On this Saturday Arts & Music Day we’re going to wrap up Julius Caesar Week with several renditions of one of the most famous speeches from Shakespeare’s plays: “Friends, Romans, Countrymen! Lend me your ears!”
❡ Filling in the background: For a quick homeschool review of the life and times of Julius Caesar, and of his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 B.C., turn to pages 108–109 in your River Houses history encyclopedia (riverhouses.org/books).
It’s hard for many people, both children and adults, to understand what’s happening in a play just by reading the printed text. Plays are written to be performed, and the best way for students to understand them is by seeing not just one, but several different performances.
Why not spend a few homeschool minutes this weekend with these different versions of Mark Antony’s famous speech “Friends, Romans, Countrymen!” from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and discuss the differences with your students. Although the scene is politically and psychologically complex and will be above the level of many beginners, the differences in style and costume should catch the attention of any viewer.
Mark Antony, the speaker, was one of Caesar’s allies. Caesar had been murdered just hours before, and while the assassins are confident in the justness of their cause, the situation is very dangerous. They contemplate murdering Mark Antony as well, but decide instead to co-opt him to their side and allow him to deliver a funeral speech for Caesar, provided he only speak personally and not politically. Mark Antony starts out that way, remembering Caesar as a friend, but then begins to manipulate the crowd and turn them against the assassins.
This may be my favorite version of the speech, from the 2012 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Julius Caesar with Ray Fearon as Marc Antony:
One of the most famous modern film versions of Julius Caesar is this 1953 production with Marlon Brando as Mark Antony:
And for another film version in period costume, here is a 1970 production featuring Charlton Heston as Mark Antony:
This material is all quite suitable for high school students and should be able to generate some good conversations about acting styles, Shakespearean language, and Roman history.
But don’t underestimate younger children who may not be able to understand all the subtlety of meaning, but who are nevertheless natural memorizing machines. See if they’d like to learn the “Friends, Romans, Countrymen!” speech themselves, as this talented first grader did (arriving on stage with Caesar’s corpse!):
What artistic discoveries have you made and what great scenes have you acted out in your homeschool lately?