Wednesday 28 September 2016

Shakespeare for Junior Cert

Published 21/11/2007 | 00:00

Scenes from The Merchant of Venice
Scenes from The Merchant of Venice
Scenes from Romeo + Juliet
Claire Danes and Leonardo diCaprio in 'Romeo + Juliet'

Junior Cert students are expected to be able to show how drama is created in at least one key scene in a play. Pat Hunt picks a scene each from The Merchant of Venice and Romeo and Juliet

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Junior Cert Text 1

The Merchant of Venice

Dramatic elements of the Court Scene Act 4.1

The essence of drama is conflict, and study of a scene also includes setting, lighting, positions on stage, how lines are delivered, body language and movement, facial language, characterisation, plot development, etc.

The Merchant of Venice, Antonio, borrowed money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, to pay for his friend Bassanio's journey to woo Portia at Belmont. Antonio has failed to repay the loan by the due date and has taken Antonio to court to claim his literal 'pound of flesh'.

In Act 4 Sc.1 Portia, now betrothed to Bassanio, has secretly followed him from Belmont to Venice. Disguised as a lawyer named Balthazar, she begins by arguing that mercy should be shown but Shylock demands his bond.

PORTIA: Then must the Jew be merciful.

SHYLOCK: On what compulsion must I? Tell me that.

PORTIA: The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;

And earthly power doth then show likest God's

When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much

To mitigate the justice of thy plea;

Which if thou follow, this strict court of Venice

Must needs give sentence 'gainst the merchant there.

1. Try miming this speech. See how much of its passion you can convey solely through facial, hand and body language.

2. Apart from the Bible and Koran, why are these lines the most quoted about the meaning and practice of mercy?

3. Does Portia move about when she delivers this speech? Does she stand close to or at a distance from Shylock?

The suspense in The Court Scene reaches its climax when Portia pronounces that Shylock is entitled to his bond, "The law allows it and the court awards it." Then almost casually she invites Shylock "to have by some surgeon" to stop Antonio's wounds "lest he do bleed to death". Shylock arrogantly asks, "Is it so nominated in the bond?" He demands exactly what's written in the bond, nothing more, nothing less. And this is precisely what Portia has been encouraging him to repeat over and over again to the court.

Now the audience twigs to the snare that Portia [Balthazar] has set for Shylock. He came to court demanding a literal legal interpretation of the bond.

"I crave the law,

The penalty and forfeit of my bond,"

he declares from the outset. He even invokes heaven to justify his demand: "Shall I lay perjury upon my soul? No not for Venice". Portia will give him a literal interpretation of the bond, but not the one he expects.

But first she must create a situation whereby he walks himself into a trap. In her role of Doctor of Laws, Bellario's representative in the court, she must be seen to be fair and impartial to both sides in the case. He spurned her offers of multiples of the sum owed and her poetic appeal to show mercy to Antonio.

Shylock is vindictive, his desire for revenge is so emotional, that his normal cunning is clouded. He should have spotted that Portia had some motive for encouraging him to repeat his insistence on a literal interpretation of the bond.

Portia also creates the illusion that she is on Shylock's side, and does this legally and logically. On stage Portia positions herself near Shylock, thus creating an impression that she is on his side. Her verbal, body and facial language encourages Shylock to call her, "O noble judge! O excellent young man!" and then "O wise and upright judge ... "

At the same time the suspense heightens as Portia appears to be taking sides. Other than engaging in some passionate pleas, she does not appear to be doing much to thwart Shylock's demand.

Just when he is about to cut Antonio's flesh, she ambushes him with her literal interpretation:

"Tarry a little, there is something else,

This bond doth give thee here no jot of blood

The words expressly are "a pound of flesh" ...

A huge sigh of relief can be felt on the stage and among the audience. The crisis point has passed. Shylock realises instantly that he is beaten, as his only response is a weak question, "Is that the law?"

Now a different kind of tension takes over as Portia and Antonio proceed to exact an un-Christian form of revenge on Shylock.

PORTIA: Tarry, Jew:

The law hath yet another hold on you.

It is enacted in the laws of Venice,

If it be proved against an alien

That by direct or indirect attempts

He seek the life of any citizen,

The party 'gainst the which he doth contrive

Shall seize one half his goods; the other half

Comes to the privy coffer of the state;

And the offender's life lies in the mercy

Of the duke only ...

The quality of mercy is not dropping "as the gentle rain from heaven" as Portia prosecutes him for plotting against the life of a Venetian citizen. The gentle Antonio then unfairly demands that Shylock should immediately become a Christian. Not much justice here.

1. Compare Portia's tone of voice in this speech with that of her 'Mercy' speech at the beginning of the scene. Speak the lines. Draw up stage directions for this speech and enact them.

2. The audience must be aware that Balthazar is Portia in disguise. Yet she must look the part of a male lawyer. How would you dress her for the part?

3. How would you use and vary stage lighting in the Court Scene?

Shakespeare's original audience would have revelled in Shylock's humiliation. The tone turns racist. Shylock is taunted and stripped of his human and religious dignity. While there is some justice in forcing Shylock to leave his worldly goods to Jessica, other aspects of the punishment are unpleasant, even racist.

1. Jews had been expelled from England some 300 years before Shakespeare wrote this play. In his portrayal of Shylock does Shakespeare create a stereotype of Jews as greedy usurers and villains? Or does he add some human touches to Shylock? Does Shakespeare show that the Christians in the play can be every bit as vindictive as Shylock?

2. Antonio's role in the play is pivotal, yet he is one of the less prominent characters? Shylock dominates the play right up to the Court Scene in Act 4. Can you think of a reason why Shakespeare didn't call the play, The Jew of Venice?

3. 'All that glisters is not gold.' In many of his plays Shakespeare explores the idea (theme) that people are not always what they appear to be. This is called the theme of appearance versus reality. What evidence is there of this theme in The Merchant of Venice?

4. What is the dominant theme in the play? Love? Hate? Prejudice? Relationship between fathers and daughters?

5. What makes the play a comedy? Is it just the humour in the play? Are there hints of tragedy at times?

Junior Cert Text 2

Romeo and Juliet

William Hazlitt (1778-1830), born in England of Irish stock, was a noted essayist. The following is an extract from his famous analysis of Romeo and Juliet.

"Romeo and Juliet is the only tragedy which Shakespeare has written entirely based on a love-story. It is supposed to have been his first play, and it deserves to stand in that proud rank. There is the buoyant spirit of youth in every line, in the rapturous intoxication of hope, and in the bitterness of despair.

It has been said of Romeo and Juliet by a great critic, that "whatever is most intoxicating in the odour of a southern spring, languishing in the song of the nightingale, or voluptuous in the first opening of the rose, is to be found in this poem." The description is true; and yet it does not answer to our idea of the play. For if it has the sweetness of the rose, it has its freshness too; if it has the languor of the nightingale's song, it has also its giddy transport; if it has the softness of a southern spring, it is as glowing and as bright.

There is nothing of a sickly and sentimental cast. Romeo and Juliet are in love, but they are not lovesick. Everything speaks the very soul of pleasure, the high and healthy pulse of the passions: the heart beats, the blood circulates and mantles throughout. Their courtship is not an insipid interchange of sentiments lip-deep, learnt at second-hand from poems and plays, made up of beauties of the most shadowy kind. It is the reverse of all this. It is Shakespeare all over, and Shakespeare when he was young.

We have heard it objected to Romeo and Juliet, that it is founded on an idle passion between a boy and a girl, who have scarcely seen and can have but little sympathy or rational esteem for one another, who have had no experience of the good or ills of life, and whose raptures or despair must be therefore equally groundless and fantastical. Whoever objects to the youth of the parties in this play as "too unripe and crude" to pluck the sweets of love, and wishes to see a first-love carried on into a good old age, and the passions taken at the rebound, when their force is spent, may find all this done in [other plays].

[Shakespeare] has founded the passion of the two lovers not on the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had not experienced. All that was to come of life was theirs. At that untried source of promised happiness they slaked their thirst, and the first eager draught made them drunk with love and joy. They were in full possession of their senses and their affections. Their hopes were of air, their desires of fire.

Youth is the season of love, because the heart is then first melted in tenderness from the touch of novelty, and kindled to rapture, for it knows no end of its enjoyments or its wishes. Desire has no limit but itself. Passion, the love and expectation of pleasure, is infinite, extravagant, inexhaustible, till experience comes to check and kill it. Juliet exclaims on her first interview with Romeo: 'My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep.'"

A scene for special study

Act 2 Sc 2 is one of many scenes you could choose for special study. Read the entire scene with particular emphasis on the exchanges below.

ROMEO stealthily enters the Capulet Orchard

ROMEO: He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

JULIET appears above at a window

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou her maid art far more fair than she:

Be not her maid, since she is envious;

Her vestal livery is but sick and green

And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.

It is my lady, O, it is my love!

O, that she knew she were!

She speaks yet she says nothing: what of that?

Her eye discourses; I will answer it.

I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks:

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

Having some business, do entreat her eyes

To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

What if her eyes were there, they in her head?

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,

As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven

Would through the airy region stream so bright

That birds would sing and think it were not night.

See, how she leans her cheek upon her hand!

O, that I were a glove upon that hand,

That I might touch that cheek!


ROMEO She speaks:

O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art

As glorious to this night, being o'er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven

Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes

Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him

When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds

And sails upon the bosom of the air.

JULIET O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

ROMEO [Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?

JULIET 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself.



'Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone:

And yet no further than a wanton's bird;

Who lets it hop a little from her hand,

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,

And with a silk thread plucks it back again,

So loving-jealous of his liberty.

ROMEO: I would I were thy bird.

JULIET: Sweet, so would I:

Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing.

Good night, good night. Parting is such

sweet sorrow,

That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Exit above

ROMEO: Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!

Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!

Hence will I to my ghostly father's cell,

His help to crave, and my dear hap to tell. Exit

Analysing the scene

1. In this scene (in a section not quoted above) Juliet says of their love that it is too rash, too sudden, like lightning that appears so violently and disappears almost as suddenly. Enact this scene in different ways: one with an emphasis on what is called 'puppy love', a teenage crush; another where you try to capture the sincerity and innocence of true and unconditional love.

2. What kind of stage lighting would you use in this scene. Take hints from Romeo's language (images) early in the scene.

3. What actions best fit the words of each character in this scene? What is the exchange of gestures in this first moment of their relationship?

4. Why is Juliet bowled over by Romeo? Is it all down to physical attraction? Is it the beauty of his language? His audacity?

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