Julius Caesar

One of the most important themes of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is the question of what qualities make up a good leader. This guide provides a brief overview of the play, followed by teaching ideas to be used before, during, and after reading.
Grades:
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10 |
11 |
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Updated on: December 14, 2004
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BEFORE READING THE PLAY

Before the actual reading of the play, it is helpful to make the students aware of the many issues explored in this drama. The following activities are designed to encourage students to think about key issues so that they will be actively involved in their reading. These activities can be done by the class as a whole, by small groups, or as individual assignments.

Theme

1. The qualities of a good leader is one of the play's important themes. To explore this theme, students can do one or more of the following:

• Discuss the qualities possessed by a good leader. Generate a list of these qualities and choose a leader (from the student body, history, or the contemporary world) who exhibits several of them. Write a short essay on that leader based on the list of qualities generated. The essay should include both qualities the leader possesses as well as those he or she lacks.

• Bring in articles from current newspapers or magazines focusing on current leaders. Discuss the leaders' strengths and weaknesses as identified in the articles. Decide whether or not the strengths and/or weaknesses are legitimate and relevant, or if they reflect bias on the part of the journalists.

• Make a list of the leadership qualities that the class feels are legitimate, and then make a list of the qualities that they feel are a result of the journalists' bias. Compare and contrast the two lists and compile one list of leadership qualities that the class feels a good leader should have. Prioritize the list.

• Examine the effect a leader's domestic relationships, physical condition, and/or athletic ability may have on his or her leadership abilities. Begin with a class discussion of these issues, and then have students research historical and current leaders who dealt with questions about their leadership abilities because of one or more of these issues. (e.g. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, Teddy Roosevelt, Bob Dole, etc.)

2. Friendship is another major theme in the play. Explore this theme by answering the following questions:

• How far would you go to stop a friend from harming your country?

• How far would you go to obtain revenge on someone or some group who destroyed your best friend?

• Is there anything for which you would betray a friend?

• Which is more important to you, friendship or personal principles? Why?

3. One of the most sensitive issues in the play is suicide. The following activity will help prepare students for this issue:

• Research attitudes toward suicide held by the following cultures: ancient Roman, modern Japanese, and modern American. Compare and contrast these attitudes in class presentations or in written essays.

4. The role of fate and superstition is another theme. The following questions help focus attention on this issue:

• To what extent can we control the future?

• How superstitious are you? Do you have any good luck rituals that you perform before important occasions?

• Do you watch for omens before important events?

• Do you read your horoscope every day, and do you follow its advice?

WHILE READING THE PLAY

1. Consider the question: Are the conspirators justified in killing Caesar? Divide the class into two groups. Individuals in each group will keep journals during the course of their reading.

• Group one will look for evidence supporting the conspirators' actions. For example:

Caesar's physical limitations (I ii 95-131)
Why should Caesar be king? (I.ii. 135-141)
The fate of Marullus and Flavius (I.ii. 281-287)
Brutus's reasons for killing Caesar (I.i. 10-34)

Group two will look for evidence refuting the conspirators' actions. For example:

Caesar refuses the crown (I. ii. 220-246)
Caesar's will (III.ii. 240-244 and 249-254)

• At the end of Caesar's speech (III. i. 58-73), have students vote to decide if he should be assassinated. Have them defend their votes in a short essay.

2. Consider the question: What are the qualities of a good leader? Divide the class into two groups. Individuals in each group will keep journals during the course of their reading. Group one will look for evidence documenting the leadership qualities displayed by Caesar and the weaknesses of Brutus as a leader. For example:

• Caesar's strengths as a leader:

An able general (I.i. 32-24)
A shrewd judge of people (I.ii. 192-195 and 198-210)

• Brutus's weaknesses as a leader:

Not a shrewd judge of people (I.ii. 307-322)
Rigid ethics (IV.iii. 65-83)

Group two will look for evidence documenting the leadership qualities displayed by Brutus and the weaknesses of Caesar as a leader. For example:

• Brutus's strengths as a leader:

Puts the good of the country ahead of his own feelings (II.i. 10-34)
Inspires loyalty (V.v. 68-75)

• Caesar's weaknesses as a leader:

Susceptible to flattery (II. ii. 83-90)
Excessive pride (III. i. 59-73)

3. Language plays an important part in the play. Characters use language to twist meaning to achieve their own ends. Shakespeare uses varieties of language to develop individual characters.

The following activities help students appreciate the use of language in the play:

• Have two students who are good readers read the following selections of the play out loud to the class. In small groups or individually, analyze the selections, focusing on the speaking style of each character:

• Brutus's and Antony's funeral speeches. Why is Antony's speech more effective? (Brutus's straightforward appeal to logic and reason versus Antony's appeal to emotion through the use of irony, sarcasm, reiteration, and figurative language, creating images in the listeners' minds.) (III. Ii 12-48 and 75-254)

Compare each character's speaking style to that of modern speakers such as Jesse Jackson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bill Clinton, etc.

• The exchange between Marullus and Flavius and the Commoners. What are the differences in their language? (The tribunes' formal speaking styles versus the Commoners' use of prose and humor.) (I i. 178)

• Casca's nature as revealed through his speech. What does Casca's speech tell us about his nature? (Casca's blunt, colorless, no nonsense prose.) (I. ii. 234-294)

Note: There are many audio performances of the play that could be substituted for the student readers.

• In small groups rewrite a scene from the play into a modern dialect (i.e. valley girl, southern, New England, rural, inner city, etc.) and act out the scene for the class.

Detailed Study Questions

The following questions can be used in a variety of ways. Assigned to each student or to small groups, the questions can be used as formal study guides, class discussion starters, writing assignments, a review for a test, etc.

They are especially useful for helping medium and low-performing students follow the plot.

Act I, scene i.

1. How does Shakespeare make the common people appear to be less than noble?

2. What are the people doing that angers Marullus and Flavius? Why does this anger them?

3. What actions do Marullus and Flavius take to correct the situation?

Act I, scene ii.

4. Why does Caesar want Calphurnia to stand in Antony's path during the race in honor of the feast of Lupercal?

5. What is Antony's response to Caesar's instructions? What does this suggest about their relationship?

6. What is Caesar's reaction to the soothsayer's warning?

7. What complaint does Cassius make about Brutus's behavior towards him? How does Brutus answer this complaint?

8. Cassius's story attacks what aspect of Caesar's makeup? What is this attack supposed to say to Brutus?

9. What does Cassius mean by the following statement? " 'Brutus' will start a spirit as soon as 'Caesar.' "(147)

10. How does Brutus respond to Cassius's attack on Caesar?

11. What astute observation does Caesar make of Cassius?

12. What faults does Caesar see in Cassius's nature?

13.What does Caesar mean by the following statement? "I rather tell thee what is to be feared/Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar." (211-12)

14. What does this statement show about Caesar's nature?

15. What story does Casca relate to Brutus and Cassius? What does Casca tell us by the personal remarks he adds to the story?

16. How did the people react to Caesar's fit? What does this tell us about their feelings for Caesar?

17. What information does Casca give about Marullus and Flavius?

18. At the end of the scene, what plans does Cassius make to sway Brutus to his cause?

Act I, scene iii.

19. What wonderous things has Casca seen on this night?

20. What reason does Cassius give for the terrible storm?

21. What important news does Casca give Cassius about the Senate's plan?

22. What does Casius mean by the following statement? "He were no lion, were not Romans hinds."(106)

23. What instructions does Cassius give Cinna that will help sway Brutus to their cause?

24. What reason does Casca give for wanting Brutus to join their cause?

Act II, scene i.

25. What question is Brutus pondering at the opening of the scene?

26. For what information does Brutus want Lucius to look at a calendar? What is the significance of what Lucius finds?

27. Why do the conspirators want Cicero to join them?

28. Why does Brutus reject Cicero? What is Cassius's reaction and what does this show about his and Brutus's relationship?

29. What do the conspirators plan to do the next day?

30. How does Decius say he will make sure that Caesar will come to the Capitol?

31. What has Portia done to show Brutus that she is worthy of knowing his secrets?

Act II, scene ii.

32. What strange and horrible things does Calphurnia report to Caesar that have been seen that night?

33. What does Calphurnia mean by the following statement?

"When beggars die, there are no comets seen;/The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes."(30-31)

34. How does Decius convince Caesar to go to the Capitol?

Act II, scene iii.

35. What is Artemidorus's plan?

Act II, scene iv.

36. Why is Portia so nervous and upset? On what errand does she send Lucius?

Act III, scene i.

37. In regard to Artemidorus's request, how does Caesar's nobility doom him?

38. What is Metellus Cimber's petition to Caesar? What is Caesar's response and why does he give this response?

39. What does Brutus instruct the conspirators to do before they go before the public? Why does he instruct them to do this?

40. What request does Antony's servant bring to Brutus? What is Brutus's response?

41. Why does Cassius object to letting Antony speak at Caesar's funeral? What reassurance does Brutus give him?

42. What promise does Antony give Brutus about his funeral speech?

43. After being left alone with Caesar's body, what does Antony promise to do?

Act III, scene ii.

44. What reason does Brutus give for murdering Caesar? What is the crowd's reaction?

45. What final mistake does Brutus make in letting Antony speak?

46. Why does Antony read Caesar's will to the people?

47. At the end of the scene, what are the fates of Brutus and Cassius?

Act III, scene iii.

48. What is the significance of this scene?

Act IV, scene i.

49. What are Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus doing at the opening of the scene?

50. Why do they want Caesar's will? What is ironic about this?

51. What is Antony's plan for Lepidus? What is his reason?

Act IV, scene ii.

52. What does Brutus tell Lucilius about dying love?

53. What practical instructions does Brutus give Cassius about their disagreement? What is unusual about this?

Act IV, scene iii.

54. What wrong does Cassius say Brutus has done him?

55. In response, what does Brutus condemn Cassius for doing?

56. What does Cassius threaten to do if Brutus continues to "urge" him?

57. According to Brutus, how has Cassius wronged him? What is ironic about Brutus's accusation?

58. To prove that he has been wronged, what does Cassius tell Brutus to do to him?

59. What is the real reason for Brutus's ill temper? Give all of the details.

60. Messala brings what ill news of the triumvirate's actions in Rome?

61. What reasons does Cassius give for not going directly to Philippi?

62. What reasons does Brutus give for going directly to Philippi? Who prevails?

63. What happens to make Brutus speed up his plans to go to Philippi?

Act V, scene i.

64. What hope of Octavius and Antony is answered? What does this say about Brutus?

65. What does Cassius mean by the following statement?

"Flatterers! Now, Brutus, thank yourself;/This tongue had not offended so today,/If Cassius might have ruled."(45-47)

66. What ominous sign has Cassius seen that causes him to fear the coming battle?

67. What does Brutus say he will do if they lose the battle? Why is he reluctant to do this?

Act V, scene iii.

68. What horrible mistake does Cassius make? What is the outcome of this mistake?

69. What is Titinius's reaction to Cassius's actions?

70. What is Brutus's response to Cassius's and Titinius's actions?

Act V, scene iv.

71. What role does Lucilius take upon himself? What was Antony's response to his masquerade?

Act V, scene v.

72. What request does Brutus make of Clitus? What is his response?

73. What does Brutus ask Volumnius to do? What reasons does he give? What is Volumnius's response?

74. What does Strato do for Brutus? What does Strato ask Brutus to do first? Why?

75. What overture of peace does Octavius make to Brutus's men?

76. How do Antony and Octavius honor Brutus?

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