In order to provide some necessary background that will help place the three caskets scene in the whole story’s context I will read aloud the first page of Edith Nesbit’s simplified version of
The Merchant of Venice
found in her book entitled,
Shakespeare’s Stories for Young Readers
(p. 63). This reading will give my class a sense of when and where the story takes place and who some of the main characters are. It is important that they meet Antonio and Bassanio early on to appreciate the strong bond of friendship that they share. After witnessing the event when Bassanio procures the funds he needs, we will move directly to the three caskets scene and learn about the deliberations that the Prince of Morocco, the Prince of Arragon and the nobleman Bassanio undergo in making their choices.
An important way to help interest learners in a new story is to build some background knowledge about principal story themes. In class we often talk together about why an author wrote his/her story and in this case we will discover that Shakespeare wanted to teach us many life-lessons through his plays.
Discussion prompt: Have you ever had to help someone else by giving up something that you really wanted? I will then offer them this anecdote:
When I was sixteen, there was a new girl in our class who had recently come from Nigeria. She didn’t know much English, but she smiled so sweetly and was so eager to be friends with anyone who would be friends with her that I quickly found myself drawn to her. I noticed that she wore the same blouse every other day, and I guessed that she had only two and that her mother must be washing one every night. And every day, she wore the same pair of old sneakers.
On my birthday, when my Mom took me to the shoe store and told me to pick any pair of shoes I wanted, I chose a pair that was size seven, even though my own foot was a seven and a half, because I knew my friend was a size seven and I thought I could give the shoes to her. The next day, I gave them to her and told her that they were too small for me and that I hoped she might be able to get some use out of them.
Weeks later, my Mom, who usually paid no attention to what I picked out to wear every day, asked me why I never wore the sneakers she had bought me for my birthday. I assured her that I did indeed like them, but that I had grown since my birthday.
Using the strategy of think-pair-share I will direct my students to turn and talk with a buddy sitting near him/her on the carpet about how that story teaches us about giving up something for the sake of another person. Then they will share some stories of their own either about themselves or someone they know who did such an unselfish thing. A few of their stories will then be shared with the whole group. Before beginning the reading of the prologue and Readers Theatre script I will inform the class that the main characters in the three caskets story had to make an important choice and the question that we will examine is: Which one will make an unselfish choice and get to marry the beautiful princess?
During the caskets test that each suitor goes through we can see how each man inwardly reflects on the inscriptions engraved on each casket. Their reflections offer us revelations into their true characters. It is important to consider that the inscriptions on the gold and silver casket tell the chooser that he will gain something by choosing them while the lead casket, in contrast, requires the chooser to risk everything he has. To begin an exploration of self-sacrifice I would ask the class to put their thumbs up if they like giving stuff up and refer to the anecdote I have just read to them. I would then ask them to consider what an athlete needs to give up (unhealthy food, free time) if he wants to be good at what he does. We will compare giving up something to achieve a personal goal with giving up something to help someone else. After asking students to share times when they gave up something for someone else, I will ask them: How did if feel to give? Do you think you would like to give again? When has someone given something up for you? How does giving up something for someone else help you? This notion of self-sacrifice can be understood by my young students at a simple level that involves their world of experience. Below are some classroom and home scenarios that I will present to the class to discuss:
On a hot day after recess when everyone has played hard, the classmate behind you in line is not just very thirsty but dizzy from lack of water. Would you let him/her go ahead of you in line at the drinking fountain?
You have just gotten a set of sparkly markers from the school store and are excited about using them. The student sitting next to you at your table asks to use your pink one. What would you do?
Your little brother just dropped his ice cream cone on the sidewalk and is crying hard. Would you give him yours?
Your friend has come over for a play-date. Mom comes in your room to ask what movie you both want to go see. Your friend asks to see ‘Frozen’ but you have already seen that movie many times. What would you do?
Your whole class is dancing on the carpet for indoor recess imitating the movements on gonoodle.com. It’s great fun! After just a few minutes a shy classmate asks you to go back to the table to color instead during this time. You don’t really want to. What would you do?
One way to encourage thinking about self sacrifice in our class is to have a good deed jar where tokens are put in the jar each time a student informs me of a time when a classmate helped her by giving something up. When the jar is filled, we could have a special ‘games time’ where everyone gets to play with the classroom games.
Using direct vocabulary instruction is essential to effective teaching and so I will have my first-graders practice using four steps of Robert J. Marzano’s six-step process for building academic vocabulary using the template below: write the word, provide a description or example of the new word, ask students to draw a picture representing the term, and have them create their own sentence that uses the word.
In order to increase understanding of the readings I will be introducing the following vocabulary items found in either the prologue or the modified play itself. These words and the student-friendly definitions that I have provided will be copied into their vocabulary notebooks.
heiress: a woman who receives money or property from someone when that person dies
suitor: a man who wants to marry a certain woman
casket: a small chest or box for jewelry
lead: a heavy soft metal that has a gray color
engraved: letters or designs carved onto a hard surface
fondly: in a loving way
gain: to win
desire: to want or wish for
deserves: has earned it
hazard: to dare losing
risk: to take a chance
glitters: shines brightly
skull: the bones forming the head and face
surface: the outside part of something
honor: something that is given to a person as a sign of respect
scroll: a long piece of paper rolled up
eager: very excited and interested
gaudy: bright and over decorated
What are character traits and how can I begin to introduce them to my class? Here is a useful definition of traits that I plan to use: Traits are ways that a person acts or speaks to show what he or she is like. In my lessons I will distinguish traits, which develop over time, from feelings, which can change from moment to moment.
It can be quite helpful before reading a Shakespeare play to determine who the main characters are and what their relationship to each other is. This helps the reader better appreciate the social dynamics involved among the characters. After listing each character involved in the three caskets scenes by name, adding a plain stick figure sketch of each, we can later add character traits that we discover as we read the play. The following graphic organizer will look like this:
Portia: Princess/ Heiress
Nerissa: Friend to Portia in Belmont
Loyal to Portia
Prince of Morocco: Suitor to Portia
Confesses his love for Portia
Cares too much about what other people think
Prince of Arragon: Suitor to Portia
Bassanio: Suitor to Portia from Venice
Truly Loves Portia
Gratiano: Good friend to Bassanio from Venice
I will continue setting the stage for the three caskets scene by reading aloud the following passage that I have written, which encapsulates what has occurred before the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon take on the challenge. In my version I have dispensed with any references to social stratification (i.e., lady-in-waiting, my lord) because such titles may confuse my young students’ understanding of the relationships between the characters and are not necessary for the understanding of the story. In both the prologue and the script below I have identified (by underlining) some of the vocabulary items that my young learners will have learned.
Prologue to the Three Caskets Scene
Long ago, in the city of Belmont in Italy a beautiful rich
named Portia and her friend, Nerissa, are talking together about the long line of
who want to win her hand in marriage. Portia exclaims to Nerissa, “All these men lining up to try to marry me. I feel so tired just thinking about it!” Nerissa tries to comfort her by saying, “Don’t you think that too many men to choose from is far better that not enough men?” Portia complains that it would be so much easier to marry if she could choose her own husband by herself. But, alas, her loving father, a kind and wise king, thought he knew best the way her husband should be chosen. Before he died, he set up a test in his will that any of her suitors would have to pass if they wished to marry her. Before taking the test the suitor had to make three promises if he failed the test: 1.) he would not tell anyone which
he had chosen; 2.) he would not get married for a long time afterwards and 3.) he would leave Belmont immediately. So what was this test designed by her father? Close your eyes and try to picture this: The servant pulls back the curtains in the large room and the hopeful suitor finds himself standing before three caskets: one made of gold, another of silver and the third of
. He walks over to each casket, one by one, and reads the words
on each casket lid. After examining each one and thinking about the words of warning, the suitor makes his choice and asks for the key to open that casket. It is like solving a riddle. If he chooses the casket that contains a picture of Portia, he would earn the right to marry her. If not, he would have to leave right away, staying true to the promises he had made.
Portia worries about this three-casket test. Will she end up marrying someone who doesn’t really love her? Will she simply grow to be an old maid who never marries? Nerissa again tries to make her feel better by saying, “Surely only a man that you can truly love will end up choosing the right casket.” Portia replies, “I hope you are right, Nerissa.”
Finally, Nerissa mentions a young man from Venice who had come to visit Portia’s father before he died. His name is Bassanio. Portia’s eyes immediately light up and she says, “Yes, I remember him well.” Nerissa offers her opinion about him and says, “Of all the men I have ever met, Bassanio seems to deserve a lady like you the most.” Portia continues to think about Bassanio
. Their dreamy thoughts are interrupted by a servant who comes in the room to announce that it is time to say good-bye to the suitors who are leaving and that two new suitors will be arriving that night.