Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE: Our Class Enacts The Three Caskets

In our previous post, we gave an overview of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which we are reading in the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP). Early in November, we will attend a performance of the play by students in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at Loyola University New Orleans, under the direction of Dr. Laura Hope.

Part of our preparation for reading The Merchant of Venice included a narration of key scenes by LIEP instructor Karen Greenstone, with students acting out the characters' roles. We would like to share with you our enactment of the three caskets! Below, you see our three caskets: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead.
Our three caskets: gold, silver, lead
These three caskets figure in an interesting sub-plot of The Merchant of Venice. Any man wishing to win the beautiful and wealthy Portia as his wife must undergo the trial of the three caskets. Portia's father has died and has specified in his will that Portia is not free to choose her own husband but must marry the man who correctly chooses the casket containing Portia's portrait. However, there is a further severe requirement: if a man makes his trial of the caskets and fails, he must swear a solemn oath never to approach a woman with love for the rest of his life! Most men, learning of this requirement, choose to depart with the caskets untried. But a few determined men are willing to take the risk.

The Prince of Morocco, played by LIEP student Alaa Mufti of Saudi Arabia, is the first of these determined men. He chooses the gold casket, with its inscription, "Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire," beleiving that only gold is rich enough to contain the portrait of Portia, a woman desired by men from all corners of the world. Alas! The gold casket contains a skull and a scroll admonishing, "All that glistens is not gold." The Prince of Morocco leaves in sorrow.
The Prince of Morocco (Alaa Mufti of Saudi Arabia) stares in horror at the skull found in the gold casket!
The Prince of Aragon, played by LIEP student Mohammed Alghayudah of Saudi Arabia, is equally determined. He chooses the silver casket, with its inscription, "Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves," for the Prince of Aragon believes himself to be a deserving man. Alas! The silver casket contains a fool's head and a scroll admonishing, "Some there be that shadows kiss; such have but a shadow's bliss." The Prince of Aragon goes away, deeply disappointed.
The Prince of Aragon (Mohammed Alghayudah of Saudi Arabia) is disappointed with a fool's head in the silver casket!
Finally, Bassanio of Venice, played by LIEP student Faisal "Solee" Mouamenah of Saudi Arabia, arrives to make his choice. Bassanio chooses the lead casket with its inscription, "Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath." Bassanio declares that he is willing to give all for his love. He is rewarded with the portrait of Portia and with the real Portia as his wife. The scroll in the lead casket invites Bassanio, "Turn you where your lady is, and claim her with a loving kiss."
Bassanio (Solee Mouamenah of Saudi Arabia) happily gazes at the portrait of Portia found in the lead casket!
Unlike the lead casket in Shakespeare's play, our class's lead casket also contained a bag of dark chocolates for Bassanio (Solee) to distribute to the class!
Bassanio (Solee Mouamenah of Saudi Arabia) admires the bag of dark chocolates found in our class's lead casket and prepares to distribute them to the class!
This preparation, along with our viewing of the 2005 Michael Radford film of The Merchant of Venice, starring Jeremy Irons as Antonio and Al Pacino as Shylock, was very helpful in our reading of Shakespeare's play. A big THANK YOU to Alaa Mufti, Mohammed Alghayudah, and Solee Mouamenah - all of Saudi Arabia - for taking the roles of the Prince of Morocco, the Prince of Aragon, and Bassanio of Venice!

Our next post will invite you, first, to join us in a discussion with Dr. Laura Hope of Loyola University New Orleans' Department of Theater Arts and Dance. Dr. Hope is the director of Loyola's performance of The Merchant of Venice. In addition, our next post will give you an overview of the performance itself. We are excited about talking with Dr. Hope and then seeing the Loyola performance of The Merchant of Venice together!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Preparing to Read Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

The Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) has undertaken the challenge of reading Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, which will be performed in early November by students in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at Loyola University New Orleans under the direction of Dr. Laura Hope.

The Merchant of Venice is rich in themes of love, friendship,  and faithfulness, on the one hand, and prejudice, hatred, and revenge, on the other. The play also raises questions about the proper balance of justice and mercy.

We began our work with The Merchant of Venice on October 16, with an overview of the play.

The main plot of The Merchant of Venice revolves around a loan of 3000 ducats from the Jewish money-lender Shylock to the Christian merchant Antonio. The prosperous Antonio, whose wealth is tied to his ships, all of which are at sea, has agreed to borrow 3000 ducats to finance his poorer friend Bassanio's courtship of the woman he loves, Portia. The catch is that the bond that seals the agreement between Antonio and Shylock specifies that Shylock will cut a pound of flesh from Antonio's body if Antonio does not repay the loan by the due date! This bond is supposed to be a joking way of providing Antonio with an interest-free loan, but when Antonio's ships go astray and he cannot make the payment, Shylock, embittered by years of Christian prejudice against Jews, demands his pound of flesh.

The Merchant of Venice also has three interesting sub-plots.

The Three Caskets: The loan taken by Antonio from Shylock for 3000 ducats is to furnish Antonio's friend Bassanio with everything necessary to win the beautiful and wealthy Portia as his wife. Portia's father, however, has died and has specified in his will that Portia may not choose her own husband but must marry the man who chooses correctly from three caskets: one of gold, one of silver, and one of lead. Anyone who wants to marry Portia is faced with this choice. 

The Elopement of Shylock's Daughter: Shylock's daughter, Jessica, deeply hurts and saddens her father by running away to marry her Christian lover, Lorenzo, and taking along Shylock's money and jewels.

The Rings: Bassanio does win Portia as his wife, whereupon Portia presents Bassanio with a special ring, obtaining Bassanio's promise that he will never allow the ring to leave his finger. (Bassanio's friend Gratiano also wins the love of Portia's serving maid Nerissa, obtains a similar ring from Nerissa, and makes a similar promise to wear the ring always.) But both rings go astray later in the play!

Our next post will show how we built on this overview, calling upon volunteer students to act out the sub-plot of the three caskets!

Friday, October 4, 2013

Intercultural Conversation on Responsibility

The recent work of the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) has revolved around environmental issues of global warming and climate change. As described in our previous two posts, the class has read the book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard, watched the film An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore, and visited with environmental expert Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Loyola University New Orleans.

To complement our work on global warming and climate change, we focused our second Intercultural Conversation of the semester on responsibility. Each of our Intercultural Conversations is a wonderful opportunity to carry our discussion beyond the classroom walls: we meet in one of the seminar rooms of Loyola's library and invite members of the Loyola community and interested New Orleanians to share ideas with us. Our discussions are expertly led by Dr. David O'Donaghue, a philosopher, psychologist, and artist, and the founder and director of the New Orleans Lyceum and of Chautauqua New Orleans for life-long learning.

Our first Intercultural Conversation of the semester focused on crisis. This second Intercultural Conversation focused on responsibility with this question:

Do we have a responsibility to past and future generations?
If so, how do we exercise this responsibility?

Our reading encouraged us to think of our responsibility to care for the earthly legacy of past generations and to leave a clean and beautiful planet for future generations, but we were open to looking at other areas of responsibility to past and future generations as well.

As we began our Intercultural Conversation, turning our attention first to a definition of responsibility, the idea of duty emerged. Some of us felt that duty could be burdensome, while others felt that duty instilled a sense of pride. One student from Saudi Arabia spoke of his first taste of responsibility, at age ten, when he was asked to take care of his young niece for a little while. This duty, or obligation, that he had been given caused him to feel good about himself: he experienced a kind of honor in being the big one and caring for the little one. On the other hand, another member of the Loyola community expressed how he had initially found the responsibility of child-care burdensome until he switched his thinking from child-care as fulfilling a duty to child-care as true caring from the heart.

The idea emerged that responsibility in excess can have negative consequences. Over-caring for others can prevent those others from learning to exercise life skills on their own. It can also lead to over-working and neglecting our own self-care so that we become tired and lose our enthusiasm for life.

As we began to speak of our responsibility to the past and to the future, one New Orleanian pointed out the importance of our inter-connectedness with each other, with our ancestors, and with generations yet to come. A student from Saudi Arabia spoke of the hopeful direction he sees in his country, where an attitude of the powerful overcoming the weak has been replaced with an attitude of mutual respect and support, of recognizing our inter-connectedness. A student from Brazil spoke of the warmth of his countrymen, their willingness to help each other, and their ready smiles. On the other hand, a student from Japan expressed regret that some of the cultural treasures of the past in the city of Kyoto had not been preserved as carefully as he would wish.

The LIEP students, the other members of the Loyola community, and the New Orleanians who participated in this Intercultural Conversation all enjoyed the pleasure of enlarging our concept of responsibility by hearing the ideas of others and sharing our own ideas. We extend a huge THANK YOU to all the participants in our second Intercultural Conversation and to Dr. David O'Donaghue for his expert leadership of our discussion! 

Visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, Environmental Expert

Our previous post by Rodolfo Marques describes the work of our Advanced Reading class at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) with global warming and climate change, through reading Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard and viewing the film An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. Hertsgaard and Gore both highlight the climate changes that we can expect to unfold over the next fifty to one hundred years, and possibly beyond, as a result of global warming caused by human industry.

Dr. Aimée K. Thomas
While reading about global warming and climate change, the Advanced Reading class also experienced a special treat. On Monday, September 23, the class met in Loyola's Library Living Room to visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Loyola University New Orleans. Dr. Thomas helped us understand how the global climate changes we have been reading about may affect our own specific area of the world - southeast Louisiana. Below are some highlights from our conversation with Dr. Thomas.

WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE DON'T. Dr. Thomas emphasized that climate change includes fluctuations in weather and temperature patterns, but not necessarily warming in all locations. While the scientific community agrees that climate change is occurring, no one is sure about the rate or extent of the changes at all places of the globe.

THE ATTRACTION AND VULNERABILITY OF THE COAST. Dr. Thomas explained that a coast is a very vulnerable area because so many people live there to enjoy the opportunities available near a port, the view of the beach and the water, and the pleasure of fresh seafood. The location of New Orleans, in fact, was chosen because of its proximity both to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Mississippi River. However, eventual sea-level rise caused by global warming may put coastal communities under water.

LEVEES, SINKING LAND, AND SEA-LEVEL RISE. Dr. Thomas outlined how rivers, like the Mississippi River, build natural levees and also replenish the land with deposits of sediment. When humans build up levees beyond the river's natural levee-making process, sediment can no longer replenish the land, and the land begins to sink. This has been happening in New Orleans. Sinking land, coupled with sea-level rise caused by global warming, could mean that large areas of land where people are now living would be under water. Dr. Thomas emphasized that we know that global warming is causing and will continue to cause sea-level rise, but how quickly this will happen and how high the water will eventually rise are not known.

COASTAL RESTORATION PROJECTS. Dr. Thomas ended on a hopeful note as she described several coastal restoration projects taking place now in Louisiana. These projects include the planting of vegetation to restore the marshes (watery grass-lands) and swamps (watery wood-lands) of southeast Louisiana. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority website gives information on many of these.



Our visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas helped us to apply what we have been learning in our reading of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard to our particular location in southeast Louisiana. Thank you, Dr. Thomas, for sharing your environmental expertise with us!

Members of the LIEP Advanced Reading class with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas (seated, 2nd from right)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


By Rodolfo Marques

At the beginning of this semester, the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) had an opportunity to learn about and discuss crisis deeply, as described in our previous post by Felix Garmendia. Our class then migrated to an insightful topic: Global Warming. For our better understanding, our instructor, Karen Greenstone, presented us with two sources of information: the book Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard and the documentary An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. This post begins with an overview of Hot and then focuses on An inconvenient Truth and the real crisis we are facing with our eyes opened or closed:
Global Warming and Its Consequences

Introducing Hot by Mark Hertsgaard

Mark Hertsgaard, an environmental journalist, has traveled the world and found clear evidence that climate change caused by man-made global warming is already being felt on earth. Hertsgaard shows us the causes and consequences of global warming—and most important—how we can face this issue.

Hertsgaard was inspired to write this book by his beloved daughter, Chiara. After having a child, Hertsgaard felt in his own skin how important it is to keep the world in order for the next generation and to fight for this cause. He decided to spread the "inconvenient truth" about global warming to make people aware and to try to give his daughter, Chiara, a good place to live.

About the Idealist of An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore enrolled in Harvard University in 1965, initially planning to major in English and be a writer, but later he decided to major in government. In his senior year, Gore took a class with an oceanographer and global warming theorist, Roger Revelle, who aroused Gore's Interest in environmental issues, principally global warming. As life continued, Gore became a successful politician, who served as the 45th Vice-President of the United States (1993-2000), under President Bill Clinton. Gore ran for President in 2000. When he lost the presidential election, he found a new calling in environmental issues, specially global warming. The failure turned into a new path that Al Gore is walking successfully today.

My First Impressions

As An Inconvenient Truth begins, we see a river slightly flowing in the wilderness. I believe that Al Gore wants to show us how precious our planet earth is and how painful to see our natural habitat depreciate gradually. A small dot hanging in the universe, rotating and traveling around the sun, this little dot holds close to 7 billion human beings—all of them with stories, feelings, urges and living souls—who deserve having a good place to enjoy their stay on planet earth. Al Gore wants to spread the "Inconvenient truth" about global warming to raise our awareness of the heat wave coming toward us.

Global Warming

Al Gore begins with an easily digestible explanation of how greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide, cause global warming. Most of us know the scientific explanation: as sunlight hits the earth, heat is reflected back into space, while some is trapped within earth’s atmosphere by carbon dioxide. This is a natural process that keeps the earth comfortably warm. However, since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has caused a dramatic increase in the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. More gases mean more heat: the excessive greenhouse gases trap heat that was supposed to go away.

Gore follows his scientific explanation with a funny cartoon: A friendly sunbeam arrives as usual on earth for another day of work, but when he is ready to go home to the sun, bad guys called greenhouse gases beat him up and don’t let him go home. The same thing happens to many sunbeams, who all remain imprisoned in our atmosphere.

Disinformation Campaign

A disinformation campaign happens when the truth about a situation or a product is deliberately hidden, mostly because of economic interests. Al Gore cites a study of how global warming is treated in over 900 peer-reviewed scientific journal articles: 100% of the scientist authors recognize the reality of global warming. In contrast, only about half of newspaper articles on global warming clearly recognize its reality; the other half claim to be unsure whether global warming is actually happening or not. This is because corporations with an economic interest in coal, gas, and oil prefer to present global warming to the public as a theory rather than a certainty.

Al Gore knows from personal experience how easy it is to dismiss scientific warnings and follow the call of economic interest—and how devastating to face the consequences. The Gore family grew tobacco for many years. When the information that tobacco was a big health destroyer was discovered and spread, large tobacco companies promoted a disinformation campaign, saying that the health dangers of tobacco weren’t confirmed but were just a theory. Gore’s father continued to grow tobacco, even as more and more facts came out about its health dangers. But one incident changed everything—Gore’s older sister, Nancy, a life-long smoker, died of lung cancer. Heartbroken, Gore’s father stopped growing tobacco.

Gore says that he knows how hard it is to change habits, but he also knows how important it is to do so when necessary. And global warming makes it necessary to change many of our habits. We must also recognize the truth in spite of the disinformation campaign that would have us believe that the global warming we see today is part of a natural cycle and that human industrial activity has no relationship to global warming.

Mitigation and Adaptation

Both Al Gore and Mark Hertsgaard present two important facets of dealing with global warming and climate change.

Adaptation measures reduce our vulnerability to climate change. For example, the Netherlands is considering adapting to higher temperature by painting their rooftops white. White rooftops will reflect heat rather than absorb heat, thus helping to keep the building cool as temperatures rise.

Mitigation measures address the root of the problem. For example, creating green technology that doesn't emit greenhouses gases will help to stop the global warming process.


An inconvenient Truth by Al Gore and Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard are good sources to understand global warming and climate change—from how these processes work, to their impacts, to solutions for the problem. I strongly recommend Gore’s documentary and Hertsgaard’s book to anyone.

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A huge thank you to Rodolfo Marques of Brazil for this fine post on the work of our Advanced Reading class with global warming and climate change, and particularly our viewing of An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. Rodolfo is a first-year student at Loyola University New Orleans and part of our LIEP Pilot Program. He is preparing for a full schedule of academic course-work at Loyola by taking two credit-bearing LIEP courses this first semester. Rodolfo plans to major in Music Industry Studies in Loyola's College of Music and Fine Arts. Thank you, Rodolfo!