Susan Gibson, Cumberland Valley High School, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.
Julius Caesar, review of Act 2
What's On for Today and Why
Today's lesson gives students an opportunity to examine the way Julius Caesar presents and handles issues of gender. Students will respond to and write about these issues in the play with their own, creative voices. The result will be a set of modern additions to Plutarch's Lives, Shakespeare's main source for the play.
This lesson will take two class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Optional warm-up activity: consider beginning a discussion by asking the students if either men or women can be said to be smarter than the other. Or, be even more inflammatory by asking, "Why are women smarter than men?" or the reverse. Direct students to think about gender stereotypes and the different kinds of intelligences ascribed to gender.
2. Split students into groups of no more than four; depending on class chemistry, this could be a fun activity in single-gender groups. Ask each group to review Act 2 and look for incidents of characters reading or mis-reading "signs", and making either wise or foolish decisions. Ask them to keep lists divided by the gender of the character.
3. As a class, have students share their findings and discuss what they notice about gender differences in the play.
4. Have students rejoin their groups and give each group one of the following assignments:
A. Script and prepare to perform a dialogue between Calphurnia and Portia discussing the way their husbands treat them,
B. Script and prepare to perform a dialogue between Caesar and Brutus about the way their wives don't seem to understand the affairs of men.
5. Ask each group to perform their scene for the class. Follow-up each scene with a discussion: in what ways do men and women communicate ineffectively in this play? How have these dialogues reflected that lack of communication?
6. Pass out and discuss the two handouts (below) relating to the writing assignment, providing a variety of marginalized characters some extra-textual context.
7. Conclude by giving students time to get started on this assignment, a few minutes to share what they have written, and a deadline for submission of the completed assignment. Remind them to continue looking for places in the play where we could learn more about the inner lives of its minor characters.
How Did It Go?
Were students able to navigate the text of the play to find evidence to support their group work? Were they able to create realistic dialogue that reflects both the world of the play and their own world and experiences?
You may wish to use the grading rubric as another way of assessing student work on this assignment.
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.