Tory Virchow teaches at the Potomac School in McLean, VA.
Julius Caesar, act 3, scene 2 (the speeches of Brutus and Antony)
What's On for Today and Why
Whenever my students arrive at longer speeches in Shakespeare, one or two intrepid actors inevitably take over the reading while the remainder of the class sits in silence, reading along passively. Therefore, it is the goal of this lesson plan to focus on listening and reacting instead of simply on reading.
The lesson will take one 45-minute class period. (It can also be adapted for any lengthy monologue spoken to a larger group of people, such as the bloody sergeant’s speech in Act 1, Scene 2, of Macbeth.)
What You Need
Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Ideally, for homework the night before, students should have pre-read Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2.
2. Have students read the opening lines of the scene together out loud, but stop before the first extended speech from Brutus. Discuss what the First and Second Citizens mean when they say they plan to “compare” the reasons from Brutus and Cassius.
3. Select two students (or ask for volunteers), one to read Brutus’s speech and one to read Antony’s. Those two students should come to the front of the room and stand. Ask the remaining students to close their books and prepare to listen carefully.
4. Instruct your Brutus and Antony to read their speeches with feeling, as if they are convincing the citizens. Also, ask them to take pauses at the end of each sentence so that they can hear reactions from the crowd. Encourage the remainder of the class to respond verbally when Brutus or Antony pause. Ask them to consider carefully what’s being said and then let the speaker know if they agree or disagree.
5. Now, have your Brutus read the “Be patient till the last” speech. (If you find your crowd is a bit too quiet, require them to respond with either a “yay” or a “boo” whenever the speaker pauses. Remind the individuals in the crowd to think for themselves, but also take note of how mob mentality and peer pressure can play a role in their responses.)
6. When Brutus is finished speaking, ask the crowd how they feel. Do they support him? Why? What specific things did he say that were memorable? Convincing?
7. Now, repeat steps 6 and 7 with Antony reading his first speech (“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears”). As Antony speaks, remind the crowd to consider their volume and attitude. Does Antony create a more sobering mood than Brutus did? What does Antony say that is memorable? Convincing?
8. At this point, you can continue with the rest of Antony’s speech in the scene. (You can also ask for additional volunteers to read different passages.) As your crowd grows more comfortable with the activity, they may also become more vocal. Encourage them to elaborate with their vocalizations and suggest they might even pose rhetorical questions to the speaker.
9. At the end of the period, look back at the text and have students compare their own reactions to those of Shakespeare’s citizens throughout the scene.
How Did It Go?
Did all of your students actively participate, as either readers or listeners? Did students react, either positively or negatively, to each speech? Were students able to give reasons for their responses?
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.