Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Caesar's Bones

Last semester, when I had seniors and we studied Macbeth, I was able to have performers from the New American Shakespeare Tavern come to our school and work with my class. First they warmed up the whole class together, then they split into groups and practiced individual lines before tackling shortened scenes.

Finally, they put the scenes together (each group did two scenes) so that we had an overview of the play. They had cut the play to ten scenes, and shortened each scene to one page. One of the actors read a synopsis for the scenes that weren't performed.

Well, unfortunately, I didn't have the money to do the workshop again. :( So for the past several days, I've been grinding away, trying to condense Julius Caesar into ten one-page scenes. Let me tell you, it hasn't been easy! I also came up with a synopsis for each scene, so that the group leaders can use the synopsis to introduce it before the group starts practicing (they can also be used to narrate any scenes we don't perform).

Summary of 1.1

The story begins during the Roman holiday Lupercalia, during which people would decorate statues of the gods with garlands of flowers. Flavius and Marullus, two Roman tribunes on patrol, find a group of workers who are all dressed up and not at work. When the tribunes ask the workers why they're not on the job, they first joke about it, and then they say they've taken the day off to celebrate Caesar's victory over Pompey. Angered, the tribunes point out that Caesar and Pompey were both Romans, and that a civil war isn't something to celebrate. The tribunes tell the workers to go home. The tribunes decide to go around the city and remove flower garlands from any statues of Caesar.

Summary of 1.2

Part of the celebration for Lupercalia included athletic competition. CAESAR and his wife CALPURNIA have not had any children, so he asks ANTONY, who will be running in a race, to touch Calpurnia as he goes by (as a kind of good luck charm). An un-named SOOTHSAYER warns Caesar of the ides (middle day) of March, but Caesar waves the warning aside. The group goes in to the race, except for BRUTUS and CASSIUS, who stay behind. They hear a shout, and Brutus worries that people want to make Caesar a king. Cassius reminds Brutus that Rome is a free republic, and that one man should never control everyone else. He says that if Caesar becomes king, it's their fault for letting it happen.

When everyone comes back from the race, Caesar remarks to Antony that Cassius looks like he's up to something, but Antony tells Caesar that Cassius is a good man.

Brutus and Cassius ask their friend CASCA to tell them about all the shouting. Casca says that Antony was awarded a small crown for winning the race and offered it to Caesar several times, but Caesar refused it. The men agree to meet again later to talk about it some more. After Brutus and Casca leave, Cassius says that if they don't do something about Caesar, things will get much worse. He plans to use different handwriting styles to write several notes complaining about Caesar to Brutus, so that Brutus will believe the people of Rome think Caesar really wants to be king.

Summary of 2.1

Alone at home late that night, BRUTUS tries to decide what to do about Caesar. He knows that Caesar is a good man (they have been friends for a long time), but he also knows that power can change even the kindest person into a selfish tyrant. Brutus' servant LUCIUS brings him several notes that imply that the citizens of Rome think Caesar wants to take over. Brutus vows he won't let that happen.

CASSIUS and several other men arrive in secret. Cassius suggests they swear an oath to do what must be done, but Brutus says that they shouldn't need an oath if it's really that important. Everyone accepts Brutus' idea. Cassius says that Antony is too close to Caesar and should also die, but Brutus says that Antony is only important because he's close to Caesar, and won't be a problem once Caesar is gone. Everyone accepts Brutus' idea. Finally, Brutus reminds them not to let their thoughts show on their faces, and the conspirators leave.

PORTIA, Brutus' wife, comes in. She has noticed his bad mood lately, and saw the conspirators come to the house with their faces covered. She asks him to share his problems with her, and Brutus says that he will tell her everything.

Summary of 2.2

CALPURNIA has dreamed that something awful is going to happen to CAESAR, and she begs him not to go anywhere. Caesar says he isn't a coward, but that because she's so upset about it, he'll stay home.

DECIUS BRUTUS (who is one of the conspirators) arrives to walk with Caesar to the senate. When he hears that Caesar is staying home, and finds out the reason, he says that, first, the senators are talking about giving Caesar a crown and might change their minds if he doesn't come, and second, everyone will think Caesar is afraid of his wife's bad dreams. As the other conspirators arrive to walk along to the senate, Caesar says to Calpurnia that her fears are silly, and he goes with them.

Summary of 2.3-3.1

ARTEMIDORUS has written a letter to Caesar, naming the conspirators. He thinks that if he can get Caesar to read it before entering the senate, Caesar might not be killed.

CAESAR notices the SOOTHSAYER on their way, and says that today is the ides of March (the day the soothsayer warned him about) and nothing bad has happened. The soothsayer replies that the day isn't over yet.

Artemidorus gives his letter to Caesar and tries to get him to read it, but Caesar says that Rome's business must come before personal matters, and goes into the senate.

METELLUS CIMBER (a conspirator) asks Caesar to pardon his brother, who has been banished. Caesar sticks by his original decision and refuses the pardon. The other conspirators approach, asking Caesar to reconsider. Finally, CASCA takes out his hidden sword and stabs Caesar. The other conspirators follow, BRUTUS going last. Just before he dies, Caesar expresses surprise that Brutus is part of the plot.

The conspirators mark their hands and swords with Caesar's blood, then head out to the city to proclaim Rome's freedom. Before they leave, ANTONY returns and says he will support them as long as they had good reasons for what they did. They agree to let him speak to the citizens at Caesar's funeral.

After the conspirators leave, Antony apologizes to his friend's corpse, saying that he isn't really with the conspirators, and he is going to try to turn the people of Rome against them.

Summary of 3.2a

The citizens are demanding answers. BRUTUS and CASSIUS agree to give speeches in different areas of the city, and the citizens make plans to split up as well, then explain the speech they heard to the people who listened to the other one.

Brutus says that he didn't kill Caesar because he hated him, but because he loves Rome even more than he loved his friend. He says that Caesar was ambitious and wanted power, and if they had allowed him to live, Caesar would have made everyone into slaves. Finally, he says that the only people who should be upset about this are those who don't love their country. He says he loves Rome so much that when his death will benefit his country, he will kill himself with the very sword he used to kill Caesar.

The people who listen are convinced that he has saved them. They want to give him a parade back to his house, make statues of him, and make him king instead of Caesar. Brutus asks them to let him leave by himself and stay and listen to ANTONY. They agree, but only since he asked. They know that Antony was also close to Caesar and don't trust him.

Summary of 3.2b

The citizens have listened to Brutus' speech and are convinced that Caesar's death was a heroic sacrifice. ANTONY says that Brutus and the other conspirators are so honorable (honest) that they must be believed, even though Caesar was kind, loyal and fair. Even though he refused the crown that Antony offered him. Three times. Even though those same citizens used to think Caesar should be king. Even though he left each of them them money (about $1000 in today's currency) in his will. Nope, the men who murdered him even though they were his friends – they did the right thing. They're honorable.

The people who listen to Antony's speech are ready to tear the city apart to find and punish the conspirators and get revenge for Caesar's death.

Summary of 3.3

A poet, CINNA (who happens to have the same name as one of the conspirators), is on his way to Caesar's funeral. The citizens of Rome are enraged after listening to Antony's speech. They interrogate Cinna, accuse him of helping with the assassination, and are ready to kill him. He says that he is not even a senator, but a poet, but they decide to kill him anyway. Then they head off to burn the conspirators' houses.

Summary of 4.1

OCTAVIUS (Caesar's nephew and heir), ANTONY, and LEPIDUS are deciding which senators should be executed for being part of the conspiracy. Antony then tells Lepidus to go get the will so that they can decrease the amount that Caesar left to the citizens. After Lepidus leaves, Antony tells Octavius that Lepidus doesn't really deserve to help them rule Rome. He also says that Brutus and Cassius are gathering an army and that they need to get ready for war. Octavius agrees to Antony's suggestion.

Summary of 4.2

BRUTUS and CASSIUS have gathered an army. Cassius says they should let the other army come find them, so that they'll be well-rested and the other army will be tired. Brutus says that the other army will gain soldiers as they pass through villages on the way, and grow stronger. He thinks they should keep moving, so that the villagers join their army instead. Cassius goes along with Brutus' suggestion.

As Brutus gets ready for bed, he notices that his candle isn't giving much light. A shape appears in the darkness – it is Caesar's GHOST, though it introduces itself as Brutus' evil spirit (guilty conscience). The ghost tells Brutus that he will see Caesar at Phillipi (where the other army is camped), and then disappears. Brutus wakes his servant, LUCIUS, and the soldier CLAUDIUS, and asks them if either of them said something, but they both deny it. He sends them to tell Cassius that as soon as Cassius is ready to leave, Brutus will follow him.

Summary of 5.1

OCTAVIUS (Caesar's nephew and heir), and ANTONY are on the battlefield with their army, watching BRUTUS and CASSIUS and their army moving in. Antony tells Octavius to command the left side of the battlefield, but Octavius refuses and says he will command the right side.

As generals, Brutus and Cassius approach to talk (as was the custom). Octavius accuses them of cowardice, draws his sword, and says he will not put it away until he gets revenge for Caesar's death. He tells Antony to follow him and they leave.

Cassius asks Brutus if he will accept life as a prisoner if they lose. Brutus says he will never go to Rome in chains. They say goodbye to each other, then leave to command their forces separately.

Summary of 5.3

CASSIUS is retreating from Antony's attack. He asks one of his soldiers, TITINIUS (who is also his best friend) to go scout a group of distant soldiers to find out which side they're on. Cassius is near-sighted and can't see what's going on, so he asks his slave PINDARUS to describe what happens. The other troops surround Titinius, capture him, and shout for joy. Cassius despairs, gives Pindarus his sword and tells him to kill him and be free again. Pindarus does, and leaves.

Moments later, Titinius arrives with MESSALA, one of Brutus' soldiers, who says that though Antony's troops defeated Cassius' army, Brutus's troops defeated Octavius, so the battle is still fairly even. Titinius says that Cassius will be glad to hear this, but then sees his body. Titinius figures out the mistake. He was not captured; it was a group of Brutus' soldiers, who gave him a small crown for Cassius. He sends Messala off to find Pindarus, puts the crown on Cassius' head, then kills himself with his friend's sword.

Messala returns with BRUTUS and several other soldiers. Brutus sees the bodies of Cassius and Titinius and says that Caesar's ghost turned them against themselves. Even so, he is not going to give up.

Summary of 5.5

The battle is going poorly for BRUTUS, who says that dying must be fashionable, because that's what everyone is doing. He asks first VOLUMNIUS, then DARDANIUS to help him commit suicide because he doesn't want to wait until someone else kills him anyway. They both refuse. As the armies of OCTAVIUS and ANTONY close in, Brutus wakes up another soldier, STRATO. Brutus says he wants to die honorably, and asks Strato to help him. Strato agrees, and holds Brutus' sword up so that he can impale himself on it. As he dies, Brutus says that he is happier about killing himself than he was about killing Caesar.

Antony and Octavius arrive and find Brutus' body. Antony says that Brutus was a better man than any other Roman. He was the only conspirator who acted out of concern for Rome rather than envy of Caesar's power. He was the sort of person who defined what it meant to be a man.

Octavius says that Brutus must have the honorable burial of a soldier even though he was their enemy, then commands everyone to leave the battlefield and rest.

I would LOVE to get some feedback on the synopsis behind the cut. Is there anything I'm leaving out that's vital to a basic understanding of the play?

Image thanks to


Mrs. Chili said...

Oooof! This is a LOT of work!

Call your local university and see if you can get some grad students or interns to come and play with your classes for free; I bet you'd get some takers!

Clix said...

Well, we did this last semester with my seniors. So I tapped a handful of them to help me out with this semester's sophomore class.

I think I need to tighten the scenes even more if we're going to do it in one block, though. Need to do that TODAY. Eep! ;)

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