Based on true events in Roman history, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a play that highlights the conflicting demands of honor, patriotism, and friendship.

At the time of the play’s first performance (approximately 1599 CE), England was experiencing much of same political uncertainty faced by the Romans centuries before. Like Julius Caesar, the elderly Queen Elizabeth had yet to name a successor, leaving many English citizens concerned about what might happen upon her death. Providing background information on this era may help students better understand the appeal of this play to an Elizabethan audience.

From the soothsayer’s iconic warning, “Beware the ides of March,” to the strange phenomena witnessed around Rome before Caesar’s death, omens and superstition play a large role in Julius Caesar. Examining the seemingly supernatural elements found throughout the play can help your students thoroughly analyze each character’s actions and motivations. For instance, not everyone reacts the same to Calpurnia’s bloody dream in Act II, scene ii. While Calpurnia believes her dream is a warning, the conspirator Decius convinces Caesar that it really signifies he will be a successful ruler. Decius’s persuasive words encourage Caesar to visit the Senate, where he is ultimately killed.

Aside from its memorable characters and plot, Julius Caesar contains one of the most famous pieces of rhetoric Shakespeare ever devised: the speech Mark Antony delivers to the citizens of Rome after Caesar’s assassination. Following Brutus’ address explaining his patriotic reasoning for killing Caesar, Mark Antony speaks to the crowd, inciting a riot. For a closer reading of this scene, have your students identify key instances where Mark Antony uses rhetorical devices, including parallelism and repetition, to sway the crowd’s opinion of Caesar’s assailants. You can also have your students perform the speech in class for further immersion.

Keep reading to learn more about the tragedy of Julius Caesar.

Summary of Julius Caesar

Key Facts

Julius Caesar has just returned to Rome after defeating the sons of Pompey in a battle to rule the empire. His friends Brutus and Cassius believe Caesar’s rise to power may not be in Rome’s best interests, and they conspire to overthrow him and have Brutus reign instead.

Eventually, the conspirators succeed with their plot to assassinate Caesar, but in the end, neither Brutus nor Cassius ends up in power.

What Your Students Will Love About Julius Caesar

  • The conspiracies and plot twists
  • The exciting historical context in which the play is set

Potential Student Struggles With Julius Caesar

  • Understanding Shakespeare’s language
  • Scenes of suicides and murder

Learning Objectives for Julius Caesar

  • Define tragic hero and explore to what extent Brutus can be considered one.
  • Discuss the ways in which characters use language to manipulate or deceive others.
  • Analyze the rhetoric found in Mark Antony’s speech in Act III, scene ii.
  • Examine how superstitious beliefs and omens affect the actions of the conspirators.
  • Discuss the play’s relevance to an Elizabethan audience.

Literary Elements in Julius Caesar

  • Allegory
  • Exposition
  • Foreshadowing
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Parallelism
  • Repetition
  • Symbolism
  • Tragedy
  • And more!

Major Themes in Julius Caesar

Fate — Characters question the role that fate plays in their lives. They take actions based on supposed omens of things to come, but the characters often misinterpret these signs to fit the outcomes they want.

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Betrayal — Many of the characters, especially Brutus and Cassius, are willing to sacrifice their friendships for what they believe to be beneficial to Rome.

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The Power of Words — Skilled rhetoricians wield a great deal of power in this play; for instance, the speech Mark Antony delivers after Caesar’s assassination turns public opinion against Brutus and Cassius.

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Other Resources for Julius Caesar

Order Julius Caesar Resources from Prestwick House

Resource Format
Julius Caesar Paperback Student Edition
Julius Caesar Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Julius Caesar AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Julius Caesar Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Julius Caesar Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Julius Caesar Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set