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Julius Caesar is one of the most famous historical figures. I’ve known his name for as long as I could remember and more than that, I knew all the stories about him, his conquests and, of course, the Shakespeare play. Okay, maybe I only found about the play in high school but still I think that’s earlier than most people. Anyway, as I was on my way to school the other day I was listening to music when a line caught my ear. “Veni, Vidi, Vici. I came, I saw. I conquered…” This famous line, attributed to Caesar after one his many victories in battle, reminded me of another famous speech, but this one was not by Caesar.
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears…” The beginning of Mark Anthony’s speech/soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s tragedy, I believe, is one of the best “attention grabbers” or “audience catchers” ever written and why not? In the play, Mark Anthony spoke after Brutus and before Mark Anthony uttered those famous words, the people were still talking/raving over what Brutus said about honor and ambition and how he loved Caesar but loved Rome more. In short, the crowd was not focused on Mark Anthony, so I guess that first line was really to get their attention and shut up those Romans who kept talking. These kinds of lines are still often used today, especially by politicians. They are used to get the attention of big audiences and is perfect for setting a tone of persuading or motivating. In the case of Mark Anthony, he used it to persuade the crowd to turn on Brutus and the his accomplices.
In modern popular culture, this famous line is seen in many different mediums but the purpose stays the same. In the Beatles hit, “I Get By With a Little Help” we hear the line “… lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song…” and from the context of the song, the line is being used by the persona as a way of asking his friends to listen to his “song” or story just like Mark Anthony pleaded with the Romans to hear him out. Another song I found, “Listen” by Talib Kweli, also incorporates the line in its lyrics. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen lend me your ears. Start repenting ’cause the ending is near, but don’t panic. You can’t function if you living in fear. Pay attention, you gotta listen to hear.” From the title of the song itself, you already know why the line was used. Again, the line is found at the start serving the same purpose of grabbing the listeners’ attention. Being followed up by the line “… you gotta listen to hear.” adds more impact.
For me, the use of the line in music is pretty one-dimensional. So I tried looking for other forms media that mentioned or used the line or even the whole speech in some way.
First thing I found was a clip from the show, “Phineas and Ferb” In this episode, Phineas addresses his friends using the line “Friends, Bullies, Irving…” I guess it pretty much was still used for the same purpose. It’s just interesting to me how one line can be used at so many different levels. From making a speech in front of a big audience to simply talking to one’s group of friends, this just shows how much today’s culture can easily incorporate Shakespeare. This can be seen in the next video, which features two teenagers trying to study Mark Anthony’s speech from the play. The clip shows exactly how today’s culture can easily incorporate Shakespeare and help make his works something everyone can enjoy.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBDF04fQKtQ – Beatles Song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GzbX6bc2dXs – Talib Kweli Song
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vq3uK3i4_gA – The Cosby Show
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7mUAPzT_y4 – Phineas and Ferb