How did they (stage the casket scene) in The Merchant of Venice

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a Venetian jewelry casket from about 1590 – perhaps this is the casket we should imagine….

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia’s father has left a riddle for any potential suitor. To Win Portia’s hand in marriage the suitors must choose from three Caskets – one of gold, one silver and one lead. (Anyone who has ever read a fairy tale will be able to hazard a guess as to the correct choice – but Portia’s suitors are less well read than we are!)

Caskets is a rather vague term and really could signify a number of different things  but whatever is literally used there are a few practical problems to solve. The caskets can’t be too small – they need to be seen by the whole audience. The caskets must be easy to get on and off the stage – as other scenes do not use them at all. The caskets must be able to be opened without being destroyed and they need to be large enough to contain a scroll and the objects mentioned in the script.

It is likely that they where three medium sized objects mounted on pedestals to give the audience a good view of them. But where might they have been? The simple solution is to put them in the discovery space – perhaps slightly forward of that space behind a curtain. The clue to this being a likely solution is found in the text itself here Portia is about to let one of her suitors (The Prince of Morocco) choose a casket


Go draw aside the curtains and discover
The several caskets to this noble prince.
Now make your choice.


So the curtains and drawn and the caskets revealed and the Prince makes his choice. Wrongly. Happily for Portia the man she likes is the only man to make the right choice…

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Author:Liz Dollimore

Someone who loves listening to people talk about Shakespeare Liz tweets at @shakespeareBT
  • E Dollimore

    Dear AF, This series is aimed at GCSE / A level students who are asked to study original staging conditions. I teach these students myself and they often do not know these fairly basic facts about staging. This series is not intended as original research or insight (as you can clearly tell) rather as a revision guide for those who do need simple questions answered. Many teachers have told me they find it very useful. This blog has something for everyone – articles in more depth for readers like yourself and simple pieces for those early in their educational journey. Shakespeare after all belongs to us all.

  • AFDavis

    Could Ms Dollimore be more superficial if she tried? I expect a little more depth to articles posted here. This effort is hardly worthy of a GCSE level student.

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