Art, Culture & History on the Ides of March

Friends, Romans, North-Countrymen, lend me your ears

Made famous by William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, the Ides of March fall on March 15th and are best known as the day in 44 BC that emperor Julius Caesar met his demise in the Roman Senate. Assassinated by his countrymen who would no longer stand for his style of autocratic rule or the threat of his growing power, Shakespeare’s play tells of Caesar ignoring a fateful warning of danger and the complicated events and shifting alliances between characters that follow—all of which change the fate of not just an empire but the world.

Inspired by Julius Caesar’s impact on the Roman Empire, Shakespeare’s classic play is one of history’s most read, watched, and reinvented. In reality, Caesar was a politician, general, and controversial figure in his own time, ruling Gaul, inciting a civil war, and growing his power within the Roman Republic until his rise to become dictator in 46 BC. During his lifetime Caesar restructured Roman government, widely expanded the empire increasing the spread of trade, culture and citizenship, and established the Julian calendar which is still in use to this day.

This March, learn more about the life and death of this historic figure with two PBS LearningMedia collections—Great Performances: Julius Caesar and Shakespeare Uncovered—and explore resources examining the history, plot, characters, and contemporary interpretations of Shakespeare’s timeless play.

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Great Performances: Julius Caesar

Set in a women’s prison, Great Performances: Julius Caesar offers a powerful dramatization of the catastrophic consequences of a political leader’s extension of power beyond constitutional confines through an all-female lens. In this acclaimed Donmar Warehouse production directed by Phyllida Lloyd, Shakespeare’s famous discourse on power, loyalty, and tragic idealism is heightened against the backdrop of female incarceration.

Learn more using the production’s PBS LearningMedia collection which features videos, a behind the scenes guide, student activities, and more.

Overview of Julius Caesar | Great Performances: Julius Caesar

Grades 6-12
Help students navigate the plot of Julius Caesar with this video from Great Performances: Julius Caesar. Support materials prepare students to engage with the play through discussion questions, teaching tips, and an exploration of the characters.

Performing Gender | Great Performances: Julius Caesar

Grades 6-12
Learn how an all-female cast performed classic Shakespearian male roles in this video from Great Performances: Julius Caesar. This resource asks students to explore gender, as well as male and female stereotypes, by thinking about how language and performance choices impact a play. Support materials further analyze gendered language and gender stereotypes through discussion questions, teaching tips, and activities.

Shakespeare Uncovered

Shakespeare Uncovered combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays. Resources for the series on PBS LearningMedia explore plays ranging from Macbeth to Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet to Merchant of Venice, and beyond.

Julius Caesar, Rhetoric, and Relevance | Shakespeare Uncovered

Grades 6-12
Learn about how Shakespeare uses rhetoric in his play Julius Caesar in two videos from Shakespeare Uncovered. This resource also addresses how Shakespeare’s use of rhetoric can inform our understanding of how rhetoric is used today. Support materials engage students with contemporary connections through discussion questions, teaching tips, and a background essay.

Julius Caesar and the American Experience | Shakespeare Uncovered

Grades 6-12
Learn about the long-held American fascination with Julius Caesar in two videos from Shakespeare Uncovered. Brian Cox states, “Rome is not a place, but an ideal,” and that the play continues to resonate because it addresses issues that face any society that tries to uphold democratic principles. The videos and support materials explore the parallels between the play and the American experience. Since Abraham Lincoln’s assassination by John Wilkes Booth, an actor obsessed with Brutus, the play continues to hold a place in the political and cultural landscape of America.