June 28, 2022

How to Teach Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: Act IV and V

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

After reading Act III of Julius Caesar, students understand that not all characters view omens and superstitions the same. We notice how Shakespeare builds towards the chaos surrounding Caesar’s murder and what he does to create the tension. Act III is important because it is packed with drama. We watched how characters’ plans succeeded and failed, taking us in a different direction than expected. With Julius Caesar– our title character– now dead, we will read to see how Shakespeare wraps up the play and whether “justice” will prevail.

Here's my approach to teaching the final part of the play:

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 IV and Act V in total, so the days we don't spend reading are spent on after reading activities, writing, analyzing elements of a tragedy, and a short assessment. We review all of this together at the end of class.

Before jumping into this week's reading, I'll introduce or review important terms. For Act IV and Act V, we will continue discussing the elements of a plot as well as a tragic hero and character foils. It is also important for students to continue their review of terms from the previous weeks.

Reading Act IV and Act V

This reading is broken into two chunks. The focus is on Act IV, Scene III and Act V, Scene V. I provide summaries of parts of those scenes as well as the rest of Act IV and Act V. The text of Act IV, Scene III and Act V, Scene V have the original text with the modern translations side by side. Students read and discuss how the relationship between Brutus and Cassius has transformed. We discuss what certain events may be foreshadowing and make inferences as to what happens to Portia. We discuss the climax and resolution of the play. In all, we see how the actions of the conspirators have backfired, which brings us to the discussion of who is the tragic hero in this tragedy after all: Julius Caesar or Brutus?

After Reading Activities

To better understand why Brutus is really the focus of the play, rather than its namesake Caesar, students read information and answer questions about the definition and origin of tragic heroes. Students also apply the characteristics of a tragic hero to Brutus by analyzing Brutus’s actions, decisions and choices.

As a fun final character analysis activity, students assign zodiac signs to the characters in the play based on their personalities. To help students get familiar with the information about astrology from Shakespeare’s time and modern day, students first complete a scavenger hunt in which they respond to questions about themselves, Shakespeare, and Julius Caesar, and look for commonalities between the zodiac signs. I show a short video essay explaining the stars, astrology, and astronomy in William Shakespeare's plays and provide zodiac information for Shakespearean and modern times. Students use this information to decide on a zodiac sign for several key characters, citing evidence from the text to support their analysis. 


At the end of the week, I assign a text-based assessment, which covers Act IV and Act V 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 analyzing character foils and character motivations as well as various conflicts in the play.

To assess students’ understanding throughout Act IV and Act V, I also assign a four-part homework which focuses on paraphrasing the original text of the play. By the end of the play, students have a strong understanding of Shakespeare’s use of language and are ready for the task of putting his writing in their own words.

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

Read on for my approach to wrapping up my Julius Caesar unit.

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

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