Tips for Teachers to Teach Julius Caesar
Politics: So little has changed in 2000 years. Look for comparisons between Caesar, Mark Antony, Brutus, and Cassius and modern political figures. Students found parallels between Caesar and Barrack Obama's appeal to the common folk. Others found Obama similar to silver-tongued Mark Antony. Some saw Caesar's health issues comparable to John McCain's. One student saw parallels between Cassius and Conservative talk radio.
Loyalty: Make Brutus' choice whether or not to kill Caesar applicable. For example, what would you do if your best friend was dealing drugs to third graders? If your brother committed rape, would you turn him in? What if you saw your favorite uncle or neighbor steal something? What if a friend won a scholarship over you because he cheated on an exam?
The Role of Fate: Was Caesar fated to die or was he too arrogant to accept someone wanted to kill him? Were Brutus and Cassius outwitted or victims of bad luck?
The Role of Women: How did the main characters treat their wives? How were women treated and how did women react when their husbands died?
Roman History: Technically the play is a tragedy. It is, however, based on historical events. While teaching Julius Caesar, a historical overview may be helpful.
Mob Mentality: One of Shakespeare's purposes was to show how easily influenced the majority of Romans were. Parallels with the influence of modern media exist.
Civil Wars: Examine civil conflicts with which students may be familiar.
Literary Analysis is an integral part of teaching Julius Caesar: address the following literary devices:
- Puns: Act I, scene 1 contains some of the greatest puns in English literature.
- Character Motivation: One of Shakespeare's purposes in writing Julius Caesar was to show insight on what motivates characters to act.
- Analyzing Cause and Effect: Analyzing what causes major events in the story helps students develop a valuable critical thinking skill.
- Figurative Language: Shakespeare is a master of metaphor, simile, personification, and other figurative devices.
- Conflict: Brutus experiences an internal conflict; the conspirators conflict with, first, Caesar, followed by Mark Antony, and ultimately the people of Rome.
- Irony: Everybody knows that Caesar is to be killed...except Caesar. Whatever Brutus says is obeyed; however, Brutus makes one bad choice after another, including allowing Mark Antony to speak at Caesar's funeral. Mark Antony's speech has been inducted into the verbal irony hall of fame.
- Imagery: Shakespeare's ability to paint pictures with words remains unparalleled.
- Suspense: Shakespeare uses foreshadowing, pacing, and dangerous action superbly.
- Foreshadowing: "Beware the Ides of March" remains one of the most famous lines in English literature.
- Tone: Analyzing the tone of Brutus' speech shows how committed the ill-fated nobleman was to the Roman Republic.
- Elements of Tragedy: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, as you would expect, follows the elements of tragedy.
Tips for Teaching
The following suggestions make the play more enjoyable:
- Read the play aloud.
- Watch the movie (Marlon Brando's speech at Caesar's funeral is a classic).
- Discuss the play with a reading challenge.
- Try fun reading and language arts activities using white boards.
- Paraphrase appropriate sections.
- For struggling readers, provide guided discussion questions.
- Preview the text. Don't be afraid to give students the answers before you read it.
- Take a field trip to Italy in your classroom by researching the history and culture of the country.
- Dress up in togas.
- Act out important scenes.