Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Julius Caesar eNotes Lesson Plan content

Introductory Lecture

Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare’s best-known tragedies, is based on the assassination of Julius Caesar, the historical event occurring on the ides of March (March 15) in 44 BCE. While the plot of the play centers on the assassination and its aftermath, the story focuses on Brutus, a Roman senator and Caesar’s friend who joins the conspiracy to kill Caesar only after much deliberation. Brutus’s feelings about murdering Caesar serve as the central conflict in the play; a man of honor, Brutus weighs his love of freedom and of Rome itself against his personal loyalty to a friend. In Shakespeare’s drama, Brutus ultimately is manipulated into joining the conspiracy and participates in stabbing Caesar to death on the floor of the Roman Senate. Julius Caesar, however, does not end with the assassination. In the wake of Caesar’s shocking and brutal murder, events unfold quickly in Rome, and later on the plains of Greece, as leaders and armies fight for political power and Brutus faces the tragic consequences of his actions.

Likely written in 1599 to open the new Globe Theatre, Julius Caesar reflects a political concern of the time: Queen Elizabeth I was an aging monarch with no heir to the throne. Shakespeare’s play about a leader who died without an heir and whose death prompted a civil war reflects the concern in England that civil war would break out when Queen Elizabeth died without a direct successor. Moreover, since Shakespeare staged his productions at the pleasure of the Queen, his plays’ political themes are far from controversial in the context of his era, and this, too is reflected in Julius Caesar. As Caesar’s assassination results directly in political turmoil, suffering, and bloodshed, the play can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about the perils of usurping political power, a theme sure to have been embraced by an English sovereign.

Julius Caesar is drama, not history, but specific events in Roman history serve as antecedent action in the play, and Shakespeare alludes to some of them in establishing his characters’ motivations for assassinating Caesar. Under Julius Caesar, Roman armies conquered much of France and Belgium and crossed the English Channel to lay claim to Britain, as well. Called home, Caesar famously crossed the Rubicon River in Italy with his army, despite the fact that to come this close to Rome with an army was illegal. Caesar knew his action would lead to civil war, with the Roman Senate, and more importantly, with the great Roman general Pompey allied against him. Caesar defeated Pompey’s forces, assumed control of Roman affairs, and was named dictator, an appointment made in times of emergency. The title and the political power conferred with it were meant to be temporary, but Caesar’s ambitions to retain both became increasingly clear. In 44 BCE, Caesar was appointed dictator for life. This alienated many senators, some of whom, led by Cassius and Brutus—both in life and in the play—killed Caesar soon after, on the ides of March that same year. In Julius Caesar, various references to Pompey’s fall and to Caesar’s having “grown so great” are allusions to actual events.

Because Brutus is both Caesar’s friend and colleague, the play develops themes of friendship vs. civic duty, public vs. private identity, and loyalty vs. betrayal. The meaning of honor is explored as Brutus struggles to define it in his own character and to determine its role in making the critical decision that will profoundly affect the future freedom of Rome and his countrymen. Political intrigue, scheming, and rhetorical speech (the art of persuasion) dominate the drama, too, and are as relevant to politics today as they were in both Caesar’s and Shakespeare’s time. In its characters, deeply human and often flawed, and in its conflicts and themes, Julius Caesar continues to appeal to a universal audience.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

1. Explain the definitions of antagonist and protagonist and discuss Shakespeare’s development of these roles in Julius Caesar.

2. Identify the primary conflicts and themes in Julius Caesar.

3. Identify symbols found in Julius Caesar and discuss their interpretations.

4. Explain notions of democracy vs. tyranny and allegiance vs. rivalry and duplicity and describe how these are developed thematically in the play.

5. Identify and understand the various allusions to death and violence throughout Julius Caesar.

6. Identify and discuss examples of fate, fortune, and the supernatural in the play.

7. Identify examples of motifs found in Julius Caesar and discuss their significance.

8. Identify and discuss the literary devices and language techniques employed by Shakespeare.

9. Determine what makes Julius Caesar a timeless and popular work and relate events in the play to contemporary world events.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

• The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.

• Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.

• Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.

• Study Guide vocabulary...

(The entire section is 1329 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Brutus joins the conspirators in the assassination of Julius Caesar because he believes that “power corrupts.” Do you think that Brutus’s motives are valid and that power does, indeed, corrupt a person regardless of their initial intentions? Please provide examples for your argument.

2. Blood is a symbol of destruction and excess throughout the play. Cite several examples of its representation in the play, and discuss why the symbolism is effective.

3. If you were to cast a movie of Julius Caesar, whom would you choose to play key characters? What attributes would you expect each actor to convey in his or her role?

4. Compare and...

(The entire section is 688 words.)

Act One, Scenes One and Two


accout’red (accoutered): outfitted and equipped

Aeneas: Roman mythology a Trojan hero

aught: archaic anything

awl: a small tool used for making holes, especially in leather; in context, a pun, meaning “all”

bade: archaic told, ordered

barren: sterile, fruitless

chafing: rubbing against and causing irritation

chanced: to do something by accident, without design

cogitations: considerations, meditations

countenance: noun the face

dost: archaic does

doublet: archaic a shirt

durst: archaic past tense of dare


(The entire section is 1031 words.)

Act One, Scene Three


alchemy: a medieval forerunner of chemistry focused on the transmutation of base metals into gold and discovering a path to immortality

bestow: to confer or present (such as an honor)

conjointly: in the manner of being combined or united

factious: relating or inclined to a state of internal dissention

gait: a manner of walking

ghastly: hideous, horrible

infused: instilled

menace: a threat, a danger

offal: waste parts; refuse, rubbish

perilous: dangerous

portentous: ominous, foreboding

prodigies: persons endowed with extraordinary qualities

prodigious: abnormal (in context)

redress: remedy or compensation...

(The entire section is 685 words.)

Act Two, Scene One


affability: friendliness

appertain: to relate to, to concern

augerers: fortunetellers, soothsayers

augmented: made greater

betimes: archaic soon, early

carrions: archaic decaying flesh; decaying corpses

cautelous: cunning, sly

dank: moist, wet, and clammy

disjoins: separates

entreated: asked for something earnestly

exhalations: the sound of the crowds speaking in awe (in context)

faction: a small group part of a larger whole

hark: to listen

hew: to shape

ingrafted: pulled together from different plants, breeds

instigations: incendiary actions that arouse rebellion...

(The entire section is 1419 words.)

Act Two, Scenes Two and Three


amiss: not quite right; inappropriate or out of place

conquest: victory; subjugation of one’s enemies

emulation: imitation, simulation

expounded: explained, commented on

lest: archaic in case

liable: likely, susceptible, prone

relics: items that remain from a past era; remnants

revel: to celebrate, to take part in festivities

statua: archaic statue, image

take heed: to pay attention to

tinctures: paints, colors

whelped: given birth (used in reference to animals)

Study Questions

1. A motif in Julius Caesar is the supernatural. What signs, omens, and...

(The entire section is 753 words.)

Act Two, Scene Four and Act Three, Scene One


beseech: to ask, to beg

besmear: archaic to rub onto, to smear with

confounded: confused, surprised

cur: a mongrel dog

discourse: discussion

enfranchisement: the state of possessing certain rights and liberties

enterprise: an endeavor, an undertaking

fare you well: archaic take care, best wishes

fell deeds: archaic negative actions

firmament: the heavens, the skies

fray: a quarrel, a skirmish, a fight

leagues: units of distance approximately three miles in length

lofty: heady, high

praetors: judges in ancient Rome

pre-ordinance: a decree, a determination...

(The entire section is 1330 words.)

Act Three, Scenes Two and Three


bondman: a slave

censure: to condemn, to rebuke

clamours: shouts noisily in demand

commonwealth: part of a territory; surrounding lands

drachmas: archaic silver coins

dwell: to stay, to live

grievous: injurious, most serious

heir: one who inherits the property or position of another

interred: buried

mantle: a sleeveless cape or cloak

marr’d (marred): damaged, spoiled

parchment: paper made of goatskin

rendered: represented, depicted

testament: proof, evidence

treason: an act of rebellion against a government or a ruler

Study Questions

What themes are...

(The entire section is 853 words.)

Act Four, Scenes One, Two and Three


abject: hopeless

by and by: as things go

corporal: physical, tangible

covert: hidden

covetous: greedy, envious

crests: part of a coat of arms

fashion: a trend

gallant: courteous, brave

hither: archaic here

itching palm: archaic someone who takes bribes

legions: troops

levying: imposing a tax, fee or fine; gathering troops and waging war

niggard: stingy, miser

omitted: kept out

orts: archaic scraps, leftovers

provender: a store of hay or grain for animals

rash choler: hot temper

selfsame tenor: same voice and tone


(The entire section is 1398 words.)

Act Five, Scenes One and Two


consorted (with): associated with, spent time with

ensign: a lower military rank

Epicurus: an ancient Greek philosopher

exigent: urgent, pressing

parley: to speak together

steads: places or positions occupied by a person or thing

Study Questions

1. How does Antony explain the conspirators’ meeting him and Octavius at Philippi before the battle begins?

Octavius teases Antony because Antony did not believe that the conspirators had the courage to meet him and Octavius at Philippi, yet there they are. Antony says that it is mock courage and posturing: “With fearful bravery, thinking by this face / To fasten in our...

(The entire section is 376 words.)

Act Five, Scenes Three, Four and Five


apt: appropriate

behold: to observe

bondage: slavery

disconsolate: dejected, without hope

entrails: intestines

envenomed: filled with hate, poison

misconstrued: misunderstood

office: a place (in context)

rites: ceremonial acts or procedures

smatch: a taste, a tincture

tarrying: delaying, lingering

vessel: a container, a receptacle

Study Questions

1. Why does Pindarus kill Cassius with Cassius’s own sword?

When Pindarus was Cassius’s prisoner in Parthia, Cassius made him swear that he would do whatever Cassius said. Cassius now tells him that Pindarus should kill him and he will be...

(The entire section is 564 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. What does Brutus admit to Cassius?

A. He no longer enjoys being a senator.

B. He is unhappy at home.

C. He is afraid the people want Caesar to be king.

D. He is worried that war in Rome is imminent.

E. He is afraid that the people want Antony to reign.

2. What does the soothsayer tell Caesar as a warning?

A. “Beware the Senate.”

B. “Beware of Octavius.”

C. “Beware of a good friend.”

D. “Beware of Brutus.”

E. “Beware the ides of March.”

3. Why does Portia confront Brutus in...

(The entire section is 1242 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Consider the theme of ambivalence throughout Julius Caesar and how characters use speech and the power of the group to manipulate others.

The central conflict in Julius Caesar is Brutus’s quandary about killing his friend, Caesar, because of his loyalty to the concept of Rome as a republic. From the moment we are introduced to Brutus in Act One, Scene Two, we are introduced to themes of friendship versus duty that run throughout the play. Brutus says to Cassius:

. . . . Vexed I am

Of late with passions of some difference,

Conceptions only proper to myself,

Which give some soil perhaps to my behaviors;

But let not therefore my good friends be...

(The entire section is 3392 words.)