ENG 10-1: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar
The play Julius Caesar clearly depicts one of the stages of political decline noted by Plato in his Republic; democracy has emerged with the triumph of the poor over their patrician oppressors with the advent of the tribunate; but democracy has in turn given way to tyranny, and to the concentration of power in one man: Caesar. Shakespeare depicts the movement of the Roman state from democracy to tyranny, as well as the corruption of "the noblest Roman of them all" by political ambition and flattery. In this unit of study, students will be expected to think deeply and reflectively about Julius Caesar, and they will be exposed to important source texts and theoretical tools that will help to broaden their understanding of the play, as well as to hone their critical thinking skills.
WORK AND ASSESSMENT
Every student will write a brief, double-spaced reflection on each of the FIVE acts of the play (no more than a page please). These reflections should not be expository or descriptive in nature (ex.: "This happened, then this, then this..."). Rather, students are expected to encounter the text deeply; they must investigate a major theme, question, idea, problem, or symbol encountered in each particular Act of the play. Every student reflection MUST end with a question about the Act. Again, no "Trivial Pursuit" questions will be accepted. The point of the questions is to engage students in a class discussion, and to use student inquiry to engage deeply in the play's meaning and significance. Students MUST keep on top of these assignments, since it is imperative that they come prepared to discuss the play each class.
Students will be exposed to selections from various pertinent authors with whom Shakespeare was intimately familiar. Student understanding of the political underpinnings of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar will be gauged through short reading comprehension assignments.
Students will watch the 1953 Marlon Brando movie version of Julius Caesar, and write a short movie review. The movie review will develop critical-analytic skills. It will take the following form:
q Students must discuss what they liked about the movie and why.
q Students must discuss what they did not like about the movie and why.
q Students must discuss whether or not the movie is "true" to the play as written by Shakespeare. Did anything get left out? Was anything added?
q Students must grade the movie on a scale of one to ten (ten being the best).
*** Students who miss assignments are expected to complete them as soon as possible. Students will not receive credit for missing assignments unless prior arrangements have been made; however, all assignments must be finished. Missed assignments are not accepted late (unless through prior arrangement) because the allure of copying other students' work is too great for many students, and plagiarized work from classmates is hard to police. Rather, students who miss assignments will receive credit for completing extra reading comprehension assignments located on the back wall of the classroom.
*** Any student who wishes to improve his or her mark in English 10-1 can complete extra reading assignments located on the back wall of my classroom, or on my homework assignments website. I use these assignments both to fill in blank/missing assignment grades, and to replace lower marks on older assignments where a student is ambitious enough to take advantage of this opportunity. Every student, through his/her own initiative, is thereby given ample opportunity to excel in English class. (NOTE: In order to avoid the "plagiarism factor" among the student populace, extra assignments are NOT handed back to students.)
Students will write a Critical Essay (four pages typed, double spaced, 1 inch margins, approx. 1000 words) in response to the play. Students have choice from among the following essay questions:
1. Compare and contrast the characters of Brutus and Cassius. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How does each serve, in many respects, as the other's opposite? Does each character bring important attributes to the conspiracy? Are their opposing natures perhaps responsible for the undoing of the plot? Is there any way that the good qualities of each might be married together for a successful outcome?
2. Isolate and explain the various mistakes that Brutus makes in the play. What are his greatest mistakes? Why might these be considered serious mistakes? Why does he make these mistakes? Are there elements of his character or factors in the drama of the play that lead him to these errors in judgement? How might he have avoided them? What would have been the outcome? What do you think Shakespeare was suggesting when he made the most thoughtful and best of the Romans so prone to fatal errors?
3. Examine the manner in which the play depicts the deterioration of democracy into tyranny. Make reference to actions, characters and speeches from the play for support; use the short excerpt from Plato's Republic to give your use of evidence from the play theoretical coherence.
4. Write a paper that examines the undoing or corruption of Brutus' character as "the noblest Roman of them all." How is Brutus undone in the play? What actions of others adversely affect him? What does he himself do in the play that shows that his character is being undone? How might Brutus' corruption affect the well-being of the republic of Rome?
5. Assess the relative effectiveness/ineffectiveness of the conspiracy led against Caesar by Cassius and Brutus. Make reference to actions, characters and speeches from the play for support; use the short excerpt from Machiavelli's Discourses on Livy to give your use of evidence from the play theoretical grounding.
6. Compare and contrast the funeral speeches of Brutus and Antony. What different tools and devices does each speaker employ, and to what effect? Examine the response from the audience in each case. What does the response to each speech tell us about the character qualities of the audience? Which speech is more effective for this audience and why?
7. Examine Appian's account of the final battle between the forces of Brutus and Cassius on the one hand, and Octavian and Antony on the other. How accurately does Shakespeare's retelling of the battle coincide with that of Appian? What are the similarities? What are the differences? What parts of the story does Shakespeare accentuate, and what parts does he de-emphasize? Why might Shakespeare make these changes? What effect is he trying to create in his retelling?
Students will write a multiple choice reading comprehension test based on selections from the plays of William Shakespeare.