Sunday, May 25, 2008

It's a Good Thing Caesar's Dead Already

...because I'm afraid I'm going to murder it!

As I mentioned not so long ago, I'm stuck teaching Julius Caear. I've talked to the department chair, and I can't get out of it, because in English III and English IV, when they're studying Hamlet and Macbeth, they draw parallels to Caesar. I think I'm going to ask them what points they would like me to be sure to emphasize.

I did, however, do some thinking about what I think I'm going to focus on.
In Julius Caesar, we see Brutus struggling to decide between two types of love: friendship (to Caesar) and patriotism (to Rome). I haven't re-read the play (yet) but I remember that much from MY class in sophomore English.

One thing I learned about Romeo and Juliet as I studied it to teach it was that the principal characters faced a similar choice, between romantic love (for each other) and love for their families. In both cases, the choice is also (or seems also to be) do you keep "what's best for others" in mind, or do you just say 'to hell with it' and do what you want?

We'll definitely be looking at the "friendship" angle, considering what makes someone a good friend or a rotten friend, when it's acceptable and/or necessary to stop being friends with someone, etc. We'll also look at the political angle: what are the differences in motive between assassination and murder?

I'm still nervous! Thoughts? Ideas? Suggestions? (Yes, I've checked out the Folger site. Haven't gone through in depth yet.)


Dr Pezz said...

Once we read Act I, Scene 1 I perform the speech which starts "You blocks, you stones..." It shows the kids how to make the speech mine. I own it. They really dig it.

Some things I look at:

- stoicism vs. epicureanism
- preemptive murder (so many modern connections and don't forget The Minority Report)
- power of persuasion
- rhetorical devices
- how to get others to do your dirty work
- greed vs. nobility

I also have a creative writing assignment at the end of every scene, and we stop reading the play together after Act III and watch the rest. Plus, I have a CD with a group performing the play (audio versions are great). This way we don't struggle through the dialogue.

One fun thing I did was have the students rewrite and perform Antony's speech as a modern character. One girl was Dori from Finding Nemo who kept forgetting Caesar was dead. Another was Yoda and another was Forrest Gump.

Making the play fun and then looking at the themes and the details seems to work for me. Most of my kids really like it by the end. Be silly, have fun, and then get serious.

Larissa said...

You might also want to check out the Cambridge Shakespeare series -- I've found them quite helpful for designing classroom activities that bring the plays alive.

Lightly Seasoned said...

Lucky you! I always find JC goes best during an election cycle because it becomes easy to show the students how very modern the play really is. My best strategies:

1. Have the kids act out as much as possible -- especially the kids who tend to be disruptive in class. It doesn't matter if they murder the Elizabethan -- you can patch that up in your explication. Definitely have them act out the big stabbing scene. Have the kids reading Cassius, Decius, etc. wear a C for Conspirator -- helps them keep the faction clear in their minds.

2. I have the kids do campaign posters for Caesar vs. Brutus after Act II, sc ii. They have to use evidence from the play in them -- and keep in mind who the campaign managers would be and how they might run a campaign. This can be done a lot of different ways, but usually I have them do it as a class activity (about 30 minutes) in groups of 2 or 3 on half sheets of newsprint. Then I hang the posters up all over the room for instant quiz "cheat sheets." This activity always (spontaneously) leads to comparisons with current candidates. I predict it will be Caesar=McCain and Obama=Brutus this year.

3. I do a lot of rhetoric (pathos, logos, ethos, etc.) with them because I'm leading into a persuasive research paper at that point in the year. We go into a lot of analysis of the funeral orations.

4. Sometimes I have them write a paper comparing the assassination of JC with the assassination of a more contemporary world leader (ie. Ghandi, etc.). Sometimes I have them create powerpoints in which they act out a key scene in still photos (they tend to use a lot of ketchup for these...).

Good luck. I think this is a fun play to teach.

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