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"On the Outside, Looking In": Introducing the Outsider theme in The Merchant of Venice

Teachers' Rating:
  3 ratings

E.H. Sothern as Shylock. Photograph, early 20th century

February 2013

Abigail Hope teaches English at the High School for Arts and Technology in New York, NY

Charlene Beh teaches English at Newton North High School in Newtonville, MA


Plays/Scenes Covered
The Merchant of Venice
What's On for Today and Why

Students will:

  • Have the opportunity to "stage" a brief scenario as a silent scene
  • Safely experience an understanding of what it feels like to be an outsider
  • Work collaboratively in a low stakes (silent) performance to internalize a major theme of the play

This lesson will take one x 55 minute class period.

What You Need

1. Handout #1: Scenarios about characters and situations in the play


2. Handout #2: Instructions and homework sheet.


2. A large playing  space.

Handout #1; Scenarios
Handout #2: Instructions and homework
What To Do

1. Divide the class into groups of 4-6 and distribute one scenario to each group and an instruction sheet to each student.


2. Have each group read over their scenario and as a group decide who the outsider/s might be and explain why.


3.  Have students present all the information about their scenario without saying a word. They should represent key moments through a series of physical gestures and actions without speaking (a silent scene).


4. At the end of the scene, students should freeze into a tableau that captures the most important idea from the scenario.

N.B Everyone in the group must participate in the scene and contribute ideas on how it should be staged.


5. Allow the students time to rehearse and move among the groups ensuring that everyone's voice is being heard.


6. Have students perform their scenes.


7. Ask the class some open-ended questions to assess what they have learned from the activity:

e.g What insights do these scenarios reveal about the idea of outsiders?


 Homework (also printed on Instructions)

Have students choose one of the following questions to write a one page response:

  •  Now that you have watched other groups perform their scenarios, how might you change your scene if you had a chance to do it again?


  • Compare and contrast your scenario with that of another group.What similarities did you notice? How did these similarities help you better understand both situations?


  • What was the most important difference between your scenario and that of another group?



  • Discuss one or two interesting choices another group made in performing their scenario. What was each choice? Why did you find it interesting?



How Did It Go?

Did the students use facial expressions and physical gestures to convey important information?

Did the students communicate the important points about their scenario?

Did they position themselves so the audience could see the action clearly?

Did all students participate?

Was the outsider easy to identify?

Did  students articulate some valuable concepts about outsiders?



The theme of outsider would also work with Othello, A Streetcar Named Desire or The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams.


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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  Common Core State Standards

RL.11-12.1, 10



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