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"I crave the law"

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Augustin Daly's production of Merchant of Venice in New York. Photograph, 1898

February 2013

Charlene Beh teaches English at Newton North High School, Newtonville, MA.

Abigail Hope teaches English at the High School for Arts and Technology, New York, NY


Plays/Scenes Covered
The Merchant of Venice, 4.1
What's On for Today and Why
Students will:
  • Explore the complexities of Shylock (offensive collection of anti-Semetic stereotypes/complicated man driven to revenge) through pre-reading activities
  • Examine the conflicts, language, and the concept of the outsider
  • Consider how to stage and perform Shakespeare's language using an editied section of the trial scene
  • Design mini prompt books through a series of group activities

What You Need
  • Copies of Folger edition of The Merchant of Venice
  • Handout #1: The Trial Scene
  • Handout #2: Mini Prompt Book Project
  • Overhead projector or document camera

Handout #1: Edited script
Handout #2: Mini Prompt Book Project
What To Do

Day 1


1. Distribute Handout #1, an edited version of the trial scene (4.1).


2. Have students sit in a circle. Using the first 31 lines of the scene, model the following reading process for your students;


 During the first round, have students read one at a time up to any punctuation mark other than a comma. For the second and third rounds, have students read a complete set of lines for a character.


3. After each round, have students discuss the following questions:

 Round 1: What words do you need defined? How can we define them together as a class?


Round 2: What's happening in this scene?


Round 3: What information seems important to know about Shylock, the Duke, Antonio, and Portia? What is Portia saying in her speech about "the quality of mercy"?


4. Have students underline 2 important lines for Shylock, Antonio, and Portia. For each line, have students note down in the margin why that line was important and the tone with which that line should be spoken.


5. Have students identify 2 moments when a character moves or makes an important gesture.Why would this character do this?


6. Using an overhead projector, document camera, Smartboard, etc, record the students' ideas in order to model putting together a mini prompt book.


7. Distribute Handout #2: Mini Prompt Book Project.


8. Divide students into groups of 4 or 5 and have them begin working on Round 1 of reading the rest of 4.1 out loud, using the same method as explained in step 2.


Day 2 (and 3 if necessary)


1. Have students do a second round of the reading, making notes on what they think is happening, anything noticeable about characterization, emotion, tone or possible actions.


2. During Round 3 have students choose a character and read all his/her lines.


3. Students should address these questions:

  • Who is the outsider here?
  • Why?
  • What do other characters on stage think about this outsider?
  • How could an actor convey these views with voice, tone and action?

4. Have students discuss possible options for set design, furniture lay out that would be appropriate for this scene.


5. Have students "chunk" the scene (that is, divide it into different sections accoerding to significant events, power or control shifts, etc).

NB Chunking helps students begin to map out the shifts in character relationships, thoughts and emotions and start to see the structure or rhythm of the scene more clearly.


6. Have students take responsibility for one of the characters they selected in Step 2: tone of voice, actions, blocking, and have them annotate any 10-15 lines from the first 31 lines.


If any group finishes early, they could also brainstorm ideas for costume, lighting, and sound.


7. Have each member of the group present his/her ideas and then have the group transfer these ideas to a clean copy of the trial scene, using the margin for their annotations.


8. Using an overhead projector or document camera, have each group present its "best moment" from its promptbook. This moment should be 10-20 lines and should include ideas from every member of the group on the parts of the scene they found most interesting to discuss or particularly revealing about the issue of outsiders.


10. For homework, have students write a response predicting the outcome of the trial. What will happen to Shylock and Antonio?

How Did It Go?
Did students offer suggestions for tone of voice, gestures, movements, etc for Shylock, Antonio, and Portia?

Did students read and make meaning out of the rest of the trial scene?

Did students come up with annotations for their individual characters?

Did each group present a "best moment" that illustrated the groups' thinking on how and why Shylock is an outsider?



This lesson would work well with the trial scene in Othello, (1.3)    focusing on the theme of outsiders.

A promptbook activity for Hamlet, 3.4 could explore Hamlet's relationship with his mother and the question of his sanity.


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.

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1 Comment

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Wayan November 10, 2014 4:45 PM
  Common Core State Standards


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