One of the most famous political speeches in history is actually a masterpiece of historical fiction. On March 20, 44 B.C., Marcus Antonius gave the eulogy at the funeral of slain Roman leader Julius Caesar, riling up the crowd with Caesar's good works and bloody toga, and thus defeating the Roman senators who had stabbed the would-be emperor to death to save the Republic. What most of us know of that speech and that day was written by William Shakespeare — and perhaps Democrats had that speech in mind when they were deciding how to handle FBI Director James Comey's unexpected late entry into the 2016 presidential race.

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears," Shakespeare's Mark Antony began, in the most famous lines of the speech. "I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." But it was his repetition of the phrase "and Brutus is an honorable man," at first with apparent sincerity but increasingly as a way to impugn the honor of the reluctant leader of Caesar's assassination, that allowed him to turn the crowd against Brutus and the other conspirators.

Brutus, according to Shakespeare and history, actually was an honorable man, driven to murder his friend not out of spite or animus but to save the Roman republic from Caesar's increasingly dictatorial and imperial mien. When you read the many criticisms of Comey's vague letter to Congress, 11 days before the presidential election, essentially saying that the FBI may have found emails related to Hillary Clinton's private server but hasn't seen them yet, the critics almost invariably mention Comey's integrity.

"Many of us have worked with Director Comey; all of us respect him," said nearly 100 former senior Justice Department officials and federal prosecutors in an open letter released by the Clinton campaign. "But his unprecedented decision to publicly comment on evidence in what may be an ongoing inquiry just 11 days before a presidential election leaves us both astonished and perplexed." "We do not question Director Comey's motives," the signatories said, but his vague and rumor-stoking letter is "inconsistent with prevailing department policy, and it breaks with longstanding practices followed by officials of both parties during past elections."

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Comey's former boss and one of the signatories of the letter, wrote a separate op-ed in The Washington Post hitting on similar themes. Comey "is a man of integrity and honor. I respect him," Holder wrote, but "he has committed a serious error with potentially severe implications."

"Comey is an outstanding law-enforcement officer," former Justice Department press secretary Matthew Miller told The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, "but he mistakenly thinks that the rules don't apply to him." Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in a letter accusing Comey not just of taking "partisan actions" to harm Clinton's candidacy but breaking the law to do so, also made sure to note that he, Reid, had "led the fight to get you confirmed because I believed you to be a principled public servant."

It wasn't just politicians and Democratic officials lining up to sigh, "et tu, Comey?"

"The sending of the letter by the director I personally find inconceivable — inconceivable," Libertarian vice presidential candidate William Weld, a former Republican governor and Justice Department official with much to gain if Clinton slumps in the polls, said Sunday on Fox News. "And it's particularly surprising since Jim Comey has always had, long had a good to very good reputation in the Department of Justice.... With deepest deference, and I'm a big admirer of his, but I think he looked out for himself and he didn't look out for the rest of us."

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said Comey's letter "was unsolicited and, quite honestly, surprising." Even former Rep. Joe "I'm grabbing my musket" Walsh thought Comey was in the wrong.

It's easier for Donald Trump supporters like Walsh to criticize Comey for inserting himself in the election at the 11th hour with questionable rationale — it doesn't look self-serving — but Clinton and her allies have a tougher calculus. Comey is only three years into a 10-year term, and although he went against the advice of his boss, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and apparently violated Justice Department rules, "the institutional power of the FBI director, Comey's personality, and the political realities" kept Lynch and other Justice Department officials from ordering Comey to hold off, The Washington Post reports.

Part of what makes Comey untouchable is his reputation for integrity — just like Brutus was well known to be honorable. The reason Mark Antony kept mentioning Brutus' honor was to defuse it and turn it against him. Once he stripped Brutus of that, the honorable senator was done in Rome, forced to flee, and later take his own life after his battle for the Roman republic ended in defeat. Brutus was honorable, but he committed the terrible act of assassinating his friend (Dante put him in the lowest circle of hell for this). Comey has unquestionable integrity, but he is playing with electoral fire and the reputation of the Justice Department.

You could imagine Lynch, or whoever's the next attorney general, or perhaps President Hillary Clinton speaking at Comey's early retirement party in 2017. "This was the noblest American of them all," she would say, modifying Shakespeare's other Mark Antony eulogy appropriately:

All the conspirators save only he,
Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
He only, in a general honest thought
And common good to all, made one of them.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world "This was a man!" [Shakespeare, Julius Caesar]

Donald Trump, if he wins, would probably just call Comey a loser and tell him, "You're fired!"