Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Performing The Merchant of Venice

ENG 141 / British Literature
Bro. Rob Peach, F.S.C.
Performing The Merchant of Venice

To develop a deeper understanding of Shakespeare’s craft as a playwright
To work cooperatively to dramatize selected scenes


1. The class will break into acting companies to prepare scenes for presentation.
2. Each acting company will prepare a promptbook for its scene. The additional handouts provide more specifics about the promptbook and the preparation of the scene.
3. In addition to presenting a scene from The Merchant of Venice, each acting company will write and present a one minute commercial promoting some consumer product which relates to one of the following:

The Merchant of Venice
Current Events

4. Each company is allotted four class days to complete this assignment:

Each company will likely have to work outside of class to meet the presentation
Deadline of January 28, 2009

5. To receive an A each actor must try to memorize his lines. The highest grade a group will receive if the actors choose not to memorize their lines is B+. The commercial must also be memorized and include visual aids.

Suggested Scenes

I.1.1-83 Salarino and Solanio try to help Antonio determine why he is sad.
I.3.106-194 Shylock, Antonio, and Bassanio set the terms for the loan.
II.4 Lorenzo, Gratiano, Solanio, and Salarino try to arrange a masque for
Bassanio’s dinner. Lancelot gives Lorenzo Jessica’s letter.
II.7. Portia and Morocco together discuss chests
II.9.1-90 Nerissa, Portia, and Arragon: choosing the silver casket
III.2.1-110 Portia, Bassanio have a dialectic about love and the game
III.2.111-222 Portia, Bassanio, Gratiano, and Nerissa share in each other’s joy
III.1.23-72 Shylock, Salarino, Solanio: “Hath not a Jew…?”
IV.1.169-418 Courtroom scene: “The quality of mercy…” Duke, Portia, Shylock,
Bassanio, Gratiano, Nerissa
V.1.192-249 Portia is upset that Bassanio gave away the ring to the lawyer. Gratiano,
Portia, Bassanio, Nerissa

Instructions for preparing your scene

You have four class days to complete the preparations and to memorize your lines. Be productive. Be creative. Do your best. Your classmates and I look forward to your production.

1. Appoint a director and cast the scene. When you perform, each person in the company should have a chance to be on stage with at least one line.

2. Read through the scene aloud at least once, preferably twice. Decide collectively on the cuts and make the cuts right away. Your scene should not take longer than ten minutes to perform. The commercial should take about two minutes and is not included in the ten minutes for the scene. Read the scene aloud after you have decided on the cuts, timing yourselves, and making necessary adjustments. Allow extra time; performing a scene takes more time than just reading it.

3. Talk about characters: What they want in a scene; how they talk and move. Decide upon each character’s actions and gestures during the scene.

4. Memorize your lines if you want an A.

5. Plan costumes and props. These do not have to be elaborate, but should show that you took the trouble to think about what would best convey the impression you are after.

6. Appoint a prompter and establish clear signals about how the prompting should be handled. If actors are not memorizing their lines, write the lines and cues on large note cards to glance at during the performance.

7. Give your acting company a name.

8. If you like, plan extra touches like music, sets, and programs.

9. Throughout this process, record your decisions in a Director’s Promptbook, due the day the scene is presented.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Merchant of Venice, Acts III and IV

Ok Sweethearts,

Please answer one question from each of the following scenes in complete sentences.

Be sure to indicate from which act and scene you are taking the question.

Do not forget to include your heading, indicating your name, my name, the course number, and the date.

This is due on the blog or hard copy by Thursday, January 8, 2008.

Lord Peach

Act III Scene 1

1. Do we have reason to sympathize with Shylock in his upset and anger? Explain. Also: How is he portrayed comically throughout the scene? How as a villain? How as a romantic?

Act III Scene 2

2. Do you think Bassanio is only after Portia for the money? After all, see I.1.ii 129-41. How might the dialectic (intellectual exchange, or discussion) between Bassanio and Portia in this scene (by which Bassanio is tested to both prove his love and win that of Portia) indicate otherwise? Explain.

3. How is it that Bassanio could be classified as a “bankrupt spendthrift” based on his pursuit of Portia and what we can gather from his external image?

4. Portia is certainly described as beautiful, but how else might we consider her beauty based off of what Bassanio says in lines 120-26 or thereabouts?

5. How does Gratiano’s sudden coupling with Nerissa contrast with what our obnoxious friend said earlier in conversation with Solerio and Solanio? What effect does this pairing have on the play in relationship to Bassanio and Portia’s union?

6. Contrast what is going on in Belmont versus what is happening in Venice at this point of the play? What does this contrast provide for us as an audience?

7. Recall Gratiano’s words, “We have won the fleece” (i 241), upon return from Belmont to Venice. What does this say of his attitude regarding love/marriage?

8. Bassanio’s calls himself “worse than nothing” (i 260). Why?

9. How is Portia portrayed as both a charitable and rational woman in the last part of this scene? Explain.

Act III Scene 3

10. What does Shylock have working to his favor? Is he willing to bestow any mercy upon Antonio? What does this situation imply about societal law and how it was administered?

11. Antonio is said by Shylock to have called him what? And so how does Shylock decide to act? What literary technique is used with, then, with such imagery in mind?

12. Antonio seems to want Bassanio to witness his suffering. Why do you think that is? What do you think he wants to demonstrate to Bassanio, especially considering that Portia is now in his best friend’s life?

Act III Scene 4

13. What is the plan that Portia and Nerissa set in motion towards the end of this scene? Consider their initially planned disguise: Why is it appropriate in a sexist society that they would disguise themselves as such?

Act III Scene 5

14. Here we have a brief, humorous dialectic between Lancelet and Jessica. Summarize it, in brief and discuss its thematic significance.

Act IV Scenes 1 and 2

1. What is the reason Shylock gives for his repulsion of Antonio? What are some of the metaphors he uses?

2. What is the Duke trying to persuade Shylock to do? Whom has the Duke favored? What is Antonio’s response to all of this?

3. Consider the master/slave dynamic that’s playing out in this “dramedy” (or is it, “dramady”?). Anyhow, what are the various master/slave pairings that develop throughout the story? That is, who is beholden or indebted to whom? How so?

4. Gratiano makes a clever play on words (i.e., “pun”) in lines 125-28. What does he mean by saying what he does of Shylock’s “soul”? What is his general attitude towards Shylock? Gratiano compares him to what? What is this literary technique called?

5. Portia and Nerissa disguise themselves as what/whom?

6. What does Portia say of mercy, man, and God? (cf. ii 190-212)

7. Male friendship. Brotherhood. As we’ve discussed, both are very important in Elizabethan England and are thus incorporated into Shakespeare’s drama of Italian life as strong themes. See lines 276-299 and summarize the dialogical exchange (i.e., dialogue) between Antonio and his best bud, Bassanio.

8. What legal loophole does Portia jump through to save Antonio? What are the consequences for Shylock? What does Antonio decide? What does his decision reveal regarding his character? Has he been transformed at all by his experience?

9. What do you think the significance of Portia and Nerissa’s “ring game” with their respective lovers is? Tell me more, tell me more, tell me mooooo---eee----ooore!