Summer Shakespeare I

Bruce A. McMenomy, Ph.D. for Scholars Online
2021: Wednesdays, 1:00-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time
June 16 - Aug. 18

June 16:
A Midsummer Night's Dream

June 23:
Romeo and Juliet

July 7:
The Taming of the Shrew

July 14:
Richard II

July 21:
As You Like It

July 28:
Julius Caesar

August 4:
The Merchant of Venice

August 11:
King Lear

August 18:
Twelfth Night

Julius Caesar

Things to consider while reading Julius Caesar

This is one of Shakespeare’s earlier tragedies, often studied in school, often considered inferior to the "great" tragedies Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, and perhaps Antony and Cleopatra. As such it is treated oddly. In fact it’s a fairly tight play — perhaps lacking great sophistication and depth of characterization, but still tightly framed in the manner of, say, Aeschylean tragedy. It’s worth reading and attending to closely.

Julius Caesar and the previous plays we’ve read

Shakespeare’s Tragedies

Though based on historical incident (a reasonably good account, in Plutarch’s Lives) this play is not normally considered a history. What makes a tragedy a tragedy? What are tragedy’s distinguishing features?

In particular consider:

Themes that emerge in the play (only a few of the many)

Symmetries in the play

The greatest balances in this play are between the sets of characters:

How do these pairings advance the plot? What do they add to the argument or discussion of the play? How do they impart forward movement to the play?

Inconsistencies or problems in the play

Perhaps less a problem for Elizabethan audiences, who expected ruling political figures to get all the credit for what was done under them, than for us: who is this play about, really? Is this really the tragedy of Julius Caesar? If not, whose tragedy is it?

What is the function of the insistent unfolding prophecy in the play? What is its point?

How does Shakespeare use dramatic irony to underscore his points? Does it get out of control?