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Art by Shane Rebenschied
A Christmas Carol

Can Scrooge change his ways before it’s too late?    

By the editors of Scope, based on the classic story by Charles Dickens

Learning Objective: to analyze a theme of a classic story    

Other Key Skills: character, theme, setting, interpreting text, compare and contrast, character’s motivation

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AS YOU READ

As you read the play, study the illustrations, and read the captions, think about how and why Scrooge changes over the course of the story.    

Scene 1

SD1: A finely dressed gentleman steps onstage and speaks to the audience.

Marley: It is Christmas Eve in London, England, and I, Jacob Marley, am as dead as a doornail. I’ve been dead for seven years, in fact.

SD2: Lights rise on a door that says “Scrooge & Marley, Accountants.”

Marley: This is a story about my business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge.

SD3: The door lifts away to reveal a gloomy office. A white-haired man sits at a large desk counting money.

Scrooge: Sixty-five, sixty-six, sixty-seven . . .

Marley: This is Ebenezer Scrooge. His cheeks are as withered as his soul.

SD1: Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, sits at a tiny desk, shivering.

Cratchit: Mr. Scrooge, may I add some coal to the fire?

Scrooge: Absolutely not! Coal costs money.

SD2: Marley shakes his head and sighs. Then he exits.

SD3: Fred comes bounding in, his eyes sparkling.

Fred: Merry Christmas, Uncle!

Scrooge: Bah! Humbug! What reason have you to be merry? You’re not wealthy.

Fred: What reason have you to be morose—you, with all your riches?

Scrooge: Bah! What is Christmas but a time for spending money without making any? Every fool who goes about saying “Merry Christmas” should be boiled in his own pudding.

Fred: Uncle!

Scrooge: What good has Christmas ever done you?

Fred: Many things do us good without making us rich. Though holidays never put a scrap of gold in my pocket, I believe I am all the better for having celebrated them.

Cratchit (clapping): Here, here!

Scrooge: Quiet, Cratchit, or you’ll celebrate Christmas by looking for a new job!

Fred: Have Christmas dinner with us tomorrow, Uncle.

Scrooge: Humbug.

Fred: Why not?

Scrooge: That’s enough! Good day, Nephew.

Fred: So be it. I shall be on my way. Merry Christmas, Uncle! Merry Christmas, Mr. Cratchit!

Cratchit: And a happy new year!

Scrooge (muttering): Bah! My clerk, with barely enough to feed his family, and a sickly child too, talking about a happy new year.

SD1: The town clock chimes five. Cratchit stands expectantly, clutching his thin coat and hat.

Scrooge: I suppose you’ll want tomorrow off.

Cratchit (hanging his head): Yes, sir.

Scrooge: And you expect me to pay you for a day when you’re not working?

Cratchit: Christmas comes but once a year.

Scrooge: Take the day, but you’d better be here even earlier the next morning.

SSPL/Getty Images

A Changing Time

A Christmas Carol takes place in 19th-century England. At the time, millions of people were leaving the countryside and moving into cities to work on railroads, in factories, and in offices.

 

Life in these cities could be difficult. They were crowded and polluted, and few social services existed to help those in need. In fact, the poor were often viewed with mistrust or even scorn. Author Charles Dickens was deeply troubled by what he witnessed in society and used his writing to shine a light on these injustices.

Scene 2

SD2: Lights rise on a dismal bedroom. Scrooge, wearing a dressing gown and slippers, sits by a weak fire.

SD3: From offstage comes the sound of rattling chains.

Scrooge: What’s that noise?

SD1: The rattling grows louder and louder.

SD2: Then, a ghost with death-cold eyes passes right through Scrooge’s door.

SD3: Its head is wrapped in bandages. A thick chain is wound around its body.

Scrooge (coldly): Who are you?

Marley: I am the ghost of your partner, Jacob Marley.

SD1: The ghost shrieks and shakes its chains. Scrooge drops to his knees and covers his face.

Scrooge: Mercy, dreadful spirit! Why are you here?

Marley: To warn you. Death brought me no peace. Now I am doomed to drag this heavy chain and wander the world alone forever.

Scrooge: Why are you chained?

Marley: Each link is a punishment for some kind deed I failed to do in life. Oh, why did I not show charity?

Scrooge: But you were such a fine man of business. You made so much money!

Marley: Mercy and charity should have been my business. Hear me, Ebenezer. The chain you are creating is heavy and long, and you add to it daily.

Scrooge (trembling): Tell me more.

Marley: You can still escape my fate.

Scrooge: What can I do?

Marley: Tonight, you will be haunted by three spirits. Heed their warnings or be doomed to end up like me. Expect the first spirit when the clock strikes one.

Ghost Chorus: Owwooooh!

Scene 3

SD2: A single light shines on Scrooge in bed, clutching a blanket under his chin.

SD3: The town clock strikes one. There is a flash of light, and a gentle spirit in a long white gown appears.

Ghost 1: I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. I will show you your life as it once was. Come.

SD1: Scrooge rises. His bed flies up, and the lights come on to reveal the inside of an old warehouse bustling with activity.

Ghost 1: Do you know this place?

Scrooge: I held my first job here.

SD2: Scrooge sees a jolly man laughing.

Scrooge: Why, there’s old Mr. Fezziwig!

Fezziwig: It’s Christmas Eve! Yo ho, everyone! No more work tonight. Clear the floor for dancing!

SD3: Workers begin moving furniture. Among them is Scrooge as a young man.

Scrooge: There I am, so lighthearted and cheerful!

SD1: Food is brought in. A fiddler starts playing. Everyone begins dancing merrily.

Scrooge: Ah, Fezziwig. Such a gracious man. It was the little things mostly—the way he looked at you or patted you on the back. It was a pleasure to work for him.

Ghost 1: So much praise for such small things?

Scrooge: Spreading happiness is not a small thing.

SD2: Young Scrooge twirls a young woman around.

Ghost 1: With whom are you dancing?

Scrooge: Belle—my dear, dear Belle.

SD3: Belle shouts over the music to young Scrooge.

Belle: What a wonderful party!

SD1: Young Scrooge beams at Belle, his eyes full of love.

Belle: I adore this holiday with all my heart!

Scrooge: She was so full of light, so full of life.

Ghost 1: You loved her, but you did not marry her.

Scrooge: We were both poor. I . . . I needed to seek my fortune first.

Ghost 1: Financial gain was your sole ambition. You chose wealth over love.

Scrooge: Spirit, why do you torture me with my past mistakes?

SD2: All lights fade except for one, which shines on Scrooge’s bed as it reappears.

SD3: The spirit vanishes, leaving Scrooge alone.

Scene 4

SD1: Scrooge sits nervously in his bed.

SD2: The clock strikes two.

Ghost Chorus: Owwooooh!

SD3: The second spirit is a giant in a green robe. The spirit is as grand and joyful as the Christmas season.

Ghost 2: Hello! Hello! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Very pleased to meet you!

Scrooge: Spirit, let me learn from you.

Ghost 2: Well, all right, my fine fellow. Come, I will show you things as they are now.

SD1: Scrooge’s bed disappears, revealing the inside of a shabby house. Rickety chairs surround a worn table, on top of which sits a simple dinner.

Scrooge: Where are we?

Ghost 2: You don’t know the house of your own clerk, Bob Cratchit?

SD2: Cratchit’s son, Tiny Tim, hobbles to the table using an old wooden crutch. He is pale and weak with dark circles under his eyes, but his face shines with joy.

Tiny Tim: There never was such a grand goose as this!

Cratchit: This is splendid, my wife, a triumph.

Scrooge: So enthusiastic over a small goose! You’d think it was a prize turkey.

Ghost 2: It is all they can afford. They are not well off.

Scrooge: Yet they’re so joyful—especially little Tim.

Cratchit: A toast! To Mr. Scrooge, founder of our feast.

Mrs. Cratchit: Must you mention Mr. Scrooge? If that ogre were here right now, I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon.

Cratchit: My dear, it’s Christmas.

Mrs. Cratchit: Fine. Merry Christmas to the unfeeling, unkind, miserly founder of this feast, Mr. Scrooge.

Tiny Tim: And God bless us, every one!

SD3: Tiny Tim begins to cough. Cratchit squeezes his son’s withered hand.

Scrooge: Spirit—will Tiny Tim live?

Ghost 2: I see an empty seat and a crutch with no owner.

Scrooge: No! Say he will be all right! Please?

Ghost 2: If there is no change in his circumstances, the child will soon die.

SD1: Scrooge stands horrified as the ghost vanishes. 

Scene 5

SD2: The clock strikes three. Another ghost appears.

Ghost Chorus: Owwooooh!

SD3: This third phantom is cloaked in a black robe.

SD1: Nothing can be seen of it except one outstretched hand.

Scrooge: Are you the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?

SD2: The ghost points its bony finger into the night.

Scrooge: Ghost of the Future, I fear you most.

SD3: The stage transforms into a lonely cemetery.

SD1: A coffin is being lowered into a grave.

Scrooge: Who died? Why is no one here to mourn?

Passerby 1: When did he pass away?

Passerby 2: Last week.

Passerby 1: What was the matter with him?

Passerby 2: An empty heart, I suppose.

Passerby 1: Little good his money did him.

Passerby 2: Not one person cares that he’s gone.

Passerby 1: But think of how much he saved with such a cheap funeral!

Passerby 2: Hahahaha!

SD2: The phantom points at the gravestone.

SD3: Trembling, Scrooge bends down to read the name.

Scrooge: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ghost Chorus: Owwooooh!

Scrooge: No, Spirit! No! Can this future be changed?

SD1: The spirit gives no reply.

Scrooge: I am no longer the person I was.

SD2: Scrooge grabs the spirit’s bony hand. The spirit shrinks, then collapses into a heap.

SD3: Scrooge falls to the ground and weeps.

Liliboas/Getty Images

Charles Dickens and Christmas

Charles Dickens is often called the Father of Christmas. Before he wrote A Christmas Carol, the holiday wasn’t celebrated in England and America the way it is today. Dickens helped create the idea of Christmas as a time to connect with family and show generosity to others.

Scene 6

SD1: Scrooge awakens and jumps out of bed.

Scrooge: I feel light as a feather. Was it all a dream?

SD2: He opens a window.

Scrooge: Ah, glorious sunshine!

SD3: He calls to a boy walking by.

Scrooge: My fine fellow, what day is it today?

Boy: Today? Why, it’s Christmas Day!

Scrooge: I haven’t missed it, thank goodness! Do you know the prize turkey hanging in the butcher’s window?

Boy: The one that’s as big as I am?

Scrooge: That’s the one! I’ll pay you to buy it and have it brought to Bob Cratchit’s house.

Boy: Yes, sir! Merry Christmas, sir!

Scrooge: Now I must join my nephew for dinner.

Scene 7

SD1: Scrooge sits in his office, giddy with anticipation.

Scrooge: Oh, what a Christmas I had yesterday with Fred and his family! Full of giving and games and glee.

SD2: He checks his pocket watch.

SD3: Cratchit scurries in, panting.

Scrooge: You’re 18 and a half minutes late!

Cratchit: I’m very sorry, sir. It won’t happen again, sir. We had quite a celebration last night. A kind stranger sent us a prize turkey, and we had a merry time into the wee hours.

Scrooge: I won’t stand for this any longer!

Cratchit: But Mr. Scrooge—

Scrooge: I’m doubling your salary!

Cratchit: Sir?

Scrooge: Merry Christmas, Mr. Cratchit! And your salary is just a start. I’ll assist your family any way I can. And Tim—whatever he needs, he’ll have it.

Cratchit: Thank you, sir!

Scrooge: Now put some more coal on the fire. It’s frigid in here. Before you do any work, let’s have more coal!

SD1: Marley enters and speaks to the audience.

Marley: Scrooge was even better than his word. He became as good a man and as good a friend as the city had ever known.

SD2: Scrooge joins Marley and turns to the audience.

Scrooge: From then on, it was always said that if anyone knew how to celebrate Christmas, it was Ebenezer Scrooge.

An Imagined Interview With Charles Dickens        

We hopped in a time machine to chat with the superstar author.

Mondadori via Getty Images

Scope: Thank you for speaking with us today.

Charles Dickens: I certainly wouldn’t turn down the opportunity to talk to fans from the future.

Scope: You’ve got plenty of fans right here in 1865.

Dickens: They say I’m the most famous writer in England . . . and perhaps the world.

Scope: Indeed. So, why did you become a writer?

Dickens: The answer goes back to my youth. As a child, I loved school and knew education was the key to my future success and happiness. But my father fell deep into debt. When I was 12, he was arrested and thrown in debtors’ prison. This is where people are sent if they can’t pay the money they owe. It is a great evil.

I had to quit school and work in a dreary factory. I worked for 10 hours a day, six days a week. Words cannot express the agony of my sorrow. But the experience taught me the meaning of injustice. I decided to use my pen to work for change.

Scope: Do you know the word “Dickensian”?

Dickens: No, but it has my name in it, so it must mean talented and popular.

Scope: Actually, it means bad working or living conditions—or comically horrible characters.

Dickens: Ah, like Ebenezer Scrooge.

Scope: Exactly. Where did the idea for Scrooge come from?

Dickens: Like Scrooge, many employers in my time do not see their employees as people. They see them as tools—pieces of machinery—that exist only to make them rich. In my story, I wanted to show how wrong that view is.

Scope: What inspired A Christmas Carol?

Dickens: I was disturbed by the overwhelming poverty in England—and how people had nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help. I gave a speech calling for reform but I wanted to write something more galvanizing.

Scope: You wrote A Christmas Carol, like many of your stories, in installments rather than publishing it all at once as a novel. Why?

Dickens: Only the rich can afford to buy novels. In installments, my stories are cheaper, so everyone can read them. Plus, people get excited for the next installment, to find out what will happen.

Scope: Like a cliffhanger in a TV show.

Dickens: What’s a TV show?

Scope: Er, never mind. We forgot this is the 19th century. Do you have anything else to add?

Dickens: Only this: No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of it for anyone else.

This play was originally published in the December 2019/January 2020 issue.    

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Close Reading, Critical Thinking, Skill Building

1. PREPARING TO READ

2. READING AND DISCUSSING

3. READING THE INTERVIEW

4. SKILL BUILDING

Differentiated Writing Prompts
For Struggling Readers

Write a letter to Charles Dickens, telling him how his story made you feel and asking any questions you have about his life and career.

For Advanced Readers

Read the original version of A Christmas Carol and watch one film or TV adaptation. Then write an essay comparing the original with the Scope play and the screen version.

CUSTOMIZED PERFORMANCE TASKS
For Movie Directors

Create a movie trailer for this play, letting viewers know about the main character, the major problem he faces, and possible outcomes.

For Creative Writers

Choose one character from the play to interview Charles Dickens. (Use the Scope interview as a model.) Your interview may be in the form of a written Q&A or a podcast.

Literature Connection: Stories that explore the idea of value    

“A Christmas Carol”
by Charles Dickens (novella)

“Gift of the Magi” 
by O. Henry (short story)

“The Treasure of Lemon Brown”
by Walter Dean Myers (short story)