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Rhetoric, Advocacy and Ethics: Reflections on Shakespeares Julius Caesar

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Document pages: 53 pages

Abstract: The rhetorical skill necessary to speaking and writing persuasively may be studied with great profit by exploring realms of knowledge far from the courtroom and the law office. Literature naturally comes to mind as a rich resource for the study of persuasion. For this essay, I have chosen a well-known set of speeches that appear in William Shakespeare s Julius Caesar to illustrate various aspects of persuasion. In the play s most riveting scene, Marcus Brutus and Mark Antony speak before a crowd of Romans, giving their opposing views of the assassination of Caesar. Brutus claims justification for his and his co-conspirators act; Antony presents the case for murder by traitors. In reviewing each of these speeches, I will explore how Brutus and Antony advance their positions by adroitly employing many techniques of persuasion, including influencing the audience s membership; relying upon and strengthening their personal credibility; framing the crucial issue; creating a compelling theme; producing supporting evidence to substantiate the argument; meeting the audience s unstated emotional needs; minimizing adverse facts; monitoring audience reaction and assessing its understanding; achieving proper proportion in argument; speaking with civility; making concessions; distracting the audience; addressing pre-existing audience opinions and knowledge; employing strong emotional appeals; using the power of suggestion; allowing the audience to reach its own conclusion; rebutting expected arguments of the opposition; and forging an effective rhetorical style. By examining the way each speaker relates to his audience, crafts his appeals, and communicates his central points, the modern reader can learn much about the essential elements of advocacy. Antony s speech suggests, however, that effective advocacy need not be ethical advocacy. Honest advocacy depends upon the existence of honorable practitioners. Unfortunately, there is evidence that those employing the arts of rhetoric today are often less than honorable.

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