Connie Willis' "Ado" is a short story in which language is censored to an absurd degree so as to not offend anyone. The protagonist is a school teacher who decides to cover Shakespeare, but first he and his colleague Ms. Harrows have to edit out any "problematic" language found in the plays.

After taking care of the objections of such organizations as the Royal Society for the Restoration of Divine Right of Kings, the Angry Women's Alliance and the American Bar Association, it is the turn of Morticians International:

"Othello? Never mind, I know that one. Merchant of Venice? The Anti-Defamation League?"
"No. American Bar Association. And Morticians International. They object to the use of the word 'casket' in Act III." She blew her nose.

I don't understand what motivates the objection to the word 'casket'. Isn't it just a synonym for coffin?

  • 2
    I guess you saw the same HNQ as I did :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 18:58
  • @Randal'Thor Indeed! :D
    – user5387
    Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 19:00
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    In Merchant of Venice, the word "casket" does not mean "coffin" but rather something like "treasure chest" or "jewel box". Part of the humor lies in fact that the morticians evidently do not not know this. Commented Jul 6, 2020 at 20:20
  • The point of "Ado" is that the objections range all the way to the ludicrously insane. It isn't supposed to have a good reason.
    – Mary
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 3:14
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    @kimchi lover I think this is the correct reason, the Morticians International objected because a word that evidently ment coffin was used as a word for treasure chest. You should make an answer of it. Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 10:11

1 Answer 1


In British English, "casket" means "a case for holding jewels, etc"; in American English, it means "coffin". Shakespeare, of course, used the term in the former sense.

Early in The Merchant of Venice the problem comes up, of choosing which suitor should marry rich orphaned Portia. Her father's will specified that a kind of game show be played out: each suitor is given a chance to pick a golden casket, a silver casket, or a lead casket; whoever picks the right box wins the bride. (The two wrong boxes hold put-downy "sorry!" notes; the right one (in Act 3) holds a "congrats, you chose wisely" note.) The setup is described in Act 1, scene 2:

Your father was ever virtuous, and holy men at their death have good inspirations. Therefore the lott’ry that he hath devised in these three chests of gold, silver, and lead, whereof who chooses his meaning chooses you, will no doubt never be chosen by any rightly but one who you shall rightly love. But what warmth is there in your affection towards any of these princely suitors that are already come?

and again in Act 2, scene 7

Go, draw aside the curtains and discover
The several caskets to this noble princegrave.
Now make your choice.

The first, of gold, who this inscription bears,
“Who chooseth me shall gain what many men desire.”
The second, silver, which this promise carries,
“Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves.”
This third, dull lead, with warning all as blunt,
“Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath.”
How shall I know if I do choose the right?

Note that in these passages "casket" andgrave "chest" are used synonymously.

Spoiler alert:

The right box is the lead one, which of course Mr Right figured out, by reverse psychology

The point about the morticians is that they did not know the story. The play is not offensive to their trade, and they are too ignorant to know this.

Willis's development of the character of the MI is the opposite of nuanced. It supports the conclusion that the MI's objection is founded on ignorance, but anything beyond that seems to me silly.

An exercise of contorted illogic might let one guess that if Shakespeare had written about coffins and not jewel boxes (as he didn't), then Willis's morticians might have supposed the play advocates the use of lead coffins rather than gold or silver ones, so reducing their profits. But this kind of subjunctive counterfactual is not needed to understand Willis's story.

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    Had the morticians been correct, how might the use of 'casket' be offensive to their trade?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 14:25
  • @Spagirl I don't understand your comment. Correct about what? Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 14:31
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    I think @Spagirl is asking, how might interpreting "casket" to mean "coffin" instead of "chest" in these passages be offensive to morticians or their trade?
    – user5387
    Commented Jul 10, 2020 at 14:42
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    I disagree that what the morticians ‘might have supposed’ is not needed to understand this part of the story. Bragadeesh was in the same condition as the mortician re understanding of ‘casket’ and asked why talking about coffins would be objectionable to them. Advising that casket does not mean coffin, while it is essential info, doesn’t answer the actual question of why, in the MI’s reality where casket=coffin, they thought there were grounds for objection.
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 11, 2020 at 10:16
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    Also, the MI specifically object tot he use of the word in Act III, but since Act III is not the only act in which the word occurs, what is particular to the use in Act III which would be objectionable?
    – Spagirl
    Commented Jul 13, 2020 at 11:50

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