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Julius Caesar

William Shakespeare

Theme: The Breakdown of Authority
Grades: Grades 11-12

This play concerns events before and after the assasination of the Roman ruler Julius Caesar. The central character, the Roman general Brutus, reluctantly goes along with the plot to kill his friend Caesar, who has been ruling as a dictator. At Caesar's funeral, another general, Marc Antony, incites a mob to avenge Caesar's death. A civil war erupts, with the killers of Caesar leading one army and Antony leading the other. The play contains some of Shakespeare's most majestic and eloquent writing, while posing important questions about choosing between loyalty to a cause and loyalty to personal principles.

  1. Brainstorming List.
    Have students list power-hungry characters from popular fiction, films, television, and comic books. Based on the list, students can form generalizations about the characters' personalities.
  1. Role-Playing.
    Have students discuss or role-play one of the situations that follow: (1) A friend is trying to persuade you to do something that is both dangerous and illegal—to drive without a license. Your friend says he has to take care of an emergency, and this person knows you can drive, even though you are not allowed to do so legally. What will you do? What will you tell your friend? (2) A good friend of yours has been elected president of the student council. Soon, you notice that he or she is abusing the position by claiming privileges and using it to further his or her social life. How would you deal with this situation?
  1. You Dirty, Rotten...
    Tell students that they have been hired to do public relations for either Brutus and Cassius, or Antony and Octavius. Tell students to conduct a "negative" ad campaign criticizing their opponents. Small groups of students can create radio spots that advertise their point of view and exaggerate their opponents' flaws. Encourage students to work together on writing the scripts for their radio spots. Have the groups rehearse their negative ads before presenting them to the class.

  1. Press Conference.
    Have a group of students stage a press conference that takes place shortly after Caesar's death. The "reporters" should have their questions written down ahead of time to ask the students who play the roles of Brutus, Antony, and Cassius. These questons should focus on the key events in the play, as well as the characters' intentions.
  1. The Triumvirate.
    The triumvirate of Antony, Octavius, and Lepidus, portrayed in Act Four of Julius Caesar, was a very important group in Roman history. Have students write a research paper about the triumvirate, focusing on what they did and the lasting effect they had on Rome.

  2. After Caesar...
    The Roman emperors who followed Julius Caesar were as different in abilities and personalities as the main characters in the play. Have students choose one of Caesar's prominent successors—Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, or another. Instruct them to research this emperor and then write a comparison between this ruler and Caesar.