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Power Lines: Tracing power in relationships throughout The Merchant of Venice

Teachers' Rating:
  1 rating

Frank Howard. Portia pronouncing sentence. Oil on canvas, ca. 1830-1831.

September 2013
Melanie Whiteley teaches English at Parkway South High School, Manchester, MO

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

Students will:

  • Examine how power is used in relationships
  • Examine the connections between power and money
  • Enact situations similar to those in the play

This lesson will take 2 x 40 minute class periods

What You Need

Handout: Instructions for Status Game

Deck of playing cards

Scenario cards

Handout : Tableaux assignments

Performance evaluation Rubric

Folger editions of The Merchant of Venice

Digital camera (optional)



What is also helpful:

Shakespeare Set Free (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth edition)    publ. Simon and Schuster

  • Macbeth, Lesson 3, pp 48,
  • Romeo and Juliet, Lesson 14, pp163

Status Game Instructions
Tableaux assignments
What To Do

Day 1: Pre-reading activity


1. Discuss the concept of status with the class. How is it defined? What does it mean in life, school etc? How is it demonstrated in body language, voice, etc?


2. Have the class play the Status Game, using the instructions on the Handout


3. After the game, to reinforce the concept of staus and power in specific settings, divide the class into small groups and distribute a scenario card to each group

(Some scenarios may be repeated if class size is large)


4. Have each group act out the scenario on their card. All students should participate


5. Advise students that they should consider setting, characters and give their scene a structure (beginning, middle and end)


6. Give students about five minutes to brainstorm, followed by fifteen minutes rehearsal time


7. Have students perform their scenes to the class


8. After the performances, have students write a journal entry, addressing the following questions:

Which person in each scene had the greatest status or power?

What is the difference between status and power?


How was this made evident?

What gave one person power over another?


9. Discuss the class' findings



10. Explain that the scenarios are similar to the events in the play. As the play progresses, characters may gain or lose power depending on their actions and the actions of others


Day 2: Post reading activity


1. Divide students into small groups


2. Assign each group a scene from Handout of Tableaux assignments ( each scene contains a moment when the power structure shifts)


3. Have students read over their scene together and decide how they could represent the power structure in the scene through a living picture or Tableau Vivant

For this activity:

  • Students select a pose that represents their scene and freeze
  • Students create at least two living snapshots, one showing the power structure at the beginning of the scene, and another showing the power structure at the end of the scene (or wherever the power shifts)
  • Students should consider how body language can denote power relationships and alter their positions accordingly
  • To accompany each tableau, students should select a set of lines from the scene to recite before moving to the next living picture. These lines should come directly from the text and should reflect the shift in power
  • The lines can be recited by one member of the group or chorally
  • Each group reads a line, freezes into their snapshot, repeats the process for a second snapshot
  • Students should discuss and prepare to share their ideas on what they think Shakespeare was trying to illustrate about the theme of power in these scenes
  • Have each group perform its tableau
  • One option would be to take digital photos throughout the performance to provide a visual reminder of the balance of power shifts through the scene



How Did It Go?

Were students able to identify ways in which a person loses or gains power?

Were students able to connect the activity with power struggles/shifts in the play?

Were students able to give a rationale behind their choices of movement and lines selected for their tableaux?

See Rubric for performance evaluation.




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.9-10.2, 3, 10

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