Mosie Kessler-Zacharias, Friends Academy, Locust Valley, New York.
Julius Caesar 3.1
What's On for Today and Why
Students will understand Mark Antony's mastery of manipulation by looking at how he manages stage direction and tableau, audience, and props in the assassination scene. They will closely examine the role of blood in the scene by seeing it physically in action. By stripping the scene down to its physical movements, students will get a preview of Antony's power in dealing with the crowd. By extension, students will understand that though dialogue-driven, this powerful scene depends on a series of still images to achieve its full impact.
This lesson will take up to two class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
A roll of red masking tape (or regular masking tape and red markers)
Dumb Show Handout
What To Do
1. Write the word "blood" on a blackboard or overhead and ask students to brainstorm the various associations they have with the word. Encourage them to think widely; hopefully, they will generate a spectrum of terms: life source, heritage, family, wreckage, etc.
2. Split the class in half and give each half a yard of red tape (you can also use regular masking tape and red markers.) Have them copy the terms for blood on the tape, and tell them the tape will signify blood. (If you are feeling really adventuresome, you can use stage blood—just warn students to wear clothing they don't mind staining.)
3. Give students the attached handout and ask them to block and rehearse a silent scene of the murder scene— acting out the stage directions, which one student can read aloud from the handout. Have students place the tape on the student playing Caesar wherever the group thinks he is stabbed. Each time the directions hint at blood or a transfer of blood, have students tear off a piece of the tape and attach it to the appropriate spot on the newly bloody person.
4. In doing this, students may struggle with the number of undifferentiated characters on stage. Encourage each one to think of why his/her character is involved in the conspiracy, and to what extent. You may need to jump in and help with this.
5. Have the two groups perform their silent scenes for each other, showing where blood originates and moves throughout the scene. Supply students with a fresh yard of tape if necessary.
6. In a discussion, ask students what they notice about the scene based on this bloody version. Encourage them especially to watch what happens with Trebonius: how and why does he leave, and how does Antony manage to smear him with blood? Why does Antony go out of his way to do this, and what effect does this have on our understanding of Antony's power and savvy?
7. As a conclusion to this part of the lesson, ask students to consult their original brainstormed list of words associated with blood. They should decide which form(s) of the word Caesar sheds, which form(s) are spread thoughout the scene, which Trebonius ends up with on his hands, and which end up on Antony as he carries out the corpse.
8. As homework, ask students to read 3.1, paying close attention to the role of blood in the scene.
9. The following day, have one group of students act out this scene while the rest offer direction. Ask students to consider how hearing and seeing the scene is augmented by understanding where the blood goes. What does Shakespeare accomplish by having such a strong visual corollary to the action onstage?
10. If time permits, have students hypothesize about Antony's role in the next scene, given his mastery of stage direction and subtle finger-pointing.
How Did It Go?
This lesson will have gone well if students understand that Antony smears Trebonius's clean hand with the conspirators' blood in order to show visually what he cannot say: that all the conspirators are responsible, regardless of their proximity to the stabbing; that he is on to them; and that he is controlling how the event will be perceived publicly. This lesson should also get students thinking about implied stage directions, the role of props as symbols, and the role of drama as both an aural and visual medium.
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.