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Published: Tuesday 29th of October 2013
Manipulation is in extensive and current use these days. Politics is an apparent instance. A political character such as Donald J. Trump manipulates the general public’s emotions so that he can get what he wants from them, namely, their vote to get him elected into office. This happens in the real world all the time just as it does in the play Julius Caesar, by the Bard, William Shakespeare. Manipulation happens in politics very often for sure but you can see it also within your family, among your friends and even we do manipulate ourselves now and then.
Let’s talk about a master manipulator called Cassius. He manipulates Brutus until he joins the political conspiracy to kill Caesar. Julius Caesar is just too successful and too popular with the Roman mob; he’s actually so famous and beloved that he could become the worst anathema known to Rome: a king. For Cassius, Caesar must die or else the Republic will, it’s one or the other, mutually exclusive, a man versus a centennial institution. Cassius persuaded many wise and powerful senators to join his conspiration, to be on his side but failed with the main one, the man called Brutus. So he engages him ones again, meets him, tries to allure him to join his conspiracy. As Brutus realizes this, being a close and dear friend to Caesar, he leaves. Now Cassius is alone, and he speaks a memorable monologue in which he explains how he will make Brutus join him against his best instincts. He will write many letters to Brutus, anonymously, as if they were from random Roman citizens. These letters made Brutus convinced that Caesar had to die because his ambition was just too high. And then, there’s Marcus Antonius, known more popularly as Mark Anthony. He is a manipulator as well. Being Caesar’s closest friend and right hand, he asks for the right to deliver Caesar’s funeral oration. He gets it. Brutus concedes the favor thinking that he will keep Antony in check if he speaks before him. That’s the kind of mistake that ends in a full-fledged revolution. Brutus speaks first indeed, and he manages to get the commoners’ support, Caesar had to die because Rome can have no king and that’s what Caesar wanted. Then Antony comes to the stage, and he uses all his oratorical skills to persuade the very same people that Caesar did not have such ambition. He is so successful in this that the crowd becomes genuinely angry. And then he goes further by showing the mob Caesar’s testament while pretending he doesn’t want to “let but the commoners hear this testament which, pardon me, I do not mean to read.” This makes the crowd more excited as Antony gives them a crucial piece of information “tis good you know not that you are his heirs.” This revelation ensures the crowd will press on for Antony to read the will, which he, naturally, does, letting the people know that Caesar has left his money to be distributed among the commoners of Rome. The mob can’t take it anymore. They are utterly enraged. They can’t stand the conspiracy that took Caesar’s life anymore. And thus, Antony’s mission in manipulation was accomplished. He stole the crowd from Brutus’ pocket and placed them in his very own thus manipulating the situation to come out on top.
Manipulation can show its ugly face in many other contexts as well. Family and friends are one. This is how we meet Brutus’ wife, Portia, who uses manipulation on a member of her own family. Brutus has been busy ruminating in his mind the thoughts Cassius planted there, that Caesar is too ambitious and must die for the sake of the Republic. Brutus is confused. He is a patriot who cares deeply about the Republic’s fate, but Julius Caesar is also a dear friend who’s helped him countless times in the past. Portia can discern changes in the way her husband acts and thinks so she understands something is going on in his mind. When she asks him about the mood that he’s been having recently, he answers he’s just sick. But she knows her husband; she knows he’s evading, and she insists because she knows she has a right to know as she is his wife. But Brutus is not willing, he keeps evading her and keeping his worries to himself, which offends his wife, as it shows a lack of trust between them. This is when she strikes, using a form of manipulation known as emotional blackmail to force him into speaking by saying to him that if she cannot trust her then “Portia is Brutus’ harlot, not his wife.” She doesn’t stop there, of course. She offers to prove her faithfulness to her husband by voluntarily wounding herself in the thigh, thus trying to prove that taking that kind of pain without complaints must undoubtedly prove she is worthy of listening to Brutus’ worries. Portia knows her man; she knows what she’s doing as well, so her ploy works and Brutus starts to sing like a bird.
Portia is not the only character to exert manipulation over beloved ones and friends. There’s also Antony who’s not above manipulating Lepidus, one of his friends. Lepidus is a competent and seasoned general who is part of the Second Triumvirate along with Antony and Octavius. Antony’s concept of Lepidus, however, is not very high. He thinks he’s not smart enough to be a triumvirate member and he brings the point up with Octavius. He tells Octavius that Lepidus, while full of merit, is the type of man that should not get entrusted with more than ordinary errands. The future Augustus answers by reminding him that he is a courageous and experienced soldier to which Antony replies “so is my horse, Octavius, and for that, I do appoint him store of provender.” So for Antony, it happens that Lepidus, a friend, is not a peer at all but just a piece in the board to be moved when it’s convenient.
But manipulation is not something that only comes about from the exterior. It is at its worst and most dangerous when it comes from within ourselves which is also possible. In Julius Caesar, the prime example for this is Brutus. He’s very highly regarded as exceedingly noble by most people in Rome. Brutus knows this, and he sees himself in that way as well. So if he’s going to join the plot to kill Caesar and remain honorable in his own eyes and those of other people, he must persuade himself that killing Caesar, his close friend, is the honorable and noble course of action. The Republic of Rome must be preserved, and Caesar’s life is the price it demands. Brutus will kill Julius Caesar in the end, convinced that it’s because Caesar’s naked ambition is too big and too dangerous despite the fact that, in the play at least, he has no proof of that at all. This idea grew in his mind and bore fruit through manipulation alone.
We have one last master manipulator to talk about, and it is the man himself, Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar thinks, lives and behaves as he is above everybody else, as he is better than everybody else in Rome. He’s smart, famous, influential. That makes him arrogant. As Caesar arrives at the Curia for the Senate’s session, Metellus Cimber asks him for mercy for his brother, to repeal the banishment that stands against him. Caesar denies him the request with the utmost arrogance. Then Brutus and Cassius join Metellus in his request but Caesar remains supercilious and unmovable. Caesar has used his political power, military success and popularity with Rome’s mob to manipulate himself into believing he is indeed a superior man, above everybody else. This is the mindset that will end up costing him his life when he was at the peak of his powers. The Metellus request was the signal for the conspirators to act, so soon after he begs, they all surround Caesar and stab him mercilessly.
Manipulation is a type of human behavior. This means it can arise wherever humans are active. Politics is, regrettably, the most natural stage to see manipulation develop but it is not confined to that theatre. It also happens in the family, with friends. Manipulation itself is morally neutral as it can be used for good sometimes. But it can also have lethal results. Caesar died. And so did Brutus and Cassius.