Character Analysis: Brutus' Conscience and Caesar's Danger

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SWBAT explain Shakespeare's characterization of Brutus by paraphrasing poetic language and by questioning the text in groups.

Big Idea

Students gain greater control of reading Shakespeare by working in groups in a 1:1 computer setting.

Introduce the text in 2.1

10 minutes

1:1 Setting. It's a brave new world for the reading of Shakespeare in my English 1 class: we are reading the text online, as I mentioned in my previous lessons, and the students literally copy the text for the day from our google+ screen capture page.  I have found these google+ pages to be very convenient instructionally, especially given that every student is carrying a google chromebook into class.  The problem with this approach, it seems, is that the text itself can become somewhat fragmented, but I do think that the convenience (read: free, equally accessible) makes this approach worth a try.  

Brutus's Character.  We will be exploring Brutus's character (RL.9-10.3) in this speech, his desire to act in the best interests of all, his desire to protect Rome from tyranny.  Along the way, there is the challenge of sorting through the extended metaphors and strongly connotative language (RL.9-10.4) in this passage that make literal comprehension a challenge, so I will be asking students to supply evidence from the passage to explain their ideas (RL.9-10.1).  

And scaffolding... You may have noticed that at several times in my course this year, I try to shift the onus of interpretation onto the students.  It's a delicate balance, but this lesson is one of those fulcrum moments in which I think that I have given the students enough practice with my direct guidance, and now it's time to let them interpret a text together in groups. 


Here is the text:

It must be by his death: and for my part,

I know no personal cause to spurn at him,
But for the general. He would be crown'd:
How that might change his nature, there's the question.
It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;
And that craves wary walking. Crown him?
And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,
That at his will he may do danger with.
The abuse of greatness is, when it disjoins
Remorse from power: and, to speak truth of Caesar,
I have not known when his affections sway'd
More than his reason. But 'tis a common proof,
That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmost round.
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend. So Caesar may.
Then, lest he may, prevent. And, since the quarrel
Will bear no colour for the thing he is,
Fashion it thus; that what he is, augmented,
Would run to these and these extremities:
And therefore think him as a serpent's egg
Which, hatch'd, would, as his kind, grow mischievous,
And kill him in the shell.


Rather than working toward "coverage," I am cherrypicking key passages from the play that we can analyze in depth, and the speech by Antony following Caesar's assassination will be central to this, in that students will be analyzing the speech, memorizing it, and comparing it to contemporary speeches by J.K.Rowling and Bono from U2.


Groups Comment on Brutus's speech in 2.1

30 minutes

Base Group Agenda.  I ask students to follow a base group agenda, which I post on the board:

1.) Say "hi" in an interesting way.

2.) Read the text aloud, and each member adds one question and one paraphrasing comment.  

3.) Make sure that each group member understands each paraphrasing comment and also the questions.


On Screen.  I will ask on group to put their copy of notes on brutus' speech on the overhead project in real time.  A couple of times during the group session, I ask the groups to take a break and process as a large group what is happening.  I ask the featured group to explain their paraphrases and questions (RL.9-10.2).  I try (as best I can!) to direct these comments to the other groups, asking for feedback on the paraphrasing as well as offering responses to the questions.

I will ask:

- Do you think this paraphrase is accurate?  Specific enough?  Any missing details?

- How does this paraphrase compare to yours?  What word did you use for ____________ ?  Why do you think you chose a different word?

- Who can respond to this group's question?  


Wrap up

10 minutes

There is no Caesar-related homework for tonight, but the students have an independent book reading to complete, which will serve as the final capstone on the course for the year (see next unit).  As such, the wrap up will consist of a group-processing session:

1.) Thumbs up/down: how comfortable and effective was your group in doing this work? 

2.) To what extent do you feel you could do it without their help?

3.) How did you handle the extended metaphors (RL.9-10.4)?  What are they (ladder, snake), and how do they reveal Brutus's dilemma (RL.9-10.3)?