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March 9, 2017

Family Activity: Julius Caesar

Use Julius Caesar as an inspiration to discuss the nature of leadership, costume design and Shakespearean meter. For each show in the season, we post a new Family Activity. You can find all of our past Family Activities on our blog and at  

What Shakespearean Leader are You?

There are many leaders in the play, Julius Caesar. Take our quiz to find out which character your leadership style most resembles!


To-Ga or Not To-Ga

That is the question...for a costume designer. Shakespeare is one of the most produced playwrights in the classical theater canon. One of the reasons Shakespeare’s plays are produced so often is because of the flexibility and artistic license directors and designers can take with the classic, well-known scripts. In this activity, look at how the costume designer chose to dress the actors and consider how you would design for your own version of Julius Caesar

Step One: Look at select costume sketches by Jennifer Moeller and Christopher Metzger from ACT I of The Acting Company’s Julius Caesar

Act I
Step Two: Look at select costume sketches from ACT II of Julius Caesar.

Act II
Step Three: Discuss these questions with your family:
  • What do you notice in the costumes from Act I?
  • What do you notice in the costumes from Act II?
  • When you compare the costumes from Act I and Act II, what do you think happens between acts? Why?
Step Four: Read the synopsis of Julius Caesar

Step Five: If you were to direct and design a version of Julius Caesar, where would it be set and what would the characters wear? 

The Beat Goes On

Most of Shakespeare’s plays are written in verse, which was normal for English drama at his time. Different playwrights would write using different meters for their verse. The one Shakespeare chose is called iambic pentameter. In this activity, hear and feel the beat of iambic pentameter in different ways. 

Clap It! 
Do a series of five soft claps, and then repeat it a few times.
  • Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap
Now do a series of five hard claps, and repeat it a few times.
  • Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap-Clap
Now combine those soft and hard claps into sets of two and repeat a few times.
  • Clap-Clap Clap-Clap Clap-Clap Clap-Clap Clap-Clap
This rhythm is iambic pentameter. Each pair of claps is an iamb, and there are five pairs!

Gallop It! 
One of the reasons Shakespeare chose iambic pentameter for the verse lines in his plays is that it has a driving beat that moves the actionforward. To feel this energy, try galloping in place as you speak the meter. Like this!

How-To Gallop

Gallop around as you speak, keeping the words connected to the steps.
  • Ta-Tum Ta-Tum Ta-Tum Ta-Tum

Suit the Meter to the Word 
Now try to connect the meter we have learned to verse lines from Julius Caesar. In Act 1, Scene 2, Cassius is trying to convince Brutus that Caesar has grown too powerful and dangerous, and must be removed from power. He argues that "I was born free as Caesar. So were you." Try that line in your normal speaking voice.
Pay attention to the meter. Speak the line again, stressing every second syllable. How does that sound?
  • I was born free as Caesar. So were you.
Now look at a larger section of text from later in that same Cassius speech, in which he argues that if Caesar is becoming too dangerous to Rome, it is because people like himself and Brutus are letting it happen. He says:
  • Men at some time are masters of their fates:
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Try that speech a few times to see what words you naturally emphasize.
Now, try using the meter!
  • Men at some time are masters of their fates:
    The fault dear Brutus is not in our stars
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Discuss the following questions as a family:
  • What words does the meter seem to suggest are most important?
  • What do you notice about the words or syllables that were stressed? 
  • How does the meter improve the line or change your understanding of it?
BONUS: Stressing every second syllable, feel out these famous Shakespearean lines. For bonus points, pick a line you like, and try to speak it with a gallop, moving around the room!
  • But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? (Romeo & Juliet 2.2.2)
  • A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse! (Richard III 5.4.7) 
  • If music be the food of love, play on. (Twelfth Night 1.1.1)
  • Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff. (Macbeth 4.1.73)
  • Two households, both alike in dignity (Romeo & Juliet P.1)
Sometimes really important lines in a play break the rhythm on purpose, to catch the audience’s ear. "To be, or not to be, that is the question" from Hamlet is one of those—the final iamb is left incomplete, the final syllable missing to emphasize the unknowable nature of the question. Listen for lines like this when you watch Julius Caesar.

Family Activities
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Posted by Beth Henderson
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