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A Casket, A Casket

Teachers' Rating:
  10 ratings

Children's Shakespeare Festival

June 2011

Holly Rodgers is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher at White Oaks Elementary School in Fairfax County, Virginia.


Plays/Scenes Covered

The Merchant of Venice, Acts 2 and 3

What's On for Today and Why

In today’s lesson, students will explore the theme of “All that glisters is not gold.” 2.7.65.  Students will understand the reasoning that motivates Portia’s three suitors (The Prince of Morocco, The Prince of Aragon, and Bassanio) to select the individual caskets they choose in Acts 2 and 3.  Students will also gain an understanding of why Portia’s father selected the lead casket to hide her portrait, instead of the more valuable gold or silver caskets.   Students will use selected passages from Acts 2 and 3, using the Casket Choices attachment to focus the dialogue on the scenes in Portia’s Belmont home.  


In small groups, students will be creating their own caskets bearing inscriptions from the text and containing scrolls, using the Casket Inscriptions and Scrolls attachment.  Students will create their own objects and illustrations to be contained within each casket for use in acting out the casket scenes.  Elementary students will have the opportunity to integrate both visual arts and performance-based acting techniques in this activity. 


This lesson also provides graphic support to the text and incorporates total physical response (TPR), which has inherent value in working with English Language Learners (ELLs) of any age group.  In addition, students will hear Shakespeare’s language reinforced through the repetition of each group’s performance of the scene. A-Casket, A-Casket allows students to examine one of Shakespeare’s most valuable lessons contained within The Merchant of Venice


This lesson can be completed in one-90 minutes class period or may be divided into several shorter lessons.

What You Need

Folger edition of The Merchant of Venice
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts

3 empty boxes for each group of four students.  Suggestions:  Tea boxes, empty and clean milk cartons (tops removed), shoe boxes, etc.

1 sheet each of black and yellow construction paper and 1 sheet aluminum foil.

Art supplies for coloring, drawing, cutting, and pasting.


Casket Choices
Casket Inscriptions and Scrolls
What To Do
  1. You may wish to pre-read the Casket Choices scenes as a class prior to this activity to build background knowledge.
  2.   Divide students into groups of 4.  Working in small groups, students will create caskets of gold, silver, and lead.   Empty tea boxes work very well; however, teachers may use boxes of any size.  Students may use black or gray construction paper to cover the lead casket, yellow construction paper for the gold casket, and aluminum foil for the silver casket.  Students may tape or glue the coverings to the empty boxes.  Students are also encouraged to decorate the caskets with further adornments such as glitter, jewels, stickers, etc.  Encourage them to make the gold and silver caskets as aesthetically pleasing as possible.  In contrast, the lead casket should be quite plain.
  3. Once students have covered the boxes, distribute Casket Inscriptions and Scrolls.  Students will cut out the appropriate inscription for each casket and affix it to the front or top of the box. 
  4. Each group will then create a skull to be placed inside the gold casket, a court jester for the silver casket, and a portrait of Portia for the lead casket.  Students may draw these one-dimensionally or create two-dimensional models using a medium of the teacher’s or students’ choice. 
  5. Students will cut out the scroll dialogue for each of these items to be attached to the object they pertain to, using the Casket Inscriptions and Scrolls sheet.  Students may glue them to their drawings or attach them to a 2-D model and place the 3 objects inside each of the caskets.
  6. Once each group has its 3 caskets completed, distribute the Casket Choices dialogue.  Within each group of four students, the roles of Portia, the Prince of Morocco, the Prince of Aragon, and Bassanio should be assigned.  The teacher may wish to give students time to prepare the dialogue.
  7. Using their props, allow each group to perform their scene in front of the class.  When the inscriptions and scrolls are read in the text, students should open the caskets and read from the scrolls instead of just reading from the script. 
  8. Once all groups have performed, the teacher should engage the students in a class dialogue discussing the difference between cost and worth.  Ask students to identify possessions that are important to them but may not have monetary value.  If they had to give this item away in a lottery, which casket would they use to hide it?  Students should understand that the most valuable things you can possess in life are truly priceless.

How Did It Go?

Were students able to understand why Portia’s father hid her portrait in the lead casket? 

Do students have a deeper understanding of “All that glisters (glitters) is not gold”?

Were students able to see the wisdom in Bassanio’s casket of choice and the foolishness of the selections made by the two princes?  Do students understand the distinction between cost and worth?



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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