Sara Lehn teaches English at Roslyn High School, Roslyn, NY
The Merchant of Venice
Common Core State Standards covered:
RL.9-10.3, 4, 10
What's On for Today and Why
Too often, we get distracted by the protagonist of the play and ignore how the plot and the protagonist can be affected by the less central characters. This lesson helps students focus in on a minor character and really explore his/her voice and role.Students will create a "Found Monologue" to give a cohesive voice to a minor character who appears multiple times in the play but is not considered a protagonist. Students will pull lines, words, and phrases from the character's speeches across the play and compile them into a monologue that expresses what the character wants and how (or if) the character is able to achieve that goal.
Once students have created a polished monologue, they will memorize and perform it to the class. This lesson necessitates close reading, character analysis, and creative writing, as well as incorporating performance techniques to give a final representation of their assigned character. Traditional writing implements (pens, paper) as well as digital devices can be used for rearranging text, etc.This lesson can be used at any point in the play to highlight a character's struggle, or as a retrospective at the end of the play. Consider having students track their characters throughout their reading of the play and then use this information to complete the monologues.
This lesson will take approximately 2 x 40 minute class periods, with time between to finish and practice their monologues for homework.
What You Need
Folger editions of The Merchant of Venice
Handout 1 "Found Monologue Guidelines and Sample"
Handout 2 "Monologue Rubric"
Found monologues Guidelines
Found Monologues Rubric
What To Do
1. Assign or have students select a minor character. Suggestions from The Merchant of Venice include Jessica, Nerissa, Gratiano, and Lancelot Gobbo.Ensure the character has enough lines to work with but not enough to be considered a protagonist.
2. Have students briefly write a response to the following questions:
- What does your character want or try to achieve?
- What evidence do you have to support your claim?
3. Distribute Handout 1, "Found Monologue Guidelines and Sample" and review this with your students. You may also want to discuss Handout 2, "Found Monologues Rubric" before they begin.
4. Model the process of finding lines from the play and compiling them into a monologue. Consider completing an entire monologue as a class before students create their own. Handout 1 contains a sample monologue for demonstration purposes.
5. Give students time to complete their monologues and prepare them for performance. This may involve a homework period as well.
6. Share! Have students comment on choices that their classmates made. What messages were they sending about their character? What goal were they trying to express?What kind of voice or personality did they give to their character in performance? If multiple students selected the same character, discuss the similarities and differences between the choices made.
How Did It Go?
Did students delve into minor characters and gain an understanding of how they are involved in the play? Did students pull appropriate and meaningful lines from the play through close reading? Were students able to reflect on the personality and voice of their character and present that in the performance of their monologues? Did students thoughtfully reflect upon the messages presented in the classmates' performances?
This lesson could easily be used with any of Shakespeare's plays, particularly those with large casts of minor characters or side plots. (Twelfth Night, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet).It could also be applied to similar character types in novels, such as To Kill A Mockingbird, which has multiple townspeople, all with distinct personalities. When working with a novel, you may want to adjust the guidelines to include narration as well as dialogue, and dispense with the iambic pentameter requirement.
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.