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Julius Caesar

  • First Things First
    • This lesson will teach you how to read and understand a play by William Shakespeare, one of the greatest playwrights in the history of the English language (and the man who invented quite a lot of it).
    • These videos are not a substitute for reading Shakespeare, listening to Shakespeare, or watching Shakespeare performed.
    • Seriously. Don’t be that guy.
  • Background
    • Written 1599?
    • Taken from Roman history, especially Plutarch
    • Possibly a commentary on English succession
    • Both a history play and a tragedy
    • Full of anachronisms (doublets, a clock)
    • Not published in Shakespeare’s lifetime (First Folio, 1623)
  • Setting
    • Rome, 44 B.C.E.
    • Caesar’s triumph over Pompey’s sons
    • Caesar to be named king
  • Major Characters
    • Julius Caesar—Roman general, about to be named dictator
    • Calpurnia—Wife of Caesar
    • Octavius, Mark Antony, Lepidus—Triumvirs after Caesar’s death
    • Cicero, Publius, Popilius Lena—Senators
    • Brutus—Friend of Caesar and one of his murderers; possibly the protagonist of the play
    • Cassius—Conspirator against Caesar, whisperer in Brutus’ ear.
    • Portia—Wife of Brutus
      • Casca, Trebonius, Ligarius, Decius Brutus, MetellusCimber, Cinna—Other conspirators
    • Cinna—A poet (no relation to the conspirator)
    • Soothsayer—A prophet whom everyone ignores
    • Flavius and Marullus--Tribunes
  • Plot
    • The two tribunes
    • Caesar’s triumph
      • Antony’s loyalty
      • Calpurnia’s barrenness
    • Brutus and Cassius
      • Caesar’s weakness
      • Brutus’ concern for Rome
    • The conspiracy
    • The assassination
      • Warnings ignored
      • Ettu, Brute?
    • The funeral
      • Brutus’ speech
      • Antony’s speech
      • The wrong Cinna
    • Brutus and Cassius fall out
    • The conspirators go to war
      • “Thou shalt see me at Phliippi”
      • Cassius’ suicide
      • Brutus fights on
      • Brutus’ suicide
    • A tribute to Brutus
      • “The noblest Roman of them all”
  • Themes
    • Fate vs. free will
    • Public and private personae
    • The power of language
    • Honor and inflexibility
  • Major Passages
    • “Yet Brutus says he was ambitious,
      And Brutus is an honourable man …”

      -Act III, Scene 2, 82-96

    • “We at the height are ready to decline.
      There is a tide in the affairs of men
      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
      Omitted, all the voyage of their life
      Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
      On such a full sea are we now afloat,
      And we must take the current when it serves,
      Or lose our ventures …”

      -Act IV Scene 2, 269-276

  • Jumping-Off Points
    • Examine the use of fate and prophecy in this play. Who delivers warnings? Who heeds them? How do different characters interpret signs like the lion in the Capitol? How do these responses reflect character?
    • This play has frequently been performed as a political statement (perhaps because it shows a republic turning into a monarchy). How can the text be applied to different moments in history?
    • Read Plutarch’s Life of Julius Caesar. Where does Shakespeare deviate from his source? Which of these deviations is for dramatic effect (e.g. combining events) and which speaks to his reason for writing?
    • Consider the role of reputation in this play—Caesar’s public image as opposed to his private life, for example, or Antony’s use of “Brutus is an honourable man”. How does reputation govern characters’ actions? How do the reputations of Caesar and Brutus extend their influence after their deaths?
    • Is Brutus truly the hero of the play? Does he choose to join the conspiracy, or does Cassius trick him? Are his motives truly noble, or merely foolish?
    • This play contains many friendships. Consider one or more pairings (Brutus and Cassius, Antony and Octavian, etc.). Are they true friendships? Alliances of convenience? Something else?
    • Who is the protagonist—Brutus or Caesar?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare
    • Watch it performed (or on film if you can’t get to a theatrical production). All of Shakespeare makes more sense when it’s spoken by actors who have lived his words and know, bone-deep, what he’s talking about. Never underestimate the power of performance. Remember that this is how Shakespeare meant his work to be seen …

Julius Caesar

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • First Things First 0:08
  • Lesson Overview 0:38
  • Background 1:18
  • Setting 3:29
  • Major Characters 4:41
    • Julis Caesar
    • Calpurnia
    • Octavius, Mark Antony, Lepidus
    • Cicero, Publius, Popilius Lena
    • Brutus
    • Cassius
    • Portia
    • Casca, Tredonius, Ligarius, Decius Brutus, Metellus, Cimber, Cinna
    • Cinna
    • Soothsayer
    • Flavius and Marullus
  • Plot 6:53
    • The two tribunes
    • Caesar's triumph
    • Brutus and Cassius
    • The conspiracy
  • Plot, cont. 8:51
    • The assassination
    • The funeral
    • Brutus and Cassius fall out
  • Plot, cont. 12:03
    • Conspirators go to war
    • A tribute to Brutus
  • Themes 13:07
  • Major Passages 15:37
    • Act III, scene 2, 82-96
    • Act IV, scene 2, 269-276
  • Jumping-off Points 17:51
    • The use of fate and prophecy
    • How can the text be applied to different moments in history?
    • Deviations from the oringinal
    • The role of reputation in the play
    • Is Brutus truly the hero?
    • Friendship in the play
    • Who is the protagonist?
  • The Secret of Understanding Shakespeare 22:56