Othello, one of Shakespeare's most exciting plays, would serve as a great text to explore popular theatrical techniques during Shakespeare's heyday. All-male casts were typical of English theater until the first recorded performance of an actress on stage in December 1660—she played Desdemona in Othello. Costuming, props, sets, and the theater itself are important elements to note when discussing Shakespeare in its original form. This exploration will allow for essay topics, research projects, and an understanding of the evolution of theater.

In order to understand this play, it is important for understand the cultural context, terms and references used throughout the play. Shakespearean language can be hard to decipher and the setting of the play will be unfamiliar to most students. Explaining the culture around which the play is centered and engaging in close readings will help students to interpret the language of the play.

Content Warning

Othello contains some violence and sexual themes.

Summary

After he is passed over for a promotion to lieutenant, a jealous Iago seeks revenge on those who have wronged him. With the help of a lovelorn Roderigo, he is able to manipulate the lives and minds of Othello, Cassio, and Desdemona as his plan comes to fruition. Lovers are betrayed and friends are manipulated in this Shakespearean tragedy.

Objectives for Teaching Othello

  • Define the term "tragic hero" and identify the tragic hero in Othello.
  • Identify aspects of the play that would prompt critics to call Othello Shakespeare's most exciting play.
  • Point out instances in Othello of the conflict between reality of what appears to be and what actually is.
  • Jealousy is central to the play Identify the places where it is mentioned or occurs.
  • Discuss how Desdemona would have been seen by the Elizabethan audience and how she might be judged by today's audience.

Key Elements and Techniques

  • Aside
  • Climax
  • Foreshadowing
  • Inference
  • Imagery
  • Soliloquy
  • Tragic Hero

Themes and Motifs

  • Jealousy — Many of the characters in Othello are motivated by jealousy, especially Iago. Jealous of Cassio's promotion, Iago seeks revenge on the Othello and Cassio, along the way destroying the lives of those he involves in his scheme.
  • Prejudice — Othello is the target of much racial prejudice throughout the play. As a Moor from North Africa, he is constantly described as a beast or animal. The women in this play also face prejudice. Both Othello and the women are identified as outsiders who are not deserving of respect.
  • Appearance vs. Reality —  Iago, one of Shakespeare's most interesting villains, uses his power to manipulate other character's realities. Iago seems straightforward and honest, but he actually uses the faith others place in him to create drama and stir intense emotion as he seeks his revenge.

Related Works

Theme of Jealousy

 

Theme of Prejudice

 

Theme of Appearance vs. Reality

Key Facts

  • Length: 128 pages
  • Publication Date: 1622
  • Recommended Grade Band: 11 – 12

Movies

There have been many adaptations of Shakespeare's Othello. Oliver Parker's adaptation, Othello, starring Lawrence Fishburne as the title character, is the most notable.

Your students will love:

  • The action of the plot
  • Roderigo's plan for revenge

Students may have problems with:

  • Deciphering Shakespeare's language
  • Understanding Othello as a character— is he noble, or is he a criminal?

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.