Christina's Reviews > Othello

Othello by William Shakespeare
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Mar 22, 09

bookshelves: topics-in-literature
Read in February, 2009

YOYA CODE: 5Q 4P

A. Pre-Reading/Anticipatory Thoughts:

I read this book for the second time this semester before I taught it to my seniors at KMHS. The first time I read it was for my Shakespeare seminar my last undergraduate year in college. I enjoyed it the first time because the timeless themes apply to today's culture in several ways. Iago's jealousy and motives are based on hearsay; many people today get jealous for lesser offenses than Iago believes Othello and Cassio commit. If we turn on Forty Eight Hours Mystery , Dr. Phil or Unsolved Mysteries, we see stories of spousal murder for insurance reasons and financial advancement. Othello will always have relevance to high school seniors who are beginning to experience jealousy, love relationships, and pressure to conform in increasing amounts.

B. During Reading:

I read this play very slowly with my on-level seniors. Because of the way my CT wanted me to teach the play, we read through EVERY WORD. I was forced to ensure I knew what each word meant because I was expected to delineate the play line by line, act by act, scene by scene to them by standing in front of the room and talking through it. I will NEVER teach Othello this way again because my students were just as bored as I was. Despite my casual attempts to pull them in by stopping and relating the text to their lives outside school, they still had a difficult time going beneath the plot surface because of a study guide I gave that stuck to who? what? when? where? why? type questions. We discussed jealousy as it related to both men and women of Shakespeare's time and today. We went over Emilia's speech when she states: "But jealous souls will not be answer'd so / They are not ever jealous for the cause / But jealous because they are jealous" (3.4.59). I was able to have they students research a jealous character on a television show and analyze the justifications for their actions. All in all, I was able to introduce some elements to them like the play does not have to be about race and racism. It's so much more than that. We talked about the way Shakespeare switches from prose to verse in an effort to entertain and ensure the groundlings understood the plot. I explained the play in terms of reputation, communication, loyalty and prejudice. It wasn't the same kind of racism we struggle with in America. The students traced what Shakespeare might have been trying to tell us from reading this play.

C. After Reading:

I'll have to admit, I liked this play more before I taught it to seniors. While I believe they can connect with some of the major themes and motifs in Othello, I had to grit my teeth all the way through reading EVERY WORD of it in class. I'll admit trying to teach a play dealing with soliloquies, asides and dramatic irony without acting it out almost bored me to tears. The next time I teach this play, (if I am required to because I am now scarred for life) we will act out scenes and I will show clips along the way to reinforce what we discuss in class.

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message 1: by Darren (new)

Darren Intriguing commentary, and I appreciate your candor about your teaching experience. I don't quite understand the "read every word" mandate (well, I do, but I just think it's idiotic). It's not how real readers read, and it's certainly not how people are supposed to experience drama.

I also like your focus on the broader themes at work in the play, beyond the idea of race. Your attention to jealousy as an inquiry topic has very rich possibilities--you could organize a whole curriculum exploring this subject, with insight from a variety of texts, including the modern media examples you mention. Good work...


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