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Lesson 21: Betrayal or Honest Mistake?

Teachers' Rating:
  3 ratings

G. Hollis after A. Reid. Mr. Macready as Cassius and Mr. E.L. Davenport as Brutus. Print, mid-19th century

May 2008
Amy Rosoff, Baltimore City College High School, Baltimore, Maryland.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Julius Caesar 5.3
What's On for Today and Why

Julius Caesar hinges largely on the theme of betrayal. Students must wrestle with the questions that Brutus himself considers: Does loyalty come first to a friend, a superior, a nation, or the self? Is betrayal justified if it is committed out of loyalty to some other, worthy cause? Shakespeare presents a microcosm of these larger questions in the final act of the play by presenting an ambiguous moment in which it is unclear whether a betrayal has occurred or not. In 5.3, the character Pindarus, a bondsman to Cassius, says he has witnessed the capture of the loyal soldier, Titinius. This devastating news serves as the final straw for Cassius, who proceeds to kill himself, first freeing Pindarus. Pindarus runs off and immediately thereafter Titinius enters, making it clear that Pindarus has given Cassius a false report.


This lesson asks students to consider the motivations of the character of Pindarus (i.e., Has he lied to Cassius, or has he made an honest mistake?), and to make decisions about how they would direct this scene based on their understanding of these motivations and the underlying themes of the play.


This lesson takes two class periods to complete.

What You Need

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

Index cards or large post-its

Poster board or flipchart paper

Assignment Handout


Assignment Handout
What To Do

1. Read the scene aloud from the opening through Titinius' death (line 100), having students take parts. This works best if students read on their feet so that the effect of Titinius leaving, being presumed dead, and then reentering can be made clear.


2. Discuss the events of the scene, making sure that students understand what has occurred. Discuss the various reasons Titinius might have given a false report: a) The battle occurs at a distance so he cannot see who is who; b) He lies to Cassius to incite Cassius' suicide and gain his own freedom.


3. Divide students into six groups of 3-6 students per group.


4. Explain that each group is going to use a different method to present the scene and that by manipulating the scene, each group's scene will take a clear position on whether Pindarus lies or makes a mistake.


5. Assign each group a perspective and a method of "spinning" the scene. Use the attached handout to assign groups and clarify instructions. (Note: this lesson assumes that students have had practice with tableaux, editing, and the effect of inflection. If this is not true for students, consider choosing only one method and taking time to teach this method.)


6. Give students 15-20 minutes to prepare their scene. Groups of three will have only a Cassius, Pindarus, and Titinius. Larger groups can include Messala and a director.


7. Have students present their versions with the two versions of each method, presenting one after the other so that the differences can be compared.


8. Conduct a discussion in which students talk about which perspective they would use to portray this moment if they were directing the play. They should defend their positions by connecting this scene to other moments and aspects of the play (i.e., Based on your knowledge of the play, which portrayal seems most in concert with the play as a whole?)

How Did It Go?
To assess student's ability to defend their reading of the scene, conduct an "exit poll" in which students explain the reason they would direct this scene one way or another. As they leave the room, have them attach their cards to a piece of poster board or flipchart paper, which is divided into two sides that represent "honest mistake" and "betrayal." You can offer students feedback on their responses based on the strength of the evidence they have offered. This visual will provide an interesting index of the class' perspective on the play and its themes.

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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