The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare
Julius Caesar opens in 44 b.c. with Caesar, a general and ruler of the Roman Republic, celebrating a great military victory. The citizens are impressed by his success in battle and supportive of his power as dictator of Rome. Many Roman leaders, however, are troubled by his growing ambition and power, and although Caesar thinks them loyal to him, they begin to plot his assassination. Brutus, Cassius, and the conspirators eventually murder Caesar on the Senate floor. Mark Antony, who remains devoted to Caesar, vows to seek revenge for the slain leader and eventually defeats the conspirators' armies, prompting both Cassius and Brutus to commit suicide at the battle of Philippi.
This story addresses
- homicide and suicide,
- rage and riot,
To encourage students to
- understand and deal appropriately with jealousy,
- recognize and analyze the insidious nature of conspiracy,
- evaluate relationships cautiously,
- identify and assuage the effects of rage,
- discourage others from and refuse to participate in rioting,
- pursue redress of grievance instead of revenge,
- appreciate the effects of homicide and suicide on survivors,
- seek appropriate levels of guidance in times of stress.
Oral Reading with Written Response
Assign roles and ask students to interpret the drama. Pause to identify and discuss the issues as they arise. Focus on the waxing tendencies of jealousy and conspiracy. Ask students to identify alternative behaviors that may have mitigated the ensuing consequences. Note: If time does not permit a complete interpretation, most of the key issues can be found in Acts III and IV.
Use the following questions as springboards to solutions:
- Why are the conspirators jealous of Caesar? Why do they couch their jealousy in concern for Rome? How does the jealousy fester into a plot of murder? Is physical violence ever a viable reaction to jealousy? Explain.
- How is Brutus won over to the conspiracy? What does this imply about his friendship towards Caesar? How do you choose friends and maintain friendships? Have you ever been betrayed by a friend? How did you react? Was the reaction appropriate to the situation? Explain.
- Antony vows revenge. How does revenge differ from redress of grievance? If you participate in revenge, are your actions any more justified than those of the initial wrong doer? Explain.
- Antony's remarks stir the public to riot. Is this his intent? Explain. What does the murder of Cinna the poet tell you about the rationality of mob behavior? Have you ever gone along with the crowd even when you knew you shouldn't? Explain. What should you do when it appears a crowd is getting out of hand?
- All this rage is driven by the murder of one person. What does this tell you about the lasting effects of homicide? How should one appropriately deal with the death of a loved one? Had the characters dealt with Caesar's murder appropriately, what further violence would have been avoided?
- Shakespeare romanticizes the suicides in the drama. What is inherently wrong with viewing suicide romantically? What effects does suicide have on others? Depression and hopelessness are frequent precursors of suicide. What actions should be taken by or for despondent individuals?
- Friends and loved ones of despondent people often feel remorse. Why? What can be done to lessen the guilt they feel?
- What groups or organizations exist in your community to help address the issues raised in this drama? How can they be contacted?
Ask students to identify common events that lead to disputes in school. For each event, instruct students to brainstorm solutions that avoid violence. Have students role play several events in which the dispute is solved appropriately.
Have students identify the various crimes in the drama. Instruct them to research current laws applying to each crime. Try the characters in a mock trial that applies current law. Focus attention on the consequences of violence.
Have student pairs rewrite the scene where the men decide to go fishing. Have one character convince the other it is a poor decision after much debate. Instruct students to play out their scene for the class.
- inciting a riot,
- assisting suicide.
Real World Connection
Ask student groups to research specific historic riots. Have each group prepare a multimedia report that:
- explains the instigating events,
- sets the events in social context,
- identifies the participants,
- illustrates the severity of the damage caused,
- expounds on the ensuing legal cases,
- reveals insight into the lessons learned by the event,
- suggests measures to prevent future similar events.