1. Though Julius Caesar focuses on the struggles between powerful men, what role do the plebeians, or common people, play? Are they as fickle as Flavius and Murellus claim in the opening scene? How important is their support to the successes of the various military leaders and the outcome of the play? The play depicts Rome at a time of transition between republic and empire—a time in which, theoretically, the Roman people are losing their power. What role do the people themselves play in this transition?
2. Consider Brutus’s actions. Is he right to join the conspiracy against Caesar? What are his reasons? Does he choose to join the conspiracy, or is he tricked by Cassius? How do Cassius’s motivations compare to Brutus’s? Are they more noble or less noble?
3. Julius Caesar, a play about statehood and leadership, is one of the most quoted of Shakespeare’s plays in modern-day political speeches. Why do you think this play about conspiracy and assassination might appeal to politicians today? Also, discuss how this play might have been a reflection on Elizabethan politics, keeping in mind that Queen Elizabeth, like Caesar, was an aging, heirless leader.
4. Discuss friendship in the play. Consider Caesar and Brutus, Caesar and Antony, Brutus and Cassius, Antony and Octavius, or any other pairings. Are these true friendships or merely political alliances forged for the sake of convenience and self-preservation? How do they compare with the heterosexual relationships in the play—the relations between husbands and wives? Are they more profound or less profound, more revealing or less revealing of their participants’ characters?
5. Who is the protagonist in this play? Is it Caesar, who dies well before the end but whose power and name continue on? Or is it Brutus, the noble man who falls because of his tragic flaws?
6. Consider theatricality in this play. Think particularly of the scene of Caesar’s murder (and Cassius’s reference to future productions of the scene), the speeches in the Forum (particularly Antony’s), and the speeches given over the dead conspirators. How do acting and rhetoric affect the events of the play? How do they interact with politics? Does the play reference its own political power as a theatrical production?
7. Discuss inflexibility in this play, focusing on Caesar and Brutus. How is each man inflexible? Is this rigidity an admirable trait or a flaw? Do the rewards of this rigidity outweigh the consequences, or vice versa?
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Julius Caesar (No Fear Shakespeare Series)
Julius Caesar (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series)
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...
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