June 28, 2022

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act III

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

After reading Act II of Julius Caesar, students understand the pros and cons of Caesar’s ambitious nature and his decision-making skills. We see the notable differences between Cassius and Brutus and understand that Caesar’s death is likely imminent. In fact, teachers should make note of the fact that Caesar is killed in the beginning of Act III, which begs the question why would Shakespeare kill off the title character in the middle of the play, and what does that leave in store for the rest of the play?

Here's my approach to teaching Act III:

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 III, so the days we don't spend reading are spent on after reading activities, writing, analyzing examples of persuasive techniques, and a short assessment. We review all of this together at the end of class.

Act III is also broken into three chunks. The focus is on Act III, Scene II, which is when Brutus and Antony speak to the Roman people after Caesar’s death.

Before jumping into this week's reading, I'll introduce or review important terms. Act III is full of persuasive and rhetorical devices so I'll review logical appeals, emotional appeals, loaded words, anecdotes, ad hominem, and repetition. It is also important for students to continue their review of the drama and figurative language terms from the previous weeks.

Act III, Scene I

I provide a summary of Scene I of Act III, which is when the Soothsayer and Artemidorus warn Caesar one last time– it is now the ides of March or March 15th– Caesar denies their warnings yet again, and is then killed. Teachers can choose, instead, to do a close read of this section of Scene I as students often enjoy acting out this scene as it is the bulk of what we have been building towards. At the conclusion of the scene, students analyze Caesar’s final words and the turning point of the play. Students make note of how Shakespeare builds towards the chaos surrounding Caesar’s murder and what he does to create the tension.

Act III, Scene II

We knew ahead of time that Caesar would be murdered but didn’t yet understand the disastrous tumult this would bring to Rome. In Scene II, we do a close read of Brutus’ speech in which he convinces the crowd that the death of Caesar was necessary. This speech settles the crowd for some time until, of course, Antony delivers his famous speech, gaining the crowd’s attention with an effective “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…” I provide the original text and modern translation of this scene, and students analyze how Antony uses persuasive techniques to incite the crowd. Students look at the elements and stage directions in this scene, cite textual evidence, and identify key lines as being an emotional or logical appeal. 

Act III, Scene III

I provide a summary of Scene III so that more time is prioritized for the after reading activities and the assessment of Act III. This scene details an angry mob of Roman citizens chasing Cinna the poet– mistaking him for Cinna the conspirator– and killing him with their bare hands. It sets a scene of foreshadowing for the revenge the Romans will pursue on the real conspirators. 

After Reading Activities

To help students see and hear how convincing Brutus and Antony were, I show students Brutus’s speech performed by actor Ben Whishaw at the Bridge Theater in 2018 and then Antony’s speech performed by actor Dan Fearon with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2012. Students take notes using the graphic organizer as they view the two speeches. It may be helpful to view each at least twice. Students make note of how each speaker sets the stage, the feeling that is created, the key points that are made, and each speaker’s use of persuasive techniques. As a culminating activity, students decide whether Brutus or Antony had greater power as an orator, citing evidence from their graphic organizer to support their opinion. 

As a separate extension activity, I have students review Act III for quotations that match a range of emotions. You will likely want to use the full original text of Act III for this activity, but it can also be completed using the adapted reading. Students read back over Act III and identify lines that portray the listed emotions. Students quote the text, identify the speaker, and provide the act, scene and line numbers. 


At the end of the week, I assign a text-based assessment, which covers Act III 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 categorizing characters’ use of persuasive techniques.

To assess students’ understanding throughout Act III, I also assign a four-part homework which focuses on persuasive techniques. Students will identify different types of appeals, analyze the appeals used in Cassius’s monologue from Act I, analyze the appeals used in other sections of the play, and write a speech for Caesar using different types of emotional appeals. 

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

Read on for my approach to teaching Act IV and V of Julius Caesar.

Here's how I plan out Act III 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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