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Lesson 15: "Tear him for his bad verses:" Cinna the poet and Shakespeare's Sonnets. 

Teachers' Rating:
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Shakespeare. The Songs and Sonnets of William Shakespeare. London, 1915

September 2007
Daina Lieberman, Bridgewater-Raritan High School, Bridgewater, New Jersey.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Julius Caesar 3.3
What's On for Today and Why

The "Cinna the Poet" scene captures the mob mentality of the Roman citizens who tear Cinna to pieces because one of the conspirators was also named Cinna. The mob does not care that this Cinna is a poet and not a conspirator: someone cries, "Tear him to pieces for his bad verses," and so they do.

This lesson asks students to examine what makes good poetry good. Students will analyze the language of some of Shakespeare's lesser-known sonnets (Cinna's "bad verses") through performance and decide whether or not to attack Cinna for them. The students will then perform the scene from Julius Caesar, incorporating their decision and discussing the effect that this decision has on the scene.


This lesson will take 2-3 class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Participation rubric
What To Do

1. Write the words "good poetry" on the board and have students come up and write anything that comes to mind—names of poets, titles of poems, definitions, etc. Briefly discuss their contributions and what they think constitutes good poetry.


2. Divide students into groups of 5. Distribute to each group one of Shakespeare's lesser-known (and sometimes regarded as of lesser quality) sonnets (e.g 52-54, 58, 59, 68, 75, 84, 101, 122, 143) or one of the more well-known (and often more highly regarded) sonnets (18, 29, 30, 65, 116, 130) and tell them they were written by Cinna the Poet, the character in Julius Caesar.Ask the students to read their sonnets aloud in their groups in a "Round Reading" (one student reads and stops at the first major punctuation mark, the next student picks it up at that point, and so on, until they have read all 14 lines). Allow students time to do 3 full readings, pausing after each reading to identify unknown words/phrases and clarify meaning.


3. Have each group create and rehearse a series of tableaux to tell the story of their sonnet. Encourage students to select 4 or 5 strong images from the sonnet to portray in tableaux while one of the group narrates the sonnet.


4. Have the groups decide whether their sonnets count as good poetry or "bad verses", and consequently whether or not Cinna will live or die. Have each group present their sonnet and tableaux to the class and explain their decision.


5.  Have each group conduct several round readings of Julius Caesar 3.3 to become comfortable with the language. Each group should stage the scene, incorporating their decision on Cinna's fate. Remind students about mob mentality and discuss the mood they want to bring to the scene. Have students discuss the different performance choices, the effect of including this scene in the play and the reasons why it is often cut.


Ensure that students realize that all the sonnets used in this lesson were written by Shakespeare.


6. Follow-up: Write a journal entry by Cinna the Poet-

a) about the dream that made him leave his house to warn Caesar, or

b) his version of the mob scene in which he escaped

How Did It Go?

Did students use the class's definition of good poetry to evaluate their sonnets? Were students able to back up their opinions on the sonnets with criteria? Did the students perform their scenes in a way that matched their decision on Cinna's fate? If students chose to spare Cinna, were they able to alter the subtext appropriately or use physical gestures to change the mood of their scene?

If you like, use the participation rubric to assess student participation in the class.


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.

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1 Comment

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Wayan November 10, 2014 4:57 PM
  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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