Act 1, Scene 1 1. Read through Caesar’s Commentaries, an account of his battles in Europe and write a brief history of Caesar’s rise to power.
2. Research the first triumvirate—Caesar, Crassus and Pompey. What happened to it? What were the causes and the results of the Roman Civil War?
3. The tribunes Flavius and Marullus are concerned about Caesar’s rise to power. Research the role of the tribunes in Roman society and discuss their duties and responsibilities.
Act I, Scene 2 1. Read Plutarch’s The Life of Caesar and compare his account of the historical events with the events as they are depicted in Shakespeare’s play.
2. History has been touched by political assassinations from Abraham Lincoln to Martin Luther King, Jr. Very often the profile of the assassin is that of a loner, a misfit, who has no friends and does not conform to the norms of society. Choose one political assassination and research the life and personality of the person responsible. Compare him to the picture Shakespeare presents of Cassius in the play.
Act I, Scene 3 1. Superstition is an important part of the play and a significant factor in Roman life. Examine the superstition and the supernatural events described in this scene. Research Roman mythology and Roman superstitions. What did the Romans believe and what were they afraid of?
2. Compare the character of Casca as he is depicted in Scenes 1 and 2. How has he changed? What does the audience learn from him and why is he an important character in the play?
Act II, Scene 1 1. Read Plutarch’s Life of Brutus and compare the historical account of Brutus to the character in Shakespeare’s play.
2. A “tragic flaw” is a weakness of personality in a character that makes the character vulnerable, and leads to his destruction. What were Caesar’s and Brutus’ “tragic flaws” and how do these flaws make them vulnerable?
Act II, Scene 2 1. Compare Caesar in Act I, Scene 2 to the Caesar that appears in this scene. How is he the same? How is he different? What does he fear and what are the forces that influence him?
2. Wives play a key role in Act II, Scenes 1 and 2. How do the wives of Brutus and Caesar try to influence their husbands? Are they successful?
Act II, Scenes 3 and 4 1. Rome was a republic that depended on slavery similar to the United States until the 1860s. Research the history of slavery in Rome. Where did the slaves come from? What roles did they play in the Republic? What was a slave’s life like? What rights and responsibilities did they have? What were the rights and responsibilities of Roman citizens?
2. Compare the characters of Calphurnia and Portia in terms of how they are portrayed by Shakespeare in this act. How are the two women similar? Compare the two scenes involving these two wives and their husbands. What purpose do the scenes serve?
Act III, Scene 1 1. A soliloquy is an important device to expose information and give the reader insight into a character. In a soliloquy, the character speaks the truth. Read Antony’s soliloquy in this scene again. What truth does it reveal about Antony who has just apparently reconciled with the men who killed his friend, Caesar?
2. How does Caesar’s “tragic flaw” of pride and ambition enable the events in this scene to occur? How could these events have been prevented?
Act III, Scenes 2 and 3 1. Compare the funeral speeches of Brutus and Antony. What are their purposes?...
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How effective is each speech? How does each speech reveal important aspects of both characters?
2. The fickleness of the crowd is an important issue in the play. Brutus and Antony both depend on it. How are they able to manipulate the crowd in this scene? What other devices do they use in their funeral speeches to win the support of the crowd? Which speech is more effective and why? Give reasons for your opinions.
Act IV, Scene 1 1. What does this scene reveal about Octavius? What new insight does it give into Antony’s character, and how does that effect your opinion of him?
2. Antony and Octavius will become the focus of attention for the remainder of the play and Shakespeare will write about them again in Antony and Cleopatra. Little is said or known of Lepidus. Research the life of Lepidus. What is his background? Where did he come from, and what happened to him after the civil war with Brutus and Cassius?
Act IV, Scenes 2 and 3 1. Critics have said that Caesar has a stronger influence on the events, the outcome, and the characters in the play after his death than he did when he was living. Explain why you agree or disagree with this, and give reasons to support your opinions.
2. The critic G. Wilson Knight has described the importance of sleep in Julius Caesar. Sleep is mentioned by Brutus in his soliloquy in the first scene of Act II. It is brought up by Portia, and Calphurnia’s dream is very significant. Discuss the sleep imagery in the play and show how it is important.
Act V, Scene 1 1. In literature the climax is defined as the highest point of action in a story, where the conflict is resolved. The battle between Cassius and Brutus and Antony and Octavius would seem to be the climax of the play, but this confrontation never takes place. When do you think the climax of the play occurs? Give reasons for your opinions.
2. Write a character sketch of Brutus, Cassius, Antony, Octavius and Caesar based on their actions, what they say, and what others say about them. What are their strong points and their weaknesses? Which character is the most interesting in your opinion and why?
Act V, Scenes 2 and 3 1. Caesar considered Cassius a threat, a dangerous man who thought too much. Brutus called his brother-in-law “the last of all the Romans.” Research the life of Cassius. Whose evaluation of Cassius is closer to the truth? Who is the real Cassius?
2. Who do you think makes a better leader, a pragmatist (a practical, political person like Cassius) or an idealist (a man of principle such as Brutus)? Can a leader ever be both? Support your conclusions with specific references to the events of the play.
Act V, Scenes 4 and 5 1. Some critics contend the play should have been titled Marcus Brutus instead of Julius Caesar because he is the real tragic hero of the play. Discuss this idea in a short essay and give your reasons why you agree or disagree.
2. Caesar and Brutus had a great deal in common. Both men were misled and manipulated by their friends. Show how this is true in terms of what happens to each of them in the course of the play.
3. According to some critics, Julius Caesar is misinterpreted by modern audiences who are concerned with democracy and freedom. According to these critics, Shakespeare had a different view of things. He lived under a monarch in a time of peace and prosperity, after a series of bloody civil wars. To Shakespeare, Brutus was a villain in this play and not a hero. He murdered a popular ruler and destroyed the social order. Do you agree or disagree with this interpretation of the play? Provide evidence from the play to support your opinions.