A seven-page, fill-in-the-blank handout in which your students will examine whether Julius Caesar or one of his assassins Marcus Brutus is the hero of Shakespeare’s play? Or, alternately, did Shakespeare so complexly craft the tragedy that both or neither can be considered its hero? In the handout “hero” is defined as a protagonist who not only propels the action of the play but also is its moral center.
Your students will analyze the flaws and virtues of each man as well as their stage presence. For instance, Caesar speaks only 130 lines in a play of 2,730 lines. However, he is by far its most “spoken about” character. Yet his assassination occurs halfway through the drama, removing him as a character, while Brutus is present throughout. In fact, the tragedy thematically and dramatically ends with the suicide of Brutus, but even irony is there: He dies uttering Caesar’s name, thus giving his dead nemesis the last word.
Such ambiguity piles on ambiguity in “Julius Caesar.” My handout, I hope, will help your students understand the complexity and nuances of not only the political world of ancient Rome, but of today. (Shakespeare meant his political dramas to teach his Elizabethan audience a civics lesson.)
For example, is Brutus’s justification of the assassination of Caesar sincere, or is it merely political doublespeak? And has the seemingly aloof Brutus, in reality perhaps as engrained a politician as some in contemporary America, become so insensitive that he does not even know whether he is being heartfelt or duplicitous?
Your students, who may be “turned off” by the simplistic insult of “Headline News,” will likely relish an in-depth study of this most political of Shakespeare’s dramas.
I have provided an Answer Key to the student handout, beginning it on a separate page. Again not as part of the student handout, I have appended three pages of notes on two topics: (1) the historical background of “Julius Caesar” and (2) analyses of its minor characters (Antony, Cassius, and the two wives, Caesar’s Calpurnia and Brutus’s Portia). Select which information, if any, from these notes for incorporation into your classroom activities on “Julius Caesar.”
The student handout is suitable for a homework assignment or as an in-class activity.
Prepared by Professor William Tarvin, Ph.D., who has published many articles on literature in scholarly journals.