- Shakespeare, William
- 1564 - 1582: William Shakespeare's Stratford Beginnings
- 1582 - 1592: William Shakespeare's Marriage, Parenthood and Early Occupation
- 1592 - 1594: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 1
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 2
- 1594 - 1611: William Shakespeare's Life In London, part 3
- 1611 - 1616: William Shakespeare - Back to Stratford
- Religious/ philosophical context
- Theatrical context
Engaging with the text
Enjoy the text
Othello is a play exploring the nature of jealousy and envy (they’re not the same!) It shows the two sides of love – romantic and sexual – and contains loyalty and betrayal, honesty and distrust, in equal measure.
Get to know the text
There is no substitute for reading the text - several times. Familiarising yourself with the events, ideas and language of Othello takes time, but is essential if you are to have your own well-informed response to it.
Examiners often report that students seem to know the start of a play or novel well but not the end. Study in class may tend to focus on the beginning of a text, where the writer introduces characters, themes and imagery to the reader, and then to become less detailed as the class grows more familiar with these concepts. So:
- Do not ignore the impact of significant scenes later in the play
- Do not forget how characters can change during the play
- If you are planning to re-read the text several times for revision, make sure that you do not always start at the beginning
- Once you are very familiar with the play in its normal beginning-to-end structure, try reading Act V first, then Act IV, and so on; this will give you new insights into cause and effect.
There are only thirteen important scenes in Othello, so make a timeline of the plot, noting:
- What happens in each scene
- All the lies told by Iago, all the soliloquies he gives and all the schemes he devises
- List some of the references to ‘honest Iago’ (there are over fifty)
- For Othello, list the times when we admire him, and the times when he is a fool
- It is worth making a separate chart of the above in relation to Act 3 Scene 3, the key scene of the play, to see how Iago manipulates and deceives Othello.
Listen to the text
The language Shakespeare uses is carefully chosen and structured; it is, in fact, poetry. In order fully to appreciate his use of blank verse you need to hear it.
- Listening to a professional audio version of the text will help
- An even better method is to read it out loud yourself or with a group of friends.
Analyse the text
In order to ensure that you are fully aware of the playwright’s techniques and use of language:
- Make notes under specific headings, such as, for example, ‘Desdemona’, ‘Cassio’, ‘images of chaos’, ‘references to honesty and cheating’
- Take a key word from an essay question (see also Sample essay questions) or from the list of Themes and Images, and list everything you can think of in Othello, including relevant supporting quotations, related to that point – e.g. to loyalty, to judgement, to Emilia.
Figure of speech in which a person or object or happening is described in terms of some other person, object or action, either by saying X is Y (metaphor); or X is like Y (simile). In each case, X is the original, Y is the image.
Unrhymed verse, in lines of ten syllables with an underlying stressed / unstressed rhythm.
1. Imitation, copy, likeness, statue, picture in literature, art or imagination. 2. A figure of speech in which a person or object or happening is described in terms of some other person, object or action (i.e. as a metaphor or simile)
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