emperor of Rome. Contrary to Caesar’s ambitions, this hypothetical question

would immediately make Caesar consider this undesirable situation, a concern Calphurnia never

brought up - and eventually contributing to Caesar’s switch to Decius’s argument. To end his

reasoning, Decius declares, “And reason to my love is liable.” (line 66), demonstrating a

powerful use of pathos - Decius’s established emotional connection to Caesar. Decius effectively

reaffirms his devotion to Caesar by saying this, implying he only has good intentions and would

not to anything to harm Caesar as he “loves” him. This is an emotional plea to Caesar as Caesar

is confronted with a verbal affirmation of Decius’s claimed loyalty. Due to its friendly, virtuous

nature, Caesar takes this as a sign of loyalty and allegiance to a good friend that would not betray
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him, which compels him to take Decius’s rationale as valid and the reasoning of an admirable


Ultimately, via methods of rhetorical persuasion, Decius successfully convinces Caesar to

go to the senate building in spite of Calphurnia’s plea for Caesar to stay back. This would go

perfectly in Decius’s favor and lay the stage for the eventual murder of Caesar. Clearly, the

Calphurnia-Decius rhetorical presentations are prime examples of the power of rhetoric and

human language - in this case, it convinced a man to choose a path that would lead to his death.

Although this is a rather extreme example, it should be heeded as a warning to others to be wary

of human words and yet an encouragement for people to master the art of rhetoric in response.