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Teaching Guide

Teaching Julius Caesar

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Beware the Ides of March…and beware teaching Julius Caesar without our teaching guide. We'll watch your back.

In this guide you will find

  • lessons on backstabbing. Don't worry; they're not how-tos. 
  • an activity about the "American Caesar." No, not Gretchen Wieners. John Wilkes Booth.
  • discussion questions on power, warfare, and women (again, not Gretchen Wieners).

Plus, we promise not to stab anyone.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: In an infamous diary kept in the days following the fatal shooting of Abraham Lincoln (April 14, 1865), presidential assassin (and professional Julius Caesar actor) John Wilkes Booth attempted to paint himself as a self-sacrificing patriot and an American hero for "striking down a greater tyrant than even [Brutus] had known."

In this activity, students read an excerpt from Booth's diary and consider the parallels between the American assassin and Shakespeare's Brutus, who also sees himself as a patriotic defender against tyranny.

Length of Lesson: One class period. Students can read the brief diary entry, answer a short set of study questions, and fill in a Venn diagram in one overnight homework assignment. In-class discussion should follow.

Materials Needed:

Step 1: After students have read all or most of Julius Caesar, teachers may wish to provide a brief overview of the Lincoln assassination and/or the American Civil War. Shmoop around our Civil War Learning Guide for some ideas:

Step 2: For homework or in class, students read this short excerpt from John Wilkes Booth's diary, answer a set of study questions, and fill in a graphic organizer.

Step 3: Teachers leads students in a discussion about the parallels between the infamous presidential assassin and Shakespeare's character, Brutus.

(California English Language Arts Standards Met: 9th and 10th grade Reading 2.5, 2.8, 3.2, 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.8. 3.10, 3.12. 11th and 12th grade Reading 2.1, 2.5, 2.6.)

Instructions for Your Students

In the days following the fatal shooting of President Abraham Lincoln on April 14, 1865, presidential assassin John Wilkes Booth wrote in his diary that he was a hero for "striking down a greater tyrant than even [Brutus] had known." Hmm. Booth thinks he's an American Brutus, does he? You'll be the judge of that.

In this activity, you'll read Booth's diary entry and you'll think about the parallels between the notorious American assassin and Shakespeare's character Brutus from Julius Caesar, who also sees himself as a patriotic defender against tyranny.

Step 1: Check out John Wilkes Booth's diary entry, where the presidential assassin attempts to justify the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. Here's a list of study questions for you to answer:

  1. Describe how Booth justifies the shooting of Abraham Lincoln in his diary entry. How does this compare to the way Shakespeare's character Brutus justifies the assassination of Julius Caesar? (Psst. If you need to brush up on Brutus, check out Shmoop's Brutus Character Analysis and then come right back.)
  2. Assess Booth's claims that his "action was purer than" that of Brutus and that he never sought any personal gain. 
  3. How do you think Brutus might respond to the claims made in Booth's diary? What might these two figures, Booth and Brutus, say to each other if they met?
  4. Diary entries like Booth's give us access to a writer's innermost thoughts. How do we gain access the innermost thoughts of a dramatic character like Shakespeare's Brutus?
  5. Why do you think Booth kept a diary after shooting Lincoln? (Do you think he ever anticipated that the diary would be read and/or published? If so, does this change the way we read and interpret the diary? In other words, is it possible that Booth's journal entries were crafted to sway his potential readers?)
  6. Booth makes several contradictory claims in his diary. At times, he defends his actions and says he doesn't think he did anything "wrong." Elsewhere, he declares that he "is sure there is no pardon in heaven" for him and begs for God's forgiveness. Clearly, Booth has a lot of mixed emotions about shooting Lincoln. In Shakespeare's play, do we ever see this kind of uncertainty in Brutus? What, for example, do you make of Brutus's statement that he is "with himself at war" (1.2.4)? 
  7. Do you think there is ever any way to justify the assassination of a political leader? Why or why not?
  8. Has reading Booth's diary changed your perception of Brutus's actions in the play?

Step 2: OK, you've read Booth's diary and you've answered a set of study questions. Now, use this graphic organizer to arrange your thoughts about the parallels between Booth and Brutus so you'll be ready to rock during in-class discussion.

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