So you’re going to teach The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. William Shakespeare’s classic drama has been a mainstay in English classes for generations. Whether it’s the first or hundredth time you take students through the play, these teaching tips will help ensure that the experience is rewarding for everyone, including you. Teaching Julius Caesar, especially from a new perspective, will give students insight into the play’s universal themes and help them develop an understanding of Shakespeare’s artistry as a playwright and also as a poet, for numerous passages in the text are rich with poetic devices. This guide highlights the text's most salient aspects to keep in mind before you take your students into Shakespeare’s dramatic telling of the political intrigue and personal tragedy of Caesar’s assassination in Rome in 44 BCE and the events that followed.
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Facts at a Glance
- Publication Date: 1623
- Approximate Word Count: 19,700
- Author: William Shakespeare
- Country of Origin: England
- Genre: Play (Tragedy)
- Literary Period: English Renaissance, Elizabethan
- Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Society
- Setting: Rome, Sardis, and Philippi in 44 BCE
- Structure: Five-Act Stage Drama
- Mood: Dramatic, Suspenseful, Tragic
Texts That Go Well With Julius Caesar
A Tale of Two Cities, a novel by Charles Dickens, concerns events that took place in Paris and London leading up to and during the French Revolution in the late 18th century. Dickens highlights the similarities between both cities, depicting varying degrees of corruption and oppression between the ruling and working classes. The novel questions several major Enlightenment-era ideals—including technological progress and constitutional government—making it a fitting, more contemporary partner to the themes explored in Julius Caesar.
Doctor Faustus, a blank verse drama by Christopher Marlowe, develops themes of personal ambition and its dire consequences. Faustus, a polymathic scholar, makes a contract with Satan to give up his soul when he dies in exchange for knowledge and supernatural power for the rest of his earthly life. The play reflects the clash between the secular humanist philosophies of the Renaissance and the tenets of the Christian faith. A contemporary of Shakespeare, Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus in 1592.
Hamlet, like Julius Caesar, examines regicide and its disastrous aftermath. In developing Prince Hamlet’s character, Shakespeare creates a hero much like Brutus: Each is a man of principle who endures an agonizing internal conflict that can only be resolved through tragic circumstances. Also like Brutus, Hamlet is destroyed by a fatal flaw in his own character.
Macbeth also confronts regicide and its effects. When ambitious Macbeth murders the king of Scotland and claims the throne for himself, the country is thrown into turmoil, and the people suffer under his bloody reign. Macbeth’s desire for power contrasts dramatically with Brutus’s desire for the freedom of the Roman people. Yet, despite the differences in their motivations, the results of their actions are equally destructive.
“Ozymandias,” an 1819 poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, describes the shattered remains of an enormous, ancient statue of Ozymandias (the Egyptian king Ramesses II). Intended to proclaim for all eternity the might of the great Egyptian pharaoh, the statue has been obliterated by time; its scattered pieces lie in the sands of the vast, empty desert where Ozymandias’s great empire once stood. Shelley’s poem attests to the transitory nature of human life and the inevitable destruction of the mighty and their works.
Plutarch’s Lives, written in the early 2nd century CE and translated by Sir Thomas North in 1579, includes biographies of Julius Caesar, Marcus Brutus, and Marcus Antonius. Shakespeare used the book as a source in creating his characters in Julius Caesar. Reading Plutarch’s biographies illuminates how Shakespeare incorporated Roman history into the play and reveals the extent to which he exercised dramatic license in developing the plot, the characters, and their relationships.