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Romans in Britain, or Classical Colonialism

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Shakespeare. Cymbeline. Scenery, for the play of Cymbeline. As acted, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Seasons, 1843-4

October 2005
David M. Gutierrez, Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Plays/Scenes Covered
Cymbeline 3.1, 5.5.558-586
What's On for Today and Why

Students are often surprised to discover that the Roman Empire extended as far as the British Isles. This lesson will help students understand the conflict and resolution between Cymbeline and the Roman general Caius Lucius.


This lesson will take three to four class periods.

What You Need

Folger edition of Cymbeline

Map of Europe and North Africa
Map of the Roman Empire
Ancient Romans, from the BBC
Roman Britain, from the BBC
History of Roman Britain
Timeline of Roman Britain
What To Do

1. Show students a map of Europe and North Africa (see link below). Ask them to identify the extent of the Roman Empire, and the people living in Roman occupied territory. (A link to a map of the Roman Empire is also included below.) Ask students to identify the reasons behind Roman expansion and occupation, and the different native attitudes to occupation and the "Pax Romana." (See below for links with helpful background information.)


2. Ask students to read Cymbeline 3.1 closely, and note the different attitudes Cloten, the Queen, and Cymbeline have towards Caius Lucius' request for tribute. Are their attitudes reasonable or unreasonable? What makes you say so? Have students write down their ideas in their journals, or share them in a class discussion.


3. Divide students into groups of four and ask them to stage this scene. How does the blocking reflect the conflict between the characters? How can you deliver the lines to emphasize the characters' points of view? What are the characters' objectives? (Some possible objectives could be to persuade, to mock, to incense, to intimidate, to appease, to boast, or to threaten.)


4. Ask students to explore the links about Roman Britain below, to learn more about the relationship between Britain and the rulers of the Roman Empire. Does this shed any light on why the above characters were in conflict? Does it make you side more or less with any of the characters? Again, explore these questions in student journals or a class discussion.


5. Now ask students to read 5.5.558–586 closely. What do you make of the fact that Cymbeline, after choosing war with Rome, now gives in to Lucius' former demands? What does that tell us about Cymbeline's view of Rome and his relation to it? What do you think Shakespeare's audience would have made of Cymbeline's capitulation? Have your students answer these questions in their journals or in a class discussion.


6. Divide students into groups of four and ask them to stage 3.1 again. Be sure to tell them to take into consideration their discoveries about Britain under Roman rule and the outcome of the play in Act 5. How do these considerations change their understanding of the scene in question and of the play as a whole? Have them reflect on their changing understanding of the scene in their journals, or through a class discussion.

How Did It Go?
Were students able to make connections between Roman imperialism and the British Isles? Did it help them understand the actions of the characters in the play? Did their performances reflect a deeper understanding of the text? Were they able to evaluate the effectiveness of the performance choices they made?

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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  Common Core State Standards

There are no standards associated with this Lesson Plan.
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