William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesa

Essay Questions
1. Both Martin Luther (in On the Freedom of a Christian and the Smalcald Articles) and
René Descartes (in Meditations on First Philosophy) understand themselves to be
breaking free from a received tradition in Christian theology and in philosophy,
respectively. Compare and contrast Luther’s and Descartes’ relationship to “tradition” by
considering what aspects of their respective traditions they repudiate, their reasons for
rejecting those traditions, and what they establish (in terms of the content of their
conclusions and the method by which they arrive at those conclusions) in place of the
traditions they’ve rejected.

2. Write an essay discussing the actions and attitudes of the characters in William
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in terms of the political theory presented in EITHER
Thomas More’s Utopia OR Machiavelli’s The Prince. Compare the evaluation of
political idealism and political realism in the work you have chosen with that seen in
Shakespeare’s play. Is political idealism—insisting on the “right” form of government
and on morally “good” policies or governing choices—presented as desirable or
necessary in these texts? Is it viewed as impractical or dangerous? Is political
pragmatism—a focus on effectiveness in government—viewed as corrupt/corrupting or
as admirable and useful? Depending on which text you have chosen, you might consider:
how might Machiavelli or More/Hythloday praise or criticize the actions of Caesar,
Brutus, Cassius, or Antony? How might they evaluate the actions of the common people
of Rome and the relation of these Roman leaders to the people? What might they say

about the role of fortune and virtue as they appear in the play?
3. Compare how the indigenous peoples of the “New World” are perceived and treated in
any TWO of Thomas More’s Utopia, Bartolomé de Las Casas’s Brief Account of the
Destruction of the Indies, and Michel de Montaigne’s “Of Cannibals.” Focus your
comparison on what you consider to be the most important common similarities or
differences in the two societies described in the texts you have chosen (e.g., political
structures, economic practices, social dynamics; religious rites and beliefs; philosophical
systems; military involvements, etc.). What does the way of life described by the authors
suggest about their respective views of the nature and society of these peoples? About
the human nature and human society in general? How do these perceptions and
treatments of the indigenous peoples reflect these authors’ perceptions of their own
European contemporaries?

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