Amy Krajeck, Webster Thomas High School, Webster, New York.
Julius Caesar 2.1.253-333 and 2.4
What's On for Today and Why
Students will explore the subtext of the two scenes in which Portia appears, to compare the language she uses with her husband Brutus in 2.1 with the language she uses with her boy servant Lucius in 2.4. Students will use their analysis of Portia's subtext to perform pieces of the two scenes.
This lesson may take one to three class periods.
What You Need
Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Portia/Brutus Subtext Handout (2.1)
Portia/Lucius Subtext Handout (2.4)
What To Do
1. As an introductory activity, write the sentence, "You paid how much for that?" on the chalkboard. Ask six students to read the line, each stressing a different word in the sentence. Discuss how the stress changes the subtext, and therefore the meaning, of the line.
2. Now try the same exercise with the line, "I should not know you Brutus." (2.1.275) How does the meaning change with each inflection?
3. Introduce the term "subtext" to the students. By studying what characters are thinking (which is usually different from what they are speaking—the context) readers can interpret and make inferences about characters' motivations which can inform how they read the text.
4. To do another introductory performance activity, divide students into groups and give each group an index card with a subtext written on it. Subtexts should include, "I hit the lottery," "I'll do it against my will," "You are absolutely right," I knew you'd figure it out," and "Why are you asking me this?" Ask the groups to pick a spokesperson to say the word, "Yes," using the subtext on each card. Ask the rest of the group to guess the subtext.
5. Now pass out the Portia/Brutus Subtext Handout. Divide the class into pairs and assign each pair a portion of the handout to complete. Have each pair report back to the larger group so that each student can fill in the entire sheet.
6. Once each pair has reported, ask the class to summarize what they believe Portia's ultimate objectives are with Brutus. Did Portia have a planned agenda before speaking to Brutus? What is the subtext of Portia stabbing her thigh? Why does she do this to herself? Can students draw a parallel between Portia stabbing herself and teenagers cutting themselves? What is the subtext of cutting?
7. Now pass out the Portia/Lucius Subtext Handout and repeat the exercise. In discussion, ask them how Portia's language has changed, both in context and in subtext. Is Portia aware of what she wants from Lucius? If not, what does her subtext become?
8. In groups, have students chose a particular slant/ subtext for the scene and act it out to convey that meaning so the scene is performed with a variety of possible interpretations.
How Did It Go?
Were students able to complete the subtext guides? Were they able to use the information from the guides to help them infer and discuss Portia's thoughts and feelings in both cases? Did students come to a conclusion about why Portia's language and subtext changed between the two scenes? Were they able to draw hypotheses about Portia's relationship with her husband through her use of language? If so, the lesson was a success.
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.