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Interactive video lesson plan for: A pound of flesh - Shakespeare Speaks

Activity overview:

Find out if this phrase from The Merchant of Venice is about justice or revenge!

For the transcript click 'SHOW MORE'.

For activities and extra materials connected to this episode: http://www.live.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/course/shakespeare/unit-1/session-17

It was late in the evening. William Shakespeare is at the palace of King James I.

King James
Mr Shakespeare! Welcome, welcome.

Your majesty, it is a great honour to perform The Merchant of Venice for you a second time.

King James
The Queen and I enjoyed it so much we just had to see it again.

The Queen
You fell asleep halfway through dear, that's why you want to see it again.

King James
Nonsense. Mr Shakespeare, I particularly enjoyed your character Shylock. But what was all that about a pound of flesh?

Well, Shylock lent some money to the businessman Antonio. And Antonio promised that if he didn't pay the money back, Shylock could cut a pound of flesh from his body.

King James
That's right, that's right. I remember it well now. What did he say? If you repay me not on such a day…

If you repay me not on such a day,
In such a place, such sum or sums as are
Express'd in the condition, let the forfeit
Be nominated for an equal pound
Of your fair flesh, to be cut off and taken
In what part of your body pleaseth me.

We'll leave them there for now. A pound of flesh? That's nearly half a kilogram! Modern English speakers use the phrase a pound of flesh when someone says they want justice, but the punishment they're asking for is so severe that it seems more like revenge. In the terrible case of US cinema gunman James Holmes, former prosecutor Bob Grant said:

Clip 1
The district attorney will argue that although the defendant is mentally ill, he is not insane under the law, and society deserves its pound of flesh from him.

Clip 2
I apologised and paid for the repairs after I crashed his car, but it isn't enough for him. He wants his pound of flesh. I think he's going to call the police…

The Queen
Mr Shakespeare, please tell the King what happens in the end, just in case he falls asleep again.

King James
I did not fall asleep! But yes, do tell me.

Well, Antonio didn't pay the money back. The court agreed that Shylock could have his pound of flesh, but the court also said that he could not take even a single drop of blood.

King James
Aha! So Antonio was saved.

Yes, your majesty.

The Queen
Ooh, the play is starting. Now do stay awake this time, dear…

King James
To sleep, or not to sleep: that is the question…

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