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"This Was the Noblest Roman of Them All"

Teachers' Rating:
  15 ratings

Samuel Noble after Richard Westall. Brutus and Strato (Julius Caesar V.iii). Print, 1802

June 2008
John Bathke teaches at Princeton High School, Princeton, New Jersey

Plays/Scenes Covered
Julius Caesar, 5.5.49-87
What's On for Today and Why

In this lesson, students will not only have a chance to create promptbooks for the final scene of the play, but also the opportunity to view the work of professional actors and directors and respond to that work. Students will focus on the problems of staging and character, specifically Brutus' death, the characters of Lucius and Octavius, and the final moment of the play.

Since very few productions of Julius Caesar exist on film, students will focus their attention on two film versions: Mankiewicz's 1953 film starring Marlon Brando and Burges' 1970 film starring Charleton Heston. They will also look at some stage  productions where several differences among them exist. For example, in Joseph Mankiewicz's film, he gives Antony, not Octavius, the final speech of the play, and in the Oson Welles stage production (1937), Welles not only gives Antony the final speech, he also does not show Cassius' death and merely suggests Brutus' death. In the recent Broadway production starring Denzel Washington as Brutus, the director chose to have Lucius kill Brutus.


This lesson will take 2 class periods to complete.

What You Need

Folger edition of Julius Caesar
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

Film versions of Julius Caesar: Joseph Mankiewicz 1953

                                                          Burges 1970

Shakespeare Set Free Volume 1: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet.

What To Do

Day One:

1. Ask students to smmarize the final scene of the play. Divide the class into groups of five and distribute a list of some of the issues that a film or theater company must address when staging this scene. Specifically, students will need to focus on:

  • Who has the final speech? What effect does it have on the play as a whole?
  • Is Antony speaking ironically or seriously when he refers to Brutus as the noblest Roman of them all?
  • What minor characters are included in the final scene?
  • How does Brutus die?

2. Show the two film versions of the play's final scene and ask students not only to pay close attention to the elements/questions above, but also to comment on the text, noting any omissions, additions, and/or rearrangements, the cinematography, sound and lighting design, set and costume design, and acting.


3. After viewing each of the film versions of the final scene from the play, have students share their observations about how the performances dealt with the specific issues of the play as well as the elements listed above.




Day Two:


1. Discuss with students the role and function of a promptbook in which choices for set, props, movement, light, etc. are marked down. Refer to Shakespeare Set Free, Volume 1, page 151 for a working example.


2. Students will prepare their own promptbook for the final scene: although there are no right or wrong answers, all choices should be supported by the text and knowledge of the characters.


3. Have the groups present their scenes according to their promptbooks. Collect promptbooks


How Did It Go?
Were the students able to demonstrate a complex knowledge of characters and their relationships? Did the students use lines from the text to justify the choices they made for their promptbooks? Did the students pick up on the subtle nuances, shifts, and inflections in the film productions?Were the students able to explain the director's choices using the text?Did the students, in their comments, connect camera techniques to the directors' purposes in staging the final scene?

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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