June 28, 2022

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act II

Here's how I plan out Act II of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

After reading Act I of Julius Caesar, students understand the conspirators’ plan to defeat Caesar– who we only see a little of in Act I but hear a great deal about from other characters– and understand how certain characters are using language to manipulate others into joining the conspiracy. Readers become more acquainted with Caesar in Act II as well as the only two women in the play: Calphurnia (Caesar’s wife) and Portia (Brutus’ wife).

Here's my approach to teaching Act II:

Planning Out The Reading

In each act of Julius Caesar, I continue choosing to read the scenes with the events most important to developing the plot. I provide short summaries for any scenes we skip to fill students in on the less important events. In addition to providing summaries of less important scenes, I also edit down (cut out lines) the scenes we do read. Students continue taking on roles to act out the play and enhance engagement. I spend about a week on Act II, so the days we don't spend reading are spent on after reading activities, writing, analyzing examples of figurative language, and a short assessment. We review all of this together at the end of class.

Act II is broken into three chunks. The focus is on Act II, Scene I and Scene II. I provide summaries of parts of those scenes as well as Act II, Scene III and Scene IV. After reading, students translate words from the original to modern text, and vice versa. They also answer short written response questions and analyze examples of figurative language. 

Before jumping into this week's reading, I'll introduce or review important terms. Act II is full of figurative language so I'll review simile, metaphor, personification, foreshadowing and sound techniques. It is also important for students to continue their review of drama terms– aside, soliloquy, monologue, and dialogue– so that they understand who characters are speaking to in these scenes (other characters versus the audience).

Act II, Scene 1

In Act II, Scene I is one of the most pivotal scenes to the plot and is where Brutus makes his decision to join the conspiracy against Caesar. Act 2 is important because it sets up the conflict, letting us know exactly who is for and against Caesar and why. It also introduces us to two domestic relationships: Portia and Brutus and Caesar and Calphurnia. 

In a soliloquy, Brutus reveals he can see no way of stopping Caesar except “by his death”, and we see Brutus and Cassius differ over whether Antony should also be killed. One death? That’s fine. But two deaths? Far too bloody. 

Scene I is divided into two parts: namely Brutus and Cassius’ discussion as well as Brutus’ discussion with his concerned wife, Portia. Students will engage in word identification and short answer responses in which they look closely at characters’ strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of certain characters’ relationships.

Act II, Scene II

I divide Scene II into two parts as well with both the original translation and the modern translation. We see Caesar’s second dismissal of the “Beware the Ides of March” warning and his wife Calphurnia encouraging him to stay at home for fear something bad is going to happen. Caesar dismisses this omen again, giving the reader more insight into Caesar’s character, until Calphurnia eventually convinces him to stay at home. This scene is rich with figurative language, and after a close read, students will identify the type of figurative language being used as well as what is being compared or explained. We look closely at the sound techniques Shakespeare uses to determine author’s purpose and what these techniques could possibly be foreshadowing By the end of Scene II, students should take note of Caesar’s decision-making as well as if his character is as described by other characters in Act I.

Act II, Scenes III and IV

Because Scenes III and IV are very short, I provide a summary of these two scenes. We see Artemidorus reading a petition to Caesar in which he warns Caesar against the conspirators, and Brutus informs Portia of the plan which gives Portia an internal conflict of whether to keep counsel to her husband or to speak out and save her husband from anything bad potentially happening. The Soothsayer warns Caesar yet again. We are able to see by the end of Act II how Portia and Calphurnia– the only two women in the play– are both similar and different. 

After Reading Activities

All of Rome wants to know who Portia and Calphurnia are – what they wear, how they relate to their husbands’ careers, the role they see for themselves as the women behind the great men of Rome. To meet the Roman people’s needs, my students select either Portia or Calphurnia to "interview." They choose from three levels of included questions, which require them to utilize direct evidence from the play, make inferences based on evidence in the play, and creatively answer based on the setting of the play. Students write up the questions and answers for their interview using a provided templates. 

A separate extension activity offers students the opportunity to juxtapose Portia and Calphurnia in a compare contrast essay. I provide students with a prewriting graphic organizer which includes possible topics and line numbers for examination. Once they have collected the necessary evidence and line numbers, students write a five paragraph essay. The pre-writing organizer helps them structure their essay an introduction and conclusion as well as three body paragraphs, two that show how Portia and Calphurnia are different and one that shows how they are similar. I also provide transitions for comparing and contrasting and examples of usage for students unfamiliar with this type of writing.


At the end of the week, I assign a text-based assessment, which covers Act II of Julius Caesar. The assessment includes ten multiple-choice questions and a choice of short answer questions which require a written response and an opportunity for students to use textual evidence to support their answer. The multiple choice questions include general comprehension questions including the key terms students were provided at the start of the play as well as questions which challenge students to interpret the text by making inferences, analyzing character foils as well as figurative language.

To assess students’ understanding throughout Act II, I also assign a four-part homework  which focuses on the characters in the play. Students match characters with their personalities, apply their knowledge of characters to describe how those characters would react in certain situations, and respond to questions connected to the themes of friendship and fate.

You can find all of my resources for teaching Julius Caesar, including the materials described above that I use to teach Act II, here.

Read on for my approach to teaching Act III of Julius Caesar.

Here's how I plan out Act II of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: the scenes I focus on and the activities I use to extend learning and make connections.

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