Now we have arrived at the real focus of this unit, the three caskets scenes of the play. With the help of both the adapted Readers Theatre script found in the book,
edited by Jennifer L. Kroll and the rewritten accounts of these scenes contained in the
No Fear Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice
, I have written a Readers Theatre script for my students to perform. In it I have used more simplified language that they will be able to understand.
The Story of the Three Caskets (Readers Theatre)
Narrator: That evening at Portia’s home in Belmont one of her new suitors, the Prince of Morocco, is ready to try his luck with the three caskets.
Morocco: I have made the promise that you put before me. If I choose the wrong casket, I will never tell anyone about it. Also, I will not try to get married to anyone else for a long time. And finally, I will leave your house right away.
Portia: Yes, that is the promise that every man who tries the caskets must make. (to her servant) Please pull the curtains open and let the noble prince see his choices.
If I only knew for sure that only a good person would choose the casket that holds my portrait I wouldn’t have to do all of this worrying each time a new suitor takes this test! Here comes that shaky feeling again.
Narrator: The servant opens the curtains and the Prince of Morocco walks over to each casket and reads the words written on them.
Morocco: The words on the first casket which is made of gold read: “Who chooseth me shall
what many men
.” The words on the second silver casket read: “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he
.” The words on the third casket, made of dull
read: “Who chooseth me must give and
.” How will I know if I have made the right choice?
Portia: Only one of the caskets contains my picture, Prince. If you choose that one, I am yours.
Narrator: The prince continues to look carefully at each casket.
I have been a brave soldier in many battles but those experiences
cannot help me now to make the right choice! I feel that this test treats every man, no matter who he is, the same. I am afraid that I will not be a victorious leader this time.
Now let me see. The lead casket says: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” Why would anyone
everything for lead, a very cheap metal? A golden mind does not bend down to choose something that is worthless! It doesn’t make sense to me. I won’t choose that one!
Narrator: The prince paces back and forth between the gold and silver caskets.
Morocco: What does the silver one say? : “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” Hmm. According to my own wealth, my noble birth, my talents, my good reputation and my love for her I do deserve Portia. Maybe I should stop right here and choose this one. But wait, let me look again at the gold casket. “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.” Well, that’s for sure! Maybe I think too much of myself, but without a doubt many men desire gold! And many men desire Portia. Therefore, so must I. That’s the one I will choose. Give me the key so I can unlock the gold casket!
Portia; Very well, sir.
I don’t think I want to look. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes?
Narrator: The servant hands the prince the key and he unlocks the casket.
Morocco: Oh no! What is this?
Narrator: He picks up a small
from inside the gold casket. A note is tucked inside the skull.
Morocco: (reading the note) “All that
is not gold. Many men have lost everything they had just to take a look at my shiny
. If you had been less dependent on others’ opinion, you would have chosen the right casket. Good-bye. You lost your chance.” Well, that settles that. Portia, good-bye to you. My heart is too sad for me to make a long good-bye. Losers must leave quickly.
I did want to win you, Portia, when I saw how many others were trying to do that. This test has caused me to lose some of my confidence. I need to remember that just because everyone is excited about something doesn’t mean it is good. I won’t be fooled again! I have learned my lesson.
Narrator: The next day the Prince of Arragon tries to win Portia’s hand by guessing among the three caskets.
Trumpets play (The Prince of Arragon and Portia enter.)
Nerissa: (to the servant) Hurry up and close the curtains. The Prince of Arragon has taken his oath and wants to make his choice now.
Portia: Here are the caskets, sir. If you choose the one holding my picture we will be married right away.
I am so tired of this game where I am the prize. I have always wanted to marry the man that I choose, that I love. Oh, father, why did you do this to me?
Arragon: I swore to do three things: I cannot tell anyone which casket I chose. If I choose the wrong one, I must not try to get married for a long time. Thirdly, if I choose the wrong box, I will leave right away.
Portia: Every suitor who tries to win me has to swear to follow those three rules.
Arragon: All right. I hope I am lucky and get what my heart hopes for. Let’s see. The lead casket reads: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.” Hmmph. I would be crazy to
everything for this common lead casket that is not even pretty to look at!
Narrator: The Prince of Arragon moves to the gold casket.
Arragon: The gold casket reads: “Who chooseth me shall gain what many men
.” Most people are foolish and just choose what their friends choose. I am not like those fools and so I won’t choose this casket!
After all, I have a mind of my own and from childhood I have never picked my clothes, my toys, or my friends just because others picked them. So many others would stupidly choose the gold but not me! I am smarter and better than most other men!
Narrator: The prince then moves on to the last casket, the silver one.
Arragon: Ah, the silver casket. It reads: “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.” Do I deserve this noble lady? No one should have an
that he does not deserve.
Am I not rich and therefore deserve to marry a rich lady? Am I not smart and therefore deserve to marry a smart lady? And am I not handsome and therefore deserve to marry a beautiful lady? Yes, I think I do deserve the very best!
I deserve her…what is her name again…Porta…oh, something like that. It doesn’t matter. She will look good standing at my side. People will give me even more respect!
I choose this silver casket. Give me the key!
Narrator: The servant gives him the key. It is very quiet in the room as he looks inside the casket.
Arragon: What is this? (hold up a picture of a “blinking idiot” holding a
). Do I deserve nothing better than a fool’s head?
Now everyone will laugh at me!
Portia: I will not be the judge of what you deserve. I don’t wish to be rude to you so I will not say more.
I am so relieved he chose the wrong casket. How much longer must I play this game? I hope Bassanio comes soon.
Arragon: (reads the scroll) “You may have thought you were terrific but you made the wrong choice just like a fool who kisses himself in the mirror.” Is this my prize for playing this game? The longer I stay, the more foolish I look. Very well I’ll be off. Farewell. I’ll keep my promise and patiently wait for my angry feelings to cool down.
This test was really not one for a person of my high rank. I don’t deserve to be embarrassed in this way! I should never have allowed myself to agree to take it.
(Leaves the room.)
Narrator: Bassanio and his friend, Gratiano, arrive at Portia’s house. While Gratiano and Nerissa get to know each other, Bassanio talks with Portia and tells her that he is so excited to be there and is
to try his hand at the three caskets test.
Portia: Please, Bassanio, wait a few days before you try to make your choice. If you make the wrong choice, I will never see you again. Maybe if you stay with me for a longer time it will help you to choose the right casket.
I wish I could just tell him which one to choose, but I am not allowed to. Oh, I do love him so. What will I do if he makes the wrong choice? How will I go on?
Bassanio: Dear Portia, I want to choose now! Waiting any longer would be painful for me.
Portia: All right then. Let’s go to the caskets. I’m locked in one of them. If you really do love me you will find me. (Turns to the musicians and says:) Play some music for us. It will help to cheer all of us up.
Narrator: Bassanio spends a long time standing by each casket, trying to decide which one to choose.
This is harder than I thought it would be. No matter! It’s now or never!
Bassanio: (to himself)
. People are often fooled by what they see on the outside. Someone could be very good-looking on the outside but is actually quite mean on the inside. Gold and silver are both very beautiful metals to look at but they also cause people to fight terrible wars over them. I will have nothing to do with them. No
gold or shining silver for me! (Walks over to the lead casket) This lead casket is not shiny or
to look at but its plainness seems to be reminding me that telling the plain truth is better than pretending. I will choose the lead. Hand me the key
! Antonio hazarded everything for me. I think he was teaching me that I too must be willing to hazard all.
Narrator: Bassanio takes the key from the servant and unlocks the lead casket.
Bassanio: What’s this? It’s a lovely picture of Portia (holds up the framed picture).
Portia: (to Nerissa) My heart is filled with joy!
Bassanio: (reads the scroll) “You that choose not by looks alone have better luck and make the right choice. Turn to where your lady is and give her a loving kiss. (He turns to Portia) May I, dear lady?
Narrator: Portia smiles and holds out her hand. Bassanio gently kisses it.
Portia: Lord Bassanio, I am yours forever.
At last I can marry someone whom I love. You were willing to risk all for me! And I am ready to risk all for you! I am ready to put my money, my house, my happiness, my LIFE in your hands!
Bassanio: I feel that my heart is about to burst! It is so full of love.
Nerissa: I am so happy for you both!
Gratiano: (to Bassanio) Congratulations, my dear friend. Now wish me the same good fortune because I have decided to get married too.
Bassanio: Of course, you can get married once you have found a wife.
Gratiano: I have already found a wife.
Narrator: Gratiano pulls Nerissa to his side.
Gratiano: This young lady has agreed to marry me.
Portia: Is this true, Nerissa?
Nerissa: I do wish to marry this man. I hope you agree with my choice.
Portia: Of course I do, my friend.
Narrator: The two new couples talk and laugh together as they walk off the stage.
As suggested by many drama instructors, the students will begin familiarizing themselves with the play and the storyline by reading it together as one large group, each person having a copy of the whole script. To accommodate struggling readers, I will pair each one of them up with a stronger reader so they can read it together. After this initial reading, in an effort to determine the extent to which the students have understood the story, I will ask individuals to take turns retelling the story in order, event by event. This will also be a time to get their reactions to the story and to answer any initial questions they may have.
The beauty of using Readers Theatre is that it allows for multiple re-readings of a text in a fun way. During this time students can improve their reading fluency, sharpen their vocal power and practice speaking with feeling. Because there are only seven parts in the play these initial whole group readings provide and require full participation of each class member. The classroom is a community of learners and I want everyone to feel he or she is a part of this learning experience. Following this, actors for each part will be chosen and they will be given ample time to learn their parts before performance day.
To keep it simple the seven actors will sit in chairs in the front of the room to perform the play. Aaron Shepard, in his book,
Readers On Stage: Resources for Reader’s Theater,
offers useful tips to the actors once they have been given their parts. He instructs them to hold their script steadily at a height that doesn’t cover their faces. He reminds them always to face the audience, speak their lines slowly, talk loudly and speak with feeling. He emphasizes to them that as the characters, they bring the story to life (p. 55).
I realized early on that my young students would not get to know the characters deeply enough by simply reading the play or by watching it performed using just this brief script. I decided that one effective way to reveal more about each character was to use the literary device, soliloquy. Soliloquy is when a character talks to himself and reveals his thoughts. I reasoned that if Shakespeare could do it effectively, so could I! In my research about the soliloquy I learned that its purpose is to reveal more about a character’s thoughts, feelings, personality, mindset and even his/her motivations. A soliloquy gives voice to a character’s thoughts and we get to know the character more deeply. It gives us a window into what it’s like to be that person and perhaps even causes us to sympathize with him/her at some level. So I began my preparation to write accurate soliloquies by rereading the three caskets scenes in the original play in order to get a stronger sense of each character. Then I went back to the Readers Theatre script and added soliloquies at precise points, using italics to distinguish them. I was happy with the results. This addition offered my first-graders greater access into the characters’ personalities and motivations and now we were ready to do some character analysis just like the big kids do.