Anyway, I chose The Merchant of Venice because it's one of my favorite plays, and it offers much fodder for discussions of genre, race, religion, culture. And it's interesting. I think I'm going to go add the film version to my netflix queue now, since I haven't seen it yet.
February 28, 2007
Drama Lesson Plan: Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice
Prior to class: For class, students would have had to write a one page journal briefly exploring the similarities and differences between Act 4 Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice and the casket scenes earlier in the play. Bassanio is able to “win” Portia because he understands the rules of the game; where the other two suitors lose out because they are outsiders to society. How does Shylock not “win the game”? And how is this “game” much different than that of the caskets?
Focus: Ask the students to pull one insight from their journal and write it down in a sentence.
Purpose: By the end of class, students will understand the roles race, culture, and gender play in The Merchant of Venice. (This will be part of a continuing discussion on Elizabethan views of Jews and the Other). Additionally, they will explore ways in which Shakespeare thwarts genre, demonstrating the uses and limitations of genre in classifying literature.
Overview: We are going to be discussing today the roles that race, culture, gender, religion play in the play. We’ll also take a look at genre, since Act 4 Scene 1 of the play should make it difficult to see The Merchant of Venice as a straight comedy. We’ll then break into groups and plan how 4.1 would be set up and cast to bring out some of these ideas. We’ll come back together to share what each group has come up with at the end of class.
Discussion: Discuss the journals responses, exploring the casket scenes and the trial scene in conjunction with one another. What does this reveal about differences of race? Culture? Gender? Religion? By being a Jew, is Shylock set up to lose always? How does this affect the portrayal of his character? Does Shylock have our sympathies as readers/viewers—or is he a figure of evil?
Business: Collect journals, take attendance, pass back old assignments.
Then shift the student’s attention to role of genre. The Merchant of Venice is classified as a comedy. After reviewing the basic traits of comedy/tragedy, discuss how this scene seems to affect the play’s classification as a comedy? How is the play not a comedy? What might Shakespeare trying to show us?
Group work: Break the students up into groups. They are to discuss how they would cast/set this play if they were stage or movie directors. Would they choose to set it in a different time period? How would they cast the actors? They will have to back up their choices, demonstrating how they are interpretive choices of Shakespeare’s play. Walk around as they begin working, offering suggestions and monitoring. After a sufficient time, bring the class back together, and ask each of the groups to share with the class what they’ve decided and how that offers insight into the play.
Closure: Remind students that a play is meant to be seen, not merely read, and that hopefully with the discussion and group assignment, students will understand some interpretive techniques. Ask the students to think about how culture, gender, religion, and genre have a role in interpreting (and staging) a play. Remind them of any upcoming assignments.