Knowing how to plan effectively for teaching Othello can be daunting and overwhelming to a teacher. After all, you must create an engaging learning experience that explores the play’s themes, characters, and frameworks – all in a fun and educational lesson!
Fortunately, with careful planning and understanding of critical aspects of Othello, you can easily design lessons that captivate your students while addressing essential topics like truth & deception, race & identity, social expectations, and revenge & justice – to name a few!
This blog post will look at an overview of strategies and ideas on best planning for your upcoming unit on Othello.
Related: For more, check out our planning overview for King Lear here.
Act-By-Act Breakdown of Othello
The play begins on the streets of Venice, where a group of characters discuss the impending elopement of Desdemona and Othello. Roderigo, a friend of Iago and suitor of Desdemona, is also there. He is upset that his plans to marry her have been foiled and has enlisted Iago to help him win her back.
Meanwhile, Brabantio (Desdemona’s father) appears in search of his daughter, who he believes has run away with Othello. The Duke of Venice intervenes and orders an investigation into the marriage before any legal action can be taken.
The act begins with Othello defending himself against Brabantio’s accusations of witchcraft before the Duke and various senators. They ultimately decide to let the marriage stand, and Othello is granted permission to remain in Venice while Desdemona accompanies him on his mission as governor to Cyprus.
On their way there, news arrives that Turkish forces have attacked Cyprus, so they all make battle plans. However, Iago stirs up trouble between Cassio (Othello’s lieutenant) and Roderigo, leading them to fight in the street before Othello.
This act picks up shortly after the end of Act II, with Desdemona attempting to clear Cassio’s name for any wrongdoing he committed during the street fight. He requests that she plead on his behalf with Othello since they’ve grown close over time.
She agrees and speaks highly of him until Iago interrupts them both with news that another messenger had come from Venice whilst they were talking. Othello then banishes Cassio with some degree of trepidation over how it will affect Desdemona, who spoke up for him earlier.
Iago continues to sow discord between Othello and Desdemona by attempting to convince the former that his wife has been unfaithful to his lieutenant. However, none of these allegations is true.
This leads Othello down a path full of avarice which culminates in a physical altercation between him and Desdemona when she attempts to defend herself against such unfounded claims as Emilia (Iago’s wife) watches helplessly from afar. In addition, Iago plots revenge against Cassio through deception involving Roderigo, which takes place offstage leading into Act V.
There are several tragic developments in this act as all parties involved finally face their respective consequences for their actions throughout the play – most notably for Desdemona, who meets an untimely death.
Despite all odds stacked against them both due to racial prejudice and misrepresentation orchestrated by Iago out of spitefulness against everyone around him including himself ultimately leading him towards an even more unfortunate fate upon discovering what he has genuinely done earlier on along the way.
Key Themes in Othello
Love is a complex emotion that is expressed and explored many times throughout the play. The relationship between Desdemona and Othello, in particular, is a focal point for much of the plotline as they attempt to defy societal expectations and be together despite their differences.
This love is ultimately tested by outside forces, such as prejudice and manipulation at the hands of Iago, leading to unforeseen consequences that can’t be reversed.
The blatant disregard for Othello’s race and social standing are recurrent topics within this play, especially when it comes to his relationship with Desdemona, who he is forced to defend constantly against her own father’s misguided attempts to break them apart due to his personal beliefs about interracial marriages.
Racism also rears its ugly head throughout other parts of the story, such as when Iago makes fun of Othello’s skin colour or when Roderigo makes certain remarks about him.
Manipulation plays a significant role in this tragedy. Iago continuously uses deception to achieve his evil goals and manipulate people around him into either doing what he wants or believing things that are untrue.
His deceptive tactics are seen multiple times throughout the play, such as when he influences Roderigo into thinking that Desdemona will one day turn her affections towards him or when he convinces Othello that Cassio has been sleeping with his wife without any actual proof other than hearsay.
Key Characters in Othello
Often referred to as “The Moor”, Othello is the protagonist of the play and a brave general from Venice. He is an outsider amongst his peers due to his race and is often the victim of discrimination, which affects his relationship with Desdemona.
At the story’s start, he comes across as loving and sympathetic. Eventually, he loses himself in a fit of jealousy after being manipulated by Iago, who is ultimately responsible for the tragedy that unfurls.
Desdemona is Othello’s beloved wife and one of Shakespeare’s most independent female characters. She defies her father to be with her husband and shows great strength in dealing with his changing moods throughout their marriage.
Even when falsely accused of infidelity, she maintains a dignified composure, making her stand out amongst other characters within the play.
A potent antagonist, Iago is one of literature’s most recognizable villains due to his ability to manipulate those around him without conscience or remorse. His main goal throughout this tragedy is revenge against both Othello and Cassio for perceived wrongdoings committed against him personally, even if it means maliciously ruining other people’s lives to do so.
Lesson Plan on Othello
Introduce students to the play Othello and provide background information such as the plot, setting, characters, and themes. Ask them about their knowledge and ensure they understand the basic plotline before continuing the lesson plan.
Spark a class discussion about the play focusing on critical elements such as racism, prejudice, manipulation, loyalty, love, and more. Divide students into smaller groups so that everyone can participate in the discussion. Make sure to ask guiding questions to help keep them on track and ensure that all opinions are heard within each group.
Have students watch a scene from the play or read it aloud if no videos are available. Discuss as a class how specific themes/motifs have been explored within this particular excerpt (i.e., what was Iago trying to do? How did Othello react?) and ask students to draw connections between events in this specific scene and overall plot developments occurred afterwards.
Assign each student a writing prompt related to Othello based on something they discussed in class or drew from their observations while reading/viewing scenes from the play (e.g., “What role do you think prejudice played in influencing Othello’s decision-making process?”). Allow them time to write their response before having them share in pairs or small groups.
Key Questions About Othello
Analyze how Iago manipulates and deceives the other characters in the play.
Iago manipulates and deceives the other characters in Othello by preying on their weaknesses and playing off their emotions. He uses carefully crafted language to flatter, control, and coerce others into doing his bidding. By doing this, he can get what he wants without directly asking for it or exerting too much effort.
Discuss what makes Desdemona stand out as a female protagonist in literature.
Desdemona stands out as a female protagonist in literature because she is strong-willed and independent despite the highly patriarchal society she lives in. She displays courage by defying gender expectations and going against her father to marry Othello.
She also proactively advocates for Cassio’s reinstatement at the end of the play, thus showing her support for those around her, even when it goes against authority figures such as her husband or father.
Compare and contrast the portrayal of love between Othello and Desdemona versus Iago and Emilia.
The portrayal of love between Othello and Desdemona versus Iago and Emilia is quite different because of their vastly different relationships. With Othello and Desdemona, we see a passionate yet tumultuous romantic relationship that ends tragically due to external influence.
In contrast, Iago’s marriage with Emilia appears more practical than anything else; they don’t appear to be particularly close or intimate with one another but rather just two people coexisting together as husband and wife.
Analyze how Shakespeare invites his audience to sympathize with Othello’s plight despite his mistakes throughout the play.
Shakespeare invites his audience to sympathize with Othello’s plight despite his mistakes throughout the play because of how Iago’s lies and deceptions manipulate him throughout the story.
Despite being surrounded by those who seem loyal to him—Iago, Cassio—Othello still falls victim to misdirection, ultimately leading him astray from his original path in life (marrying Desdemona).
This illustrates how easy it can be for someone to become corrupted if they allow themselves to be influenced by outside elements – something his audience can relate to on some level.
Examine how racism is explored within Othello, from the language used to how it affects the relationships between characters.
Racism is explored within Othello through both spoken words (i.e., “black ram” used as an insult) as well as physical violence/aggression towards characters based on their skin colour (i.e., when Roderigo hits Cassio).
This highlights how dangerous racism can be when allowed free rein in society; it creates a division between communities and often leads to hatred among individuals, which turns into aggression if left unchecked or unaddressed properly.
Evaluate why betrayal is a prominent theme in Othello, considering who betrays whom and for what reasons.
Betrayal is a prominent theme in Othello because it motivates many characters’ actions throughout the play; Iago betrays Othello out of jealousy, while Brabantio betrays Desdemona due to prejudice against her interracial relationship with Othello, etc. In addition, many characters cross themselves by trusting someone they shouldn’t have (Othello) or believing something untrue (Desdemona).
Ultimately this serves not only plot progression but also shows how easily trust can be broken if not given cautiously, something Shakespeare’s audience could relate to during a time when loyalty was paramount among social circles.
Lesson Plan for Othello
At the end of this lesson, students will be able to analyze how Shakespeare invites his audience to sympathize with Othello’s plight despite his own mistakes throughout the play.
Copies of Othello and writing materials (pens, pencils, etc.).
2-3 class periods (45 minutes each)
- Introduce the objective by discussing why it is essential for an audience to sympathize with a character and how it can affect their perception of that character’s actions.
- Hand out copies of Othello to each student and begin reading aloud from act 1, scene 3. Stop when Iago reveals his plan to manipulate Othello against Cassio. Remind students that they are in an audience position while reading the text.
- Have students discuss their reactions to Iago’s plans and compare them to other characters’ reactions in the scene. Discuss why everyone has different opinions on what Iago could do next or why some characters are trusting/untrusting of him.
- Read aloud act 1, scenes 4-5, as well as act 2, scenes 1-3, before having students take time to independently read or review acts 2-5 after a short discussion on what they expect may happen next in the story based off of what was discussed so far.
- After finishing the novel, have an extensive class discussion where students can express their interpretations of Shakespeare’s message regarding sympathy for Othello despite his mistakes throughout the play and specific examples from the text that support these claims.
- As a closing activity, have students write an essay responding to one of two prompts: “Analyze how Shakespeare invites his audience to sympathize with Othello’s plight despite his own mistakes throughout the play” or “Evaluate why betrayal is such a prominent theme in Othello, considering who betrays whom and for what reasons.”
This lesson plan analyses how Shakespeare invites his audience to sympathize with Othello’s plight despite his mistakes throughout the play. Students will use copies of Othello and writing materials for this lesson, which should take 2-3 class periods (45 minutes each). After introducing the objective, students read aloud from Act 1, Scene 3 until Iago’s plan is revealed.
During a discussion on student reactions, the class will read aloud from acts 1 & 2 before students read acts 2-5 independently. At the novel’s end, there will be a considerable class discussion on interpreting Shakespeare’s message regarding sympathy for Othello. Lastly, students can write an essay responding to one text prompt.
The Royal Shakespeare Company provides numerous activities and resources for teaching Othello in secondary schools. In contrast, this TES resource outlines a thorough scheme of work for teaching different aspects of the play, such as plot structure, themes and characters.
Teaching English offers further resources in handouts and teacher notes divided into four main categories: Critical Perspectives; Language Work; Activities and Contexts, and Support Materials that help give more background information about topics like race, gender and religion surrounding the play itself.