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:
9 |
10 |
11 |
Updated on: December 14, 2004
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AFTER READING THE PLAY

Questions for Deeper Understanding

The following questions can be used as reading journal topics, essay topics, the basis for oral reports, class discussion starters, and so forth.

Plot

1. Scenes iii. and iv. in Act II are very short. Why did Shakespeare include them? What is their function in the play?

Characterization

2. Do you agree with Caesar when he says that Cassius thinks too much? Defend your answer.

3. Why does Brutus not want the conspirators to swear an oath of allegiance? What does this say about him?

4. How does Caesar's response to Calphurnia's fears add credence to Brutus's and Cassius's fears about Caesar?

5. What is the significance of Caesar's "north star" speech at the Capitol? How does this speech make you feel about Caesar? The conspirators?

6. What is ironic about the third plebeian's cry of "Let him be Caesar."? (III. Ii 52)

7. How does Shakespeare portray the common man in the play? How does this portrayal make you feel about the actions of the conspirators?

8. How does Shakespeare portray the noblemen in the play? How does this portrayal make you feel about them? Why?

9. In every disagreement between the two, Brutus never gives in to Cassius; he must always have his way. What does this say about Brutus? Why does Cassius always yield?

10. Compare Portia and Calphurnia. From your comparison, do you think Shakespeare's characterization of the two women was flattering or disparaging?

11. Outline the steps that Cassius takes to convince Brutus to join the conspiracy. Do you think Brutus would have joined had he realized how Cassius manipulated him? What does it say about Brutus that Cassius's plan was successful? What does it say about Cassius that he used such steps to attract Brutus?

12. Compare and contrast Brutus and Caesar. Are they similar or are they very different?

13. Compare and contrast Brutus's and Cassius's reasons for joining the conspiracy.

Theme

14. How does the fate of Marullus and Flavius fuel Brutus's fears about Caesar?

15. What is the purpose of the storm? What significance would it have to an Elizabethan audience?

16. Brutus is cast as a very idealistic leader in the play while Cassius is cast as being highly pragmatic. Of the two, which do you think is the better leader? Defend your answer.

17. At the end of the play, Antony refers to Brutus as "the noblest Roman of them all." Do you agree with his assessment? Was Brutus noble? Defend your answer.

18. At the play's conclusion, it is clear that Octavius will be the new ruler of Rome. What type of leader do you think he will be? Defend your answer.

19. The play is entitled Julius Caesar even though Caesar is dead by Act III. Do you think this is an appropriate title? If not, choose a more appropriate title. Defend your answer.

Additional Follow-Up Activities

In addition to dealing with these questions, students can engage in some of the following activities:

1. Using the journals kept while reading the play, conduct a trial or debate to determine the guilt of the conspirators. One group will attack the conspirators, while the other group will defend them. Employ the journals to write an essay defending their positions.

2. Using the journals as a basis, conduct an election between Caesar and Brutus. One group will act as Caesar's campaign staff while the other will serve as Brutus's. Design and present political posters, campaign speeches, video commercials, etc. to support their chosen candidate.

3. Have students vote to decide if Caesar should have been assassinated. Have students compare their votes now to the vote taken after Caesar's speech (III. i. 5873). Did they vote the same way the second time? Why or why not?

4. Write eulogies for Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and/or Portia.

5. Write a poem or rap to summarize a particular scene in the play or the play as a whole.

6. Conduct readers' theater versions of key scenes in the play. The following scenes readily lend themselves to this activity:

• The confrontation between Flavius, Marullus, and the commoners (I.i. 1-63)
• The murder of Caesar (III.i. 31-83)
• The funeral speeches of Brutus and Antony (III.ii. 12-264)
• The triumvirate making their death lists (IV. i. 151)
• The argument between Brutus and Cassius (IV.iii. 1-122)
• The death of Brutus (V.v. 15-51)
• The triumvirate's triumph (V.v. 52-81)

7. What is the relationship between a person's individual faults and his or her abilities as a leader? (pages xxiii-xxiv)

8. After reading Sylvan Barnet's "Julius Caesar on Stage and Screen" (pages 233-245), write an essay or present an oral history of the production of Julius Caesar.

9. After reading "The Source of Julius Caesar" (pages 137-182), write an essay or present an oral report that compares and contrasts Shakespeare's play with Plutarch's original version.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The Signet Classic edition of Julius Caesar has several excellent annotated bibliographies related to Shakespeare's times, his life, and his theater. Therefore, no additional references on these topics will be included here.

The Play

Baumann, Edith L. "Julius Caesar: Is it True?" Clearing House 30 (December 1955): pp. 208-10.
Beckoff, Samuel. "A Reevaluation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar." High Points 20 (October 1938): pp. 56-60.
Bramfitt, G.N. "The Tragedy of Cassius." School (Toronto) 24 (February 1936): pp. 504-6.
Chase, Rosemary. "Play is the Thing." Independent School Bulletin 331 (February 1972): pp. 55-56.
Clark, Earl John. "The Final Irony of Cassius." Wisconsin English Journal 12 (January 1970): pp. 29-30.
Kitzhaber, Albert R. "Julius Caesar. Plutarch's Lives. Autobiography." Literature Curriculum YE Student Version. (Available from EDRS: ED 010817. Teacher Version, ED 010818.)
Leeb, David. Permanent Key - Indexed Study Guide to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. New York: Research Associates Inc. of America and Bantam Books, 1966.
Sargeant, Seymour H. "Julius Caesar and the Historical Film." English Journal 61 (February 1972): pp. 230-33, 245.

Teaching the Play

Cohen, Hilda C. "A Julius Caesar Project." High Points 38 (October 1956): pp. 73-76.
Dias, Earl J. "Shakespeare or Hemingway - Or Both?" English Journal 34 (May 1945): pp. 278-80.
Evans, Bertrand. "Julius Caesar (Grade 9 or 11)." In his Teaching Shakespeare in the High School, pp. 165-77. New York: Macmillan, 1966.
Farmer, Paul. "On Reading Literature." In Perspectives on English, edited by Robert C. Pooley, pp. 196-97. New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1960.
Foster, Guy L. "Teaching Julius Caesar to Slow Learners." English Journal 49 (December 1960): pp. 632-34.
Gadlin, Barry. "Two Tragedies: Julius Caesar and Jesus Christ Superstar." Illinois English Bulletin 61 (January 1974): pp. 1014.
Gray, Cecelia E. "Listening to Julius Caesar." English Journal 36 (March 1947): pp. 15-35.
Handwerker, Bernard. "When Should Shakespeare First Be Taught in the Schools?" High Points 43 (March 1961): pp. 69-71.
Hawley, Hattie L. Teaching English in Junior High Schools: A Study of Methods and Devices. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1924.
Howes, Alan B. "Julius Caesar." In his Teaching Literature to Adolescents Pays, pp. 35-39. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman, 1968.
"Julius Caesar." Senior Scholastic, 7 April 1947, p. 20.
Katterjohn, Elsie. "Shakespeare for the Retarded." Shakespeare Newsletter 7 (December 1957): p. 45.
Kitzhaber, Albert R. "Literature Curriculum IV . . . Tests for Julius Caesar and Autobiography." (Available from EDRS; ED 015940)
Lane, Mary. "Extra! Extra!" English Journal 27 (February 1938): pp. 137-39.
Larrick, N. "Mob Scene in Julius Caesar." Virginia Teacher 17 (February 1936): pp. 33-34.
Lederer, Richard H. "Julius Caesar: An Approach to the Teaching of Drama." English Leaflet 64 no. 1 (1965): pp. 13-18.
Lillard, Kathryn B. and Fox, Doris. "Another Stab at Julius Caesar." Texas Outlook 52 (February 1968): pp. 36-37, 53.
Lisman, Helen. "Teaching Plan for Julius Caesar." English Journal 30 (April 1941): p. 316.
Malone, Thomas J. "It worked for me . . . a tape recorder for Marc Antony." Wisconsin English Journal 5 (February 1963): p. 27.
Mary Julia Anne, Sister. "Caesar is a Modern Play." Catholic School Journal 65 (May 1965): pp. 41-42.
Miller, Joy. "Methods That Work with Julius Caesar." FOCUS: Teaching English in Southeastern Ohio 2 (May 1976): pp. 13-18.
Murphy, Geraldine. "Advanced Play Reading: Shakespeare." In her The Study of Literature in High School, pp. 285-99. Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1968.
Nelson, Drucella. "Scenes from the Classroom: Julius Caesar - Junior Grade." Wisconsin English Journal 2 (April 1960): pp. 11, 14.
Riley, Roberta. "Five or Six Plays Are Better Than One; Julius Caesar Yields to Tenth Grade Drama Workshop." California English Journal 9 (1973): pp. 27-30.
Rodgers, Bertha. "Introducing Julius Caesar." English Leaflet 31 (February 1932): pp. 169-71.
Ryerson, Edward. "Julius Caesar Once Again." English Journal 47 (January 1958): pp. 17.
Spiegler, Charles G. "Julius Caesar - A Liberal Education: A Modern Approach to the Teaching of a Classic." High Points 18 (May 1936): pp. 25-34.
Stuart, Milo. "Julius Caesar Again." English Journal 32 (April 1943): pp. 216-18.

ABOUT THE GUIDE AUTHOR

James (Jim) R. Cope, Assistant Professor of English at Longwood College in Farmville, Virginia, received his B.S.Ed., M.Ed., and Ed.D. in English Education at the University of Georgia. For the last ten years he has taught English at the high school and college levels. In addition to teaching, he is involved with research focusing on the development of teachers, their interests and attitudes, and the forces that have shaped them.

ABOUT THE GUIDE EDITORS

Presently serving as Chair of the Secondary English Committee, Department of Language Education at the University of Georgia, W. Geiger (Guy) Ellis received his A.B. and M.Ed. degrees from the University of North Carolina and his Ed.D. from the University of Virginia. For over 25 years Guy has been active in teaching adolescent literature in the classroom and in training future teachers in its use, lecturing and writing extensively on the subject as well as on more traditional educational topics in the "Probes" column of English Education and other journals. He developed and edited The ALAN Review (NCTE) from 1978 to 1984, changing its focus from a newsletter to a fully referred journal with an emphasis on articles with research and instructional significance.

Currently Associate Professor of Education at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Arthea (Charlie) J. S. Reed has taught for 20 years on both the high school and college level. She received her A.B. (Bethany College) and her M.S. (Southern Connecticut State University) in English and her Ph.D. (Florida State University) in Teacher Education. In addition to teaching, Charlie has been The ALAN Review (NCTE) editor since 1984 and served as Co-Director of the Mountain Area Writing Project (a part of the National Writing Project) from 1982 to 1988. She is also the author of Reaching Adolescents: Young Adult Books and the School (Holt, 1985) and Comics to Classics: A Parent's Guide to Books for Teens and Preteens (IRA, 1988).