Julius Caesar (or any other play!):

Character Analysis

Wondering how to make performance a valid educational tool in your classroom?

(For samples of student projects, please see the links at the bottom of this page.)

Introduction: For many years, I have had students perform Shakespeare scenes, in groups as small as 2 or as large as 12. It is only after much trial and error that I have discovered ways to make the experience both academic and performative. Though this lesson plan specifically refers to entire classes (9-11 students each) performing 2.1, 2.3, and 3.1 of Julius Caesar, you could apply it to any play. (In some cases, you may want to combine it with my Henry V design project; if you have more students than roles, you can assign some students the task of set or costume design.)

Text: Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (though the possible texts are endless)

Grade: I did this with my juniors and seniors, but I have also done it with sophomores and will do it with freshmen later this year. Small modifications could make it more or less complex.

Difficulty: Moderate (students can make it as complex as they want to)

Applications: This certainly could work with other plays as well, not just Shakespeare.

 

Welcome to your Julius Caesar final scene! In addition to your final performance of our scene, you will also complete the following written analysis. The character analysis, decorum, and performance history sections should be handed in as a single document, but how you present the “your choice” section is up to you. Each section (other than “your choice”) should be no shorter than one full page, and no longer than two full pages.

Character Analysis:

Assignment: For this section, you will analyze your character as s/he is presented throughout the play. You should include at least 5 pertinent quotes spoken by your character (a maximum of 2 can come from your scene itself). You need to determine what your character’s ultimate motivation is for his/her actions.

Educational Advantage: In essence, my students write a paper without knowing they wrote one. Instead of focusing on five paragraphs or placement of quotes, they write passionately about a character they've been thinking about through several weeks of rehearsal.

Decorum:

Assignment: This section will involve the most research. How was a person of your character’s social standing expected to behave in Roman society? Why? For this section, you must find a source to quote that describes a real person’s behavior that is similar to your character’s. (Please cite your source.)

Educational Advantage: I encourage students to visit our History and Latin teachers as they work, gaining insight from the knowledge they possess. As they research, they realize that History and English are not separate and distinct courses; instead, approaching a play as a student of the Humanities results in a more well-rounded understanding of characters and setting.

Performance History:

Assignment: You must find (and, if possible, view) at least two different incarnations of your character on the stage or screen. Explain what choices were made by the actor playing the character, contrasting/comparing those choices against your own.

Educational Advantage: Students realize that watching someone else can both strengthen and change the choices they are making. When they have to compare a professional actor to themselves, they are forced to realize that they've made deliberate choices in performing their scene, whether they like it or not.

Your choice:

Assignment: Choose one other element (perhaps pictures, a journal from your character’s point of view, a piece of artwork, etc.) and include this in your analysis. Do what helps you get to know your character better. Remember to explain this section; for example, if you include a piece of artwork, also include a brief write-up explaining why it is important and how it relates to your character.

Educational Advantage: I love what this section brings out of my students! They've done everything from journals to paintings, from writing songs to creating an iPod playlist for a character. Among my favorites are the following:

    - A detailed inventory of the contents of Cassius' fridge, including lots of raw vegetables to chop with a very sharp knife (Courtney Kulchin)
    - A video of the debate Brutus had with himself in the moments following the stabbing of Caesar (Brandon Cudequest)
    - During a version of this project my students completed for Twelfth Night, I received an original composition: a "Beer Song" for Sir Toby Belch (Georges Roc)