Alas, Poor Caesar, I Knew Him Well……
Wait, wrong play! But, (hopefully) you get my playful pun 😉 But, in all seriousness, if you’re looking for the best way to introduce Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar to your students, this is the post for you!
Last week I started the play Julius Caesar with my face-to-face students. However, if I know anything about my students, it’s that they don’t know their history. Maybe it’s a sad commentary on public education or maybe you just never truly get history until you’re older. Either way, I knew I’d have to build that background knowledge before they could jump into the play. Otherwise, how else will they know why the senators are conspiring against him or why the people loved Caesar so much or why Brutus‘s betrayal was the most heartbreaking?
Sadly, I know this because when I tried doing Cesar for the first time last year, my students were a little lost on these details.
Starting At The Beginning
So, this year, I poured over the history and even pulled in my history major husband and made the most detailed history lesson imaginable about Cesar. I made it even more complete with clips from HBO’s show, Rome.
We covered details of Caesars earlier life, his military campaigns, his pardoning of all the conspirators who later killed him, and much more.
I was only slightly sad when one student finally raised his hand and said, “You said this is important to remember with what happens to Cesar later, but what happens to Cesar?” I didn’t think I was gonna have to remind anyone about that bit, so SPOILERS for anyone who is not familiar with the entire history of Cesar- he does die.
All this to say, this year is going far more swimmingly than it did last year because of this!
Treating Caesar As A Film Study
A few years ago I started treating all of Shakespeare as a film study and it has been one of the best changes in my classroom! My students are far more engaged and actually get the material far better.
I started out the actual play by having them watch act one of the 1950s movie starring Marlon Brando. We then zeroed in and analyzed dialogue between Cassius and Brutus. I have my students breakdown Cassius’s persuasive techniques when speaking with Brutus in Act I Scene ii.
First they fill out the rhetorical triangle outline with details of the scene and then build an argumentative paragraph that is visually broken down for them. This method has been fantastic for my lower level learners as well as those who benefit from a more visual look (especially ESOL students).
We are entering Act II now, but my school was also just shut down because of high numbers of active COVID cases. Fingers crossed that the engagement can stay high!
Regardless, I highly recommend a heavy dose of history class before covering this Shakespearean play! If you’re not up making your own presentation, here is a link to the one I created and used! If you are need of any other Julius Caesar materials, I highly recommend MyShakespeare.com and my annotation bundle or my Acts I-III bundle that includes everything described here today and more!