Primary Source Spotlight: Plutarch’s Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans

Author: Christina Porter, Revere High School, Revere, MA

Editor: Greta Brasgalla, Folger National Teacher Corps and Curriculum Specialist at El Dorado High School, El Paso, TX

Texts: Julius Caesar 2.2.1-112

Lesson Overview

Students will examine primary source materials on history and the supernatural which relate to Julius Caesar. By acting out the scene based on different historical understandings, they will identify facts, theories and similarities in the sources which help explain characters' motivations, decisions, and reactions.

Time: Two 45-minute class periods


What to Do

Day One

  1. Read 2.2.1-112 together as a class.
  2. Divide students into small groups and the distribute the three handouts. Ask all students to fill out the preliminary questions, read the primary sources handouts and then turn to the activity directions.
  3. Walk through this next step a couple of times with the class as a whole. While one group is performing 2.2.1-112, other groups will interject "Prithee pause" to share an interesting fact, point out a similarity or a difference or offer a theory as to why a character behaves in a particular way based on what was learned from the primary sources. You may want to make “pause” cards and each group can only use their allotted amount during the activity.
  4. Allow students to continue this exercise without teacher direction.
  5. Have a designated student keep a written record of these interjections. Discuss them as a group: which changed their view of the scene and its context?

Day Two

  1. Have students reread Plutarch's version and discuss how this could be acted out, what dialogue could be added etc. In groups, have students act out the scene again in two ways: first based on Shakespeare's interpretation of the scene, and second based on Plutarch's interpretation. Make sure they incorporate specific changes in their acting: for instance, Caesar's reaction to the light at the window is a specific difference they can note and incorporate.
  2. Have students compare and discuss the differences in the interpretations.


Students will answer questions on Handout #4 to demonstrate understanding of the primary source material.