When it comes to writing a response to a question, learners often struggle to know where to start. Brainstorming, planning, mind maps and diagramming are all methods which can be used to help the learner get started and to follow a logical flow with a recognizable introduction and conclusion. The technique known as SOAPSTone makes the planning process more defined so that the learner can ask himself questions as he plans his answer and then is sure to include all the essential elements.
SOAPSTone is an acronym (which is a word formed by the letters of other words to create its own unique word) and it stands for Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject and Tone. Note how the word tone is used in its entirety. Applying this method to The Merchant of Venice in Act I, scene iii requires an understanding of the context. Bassanio has asked his dear friend Antonio to lend him money so that he can have the appearance of being prosperous in pursuing the beautiful and wealthy Portia who is duty-bound to find a marriage partner. Antonio would do anything for his friend but his funds are tied up in his ships and so he encourages Bassanio to "try what my credit can in Venice do" (I,i,180), meaning that he gives Bassanio permission to inquire about getting a loan in Antonio's name.
In Act I, scene iii Bassanio meets with Shylock, a Jewish moneylender to arrange terms for the loan. Shylock's famous speech from lines 36 to 46 can be analysed using SOAPSTone. Examine the extract and decide whether you want to persuade, narrate or inform or give an analytical perspective.
Ask a question relating to each main point.
1. SPEAKER: As the speaker consider what information you will reveal about Shylock as he appears to be forthright and direct but he is not addressing Bassanio or Antonio openly. There can be no misunderstanding of "I hate him for he is a Christian" (37).
2. OCCASION: The context is important here and your interpretation of the extract depends on your understanding of the setting in which the whole play takes place and the occasion which is the meeting between Shylock, Bassanio and Antonio to discuss a loan.
3. AUDIENCE: Consider who you are addressing and what they need from you in revealing that Shylock is talking to the audience in the theater and not to Bassanio and Antonio who are with him.
4. PURPOSE: Your explanation should make your purpose clear. In other words, what would you like to tell your audience? What do you want to share and make understood? Shylock's words help to develop his character and make the apparent animosity clear to his audience which dramatically intensifies the plot. Shylock intends to use this occasion to get his own back on Antonio for all the perceived wrongs he has done him. "If I can catch him once upon the hip..." (41) reveals that Shylock is already scheming.
5. SUBJECT: Your subject is Shylock and his "ancient grudge" and you are talking about how he feels abused by Antonio when he is simply trying to make a living.
6. TONE: The tone of your answer will indicate how you feel about Shylock, whether he is justified in his feelings or whether you see him as conniving and untrustworthy. Shylock's tone is certainly full of hatred and determination and it is apparent that he sees this as an opportunity to do to Antonio what he has been doing to Shylock for so long and that is to take advantage in the most underhanded manner.
You are now ready to put your ideas into a structured plan.