71 pages 2 hours read

Joseph Kesselring

Arsenic and Old Lace

Fiction | Play | Adult | Published in 1941

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Discussion/Analysis Prompt

Describe the literary elements Kesselring uses in his farcical dark comedy. What aspects of the play are overexaggerated? How are the characters outlandish? What subtle hints are dropped in the play to reveal details to the audience that go unacknowledged by the characters? How does the play represent the dark comedy genre? How are the characters’ physical traits used to create comedy? How does Kesselring make use of contradictions?

Teaching Suggestion: Small group discussion might work especially well with this prompt, as different students might have varying takeaways after reading the play. You might suggest that each student in the small group lead discussion on one of the questions in the prompt. Students should have access to the play along with their reading questions, and might follow up small group discussion with an individual written response. 

Differentiation Suggestion: For students with executive functioning or other processing challenges, narrowing the topic of their discussion might be beneficial; for example, limiting student analysis to elements that create a comedic effect in the play might assist students in focusing their analysis.