The Tragedy of Julius Caesar
This curriculum unit offers tested and proven materials for teaching Julius Caesar to high school students. One of the most traditional plays taught in American high schools, it offers students a look into the inner workings of politics and power. The historical aspects lend themselves to a multilayered view of the play and lead students to reflect on events from the past and their application to the present. It offers traitors, villains, and assassinations without the problematic sex scenes and gratuitous violence often found in modern works.
Shakespeare wrote the play between 1598 and 1600; the consensus is 1599. He titled it TheTragedy of Julius Caesar, but there is much critical thought that often places it with his histories or as a first effort to write tragedy. It is considered less daunting for younger students than his more mature tragedies, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello.
The play has spawned many allusions throughout literature and daily life. In THE INFERNO, Dante puts Judas Iscariot alongside Brutus and Cassius in the lowest circle of hell. Many books have taken their titles from a quotation from the play--All Honorable Men by David Karp; Brutus Was an Honorable Man by Walter Marquiss; Cry Havoc by James Forman; Cry Havoc by Richard M. Stern; Cry Havoc by Beverley Nichols; Dear Brutus by James M. Barrie; The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth; The Evil That Men Do by R. Lance Hill; The Evil That Men Do by Judson P. Philips; The Feast of Lupercal by Brian Moore; Hail, Caesar by David H. Darrah; Hail, Caesar by Fletcher Pratt; The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder; It's Greek to Me: Brush Up Your Classics by Michael Macrone; Not In Our Stars by Josiah E. Green; Taken at the Flood by Ann Watkins; Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie; and There Is a Tide by Agatha Christie. Tom Clancy uses an allusion in his novel, Without Remorse: "The photo in the file, along with the one-page profile of the agent, had made him [Peter Henderson] think of the self-serving 'patriot' in The Tragedy of Julius Caesar."
In American history, the play is associated with John Wilkes Booth. In 1864, he and his brother, Edwin Booth (who played Brutus) and his father,Junius Brutus Booth (who played Cassius) staged Julius Caesar in a benefit performance to raise money for a statue of Shakespeare in Central Park in New York. Booth played Antony. When Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, he was reported to have shouted, "Sic semper tyrannus"-"Thus always to tyrants," the Virginia state motto, as he leaped to the stage at Ford's Theater. When Booth died, he was quoted as saying, "Tell Mother I died for my country."
This brings us to one final comment: this unit is very flexible. We have outlined a five-week unit and offer approaches based on firsthand experience, but we know that there are many other combinations that will work as well. For example, some teachers in our department do a close reading of the first three acts and then show the video for the last two. We believe that all teachers adapt ideas to fit their own teaching styles, and this format, like those in all of our curriculum packets, is easily and successfully modified.