Othello is one of Shakespeare’s five best-known and widely studied tragedies. It is a tragedy, probably written in 1603, which is based on Venice and Cyprus. The story revolves around a main character, Othello, an officer of Venice’s military. In Othello, the major themes reflect the values and the motivations of characters, including love, jealousy, prejudice and truth.
Othello is a tragedy that embodies some typical features and values of the Renaissance and the Renaissance spirit. Othello displays how language and stories create reality and reveals both heroic loyalty and the will for revenge. This play challenges us to realize how easy and harmful it is to categorize or divide people according to their race and identities. The play, also, gives an insight into the attitudes and values through the representation of race and gender. These attitudes and values are indicative of social-political and cultural aspects.
William Shakespeare was an English poet, dramatist and actor often called as the English national poet. He is widely considered to be the greatest dramatist of all times and he is often called England’s national poet and the ‘Bard of Avon’. He was born on 23st of April in 1564 and he raised in Stratford-upon-Avon. When he was 18, he married Anne Hathaway, with whom he had three children, Susanna, and twins Hamnet and Judith.
Altogether Shakespeare’s works include 38 plays, 2 narrative poems, 154 sonnets, and a variety of other poems.
Between 1585 and 1592, he began a successful career in London as an actor, writer, and part-owner of a playing company called the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, later known as the King’s Men. During his time in London, Shakespeare’s first printed works were published. They were two long poems, ‘Venus and Adonis’ (1593) and ‘The Rape of Lucrece’ (1594). He also became a founding member of The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a company of actors. Shakespeare was the company’s regular dramatist, producing on average two plays a year, for almost twenty years. At age 49 (1613), he appears to have retired to Stratford, where he died three years later. Few records of Shakespeare’s private life survive. Thus, this stimulated considerable speculation about his physical appearance and his religious beliefs, and whether the works attributed to him were written by others. Scholars generally refer to these years as “The Lost Years”.
The language in which Shakespeare used to write is referred to as Early Modern English, a linguistic period that lasted from approximately 1500 to 1750. The language spoken during this period is often referred to as Elizabethan English or Shakespearian English. Shakespeare, also, invented and used in his works 15 new words, such green-eyed at ‘The Merchant of Venice’, which describes jealousy and elbow at ‘King Lear’, which is used as a verb. Shakespeare’s legacy is as rich and different as his work and his plays have created numerous adaptations and influences across multiple genres and cultures worldwide. The most famous among his tragedies are Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night.
The literary work : Othello
The literary genre
Othello is a tragedy as it tells the story of a polite hero who makes a tragic error due to his wrong judgment. This error leads to a devastating end as most of the characters end up either dead or wounded. Othello differs from other Shakespeare’s tragedies because it likes as an original comedy, but it is a tragedy.
Othello can be described as a domestic tragedy, as it uses the tragedy of marriage. The author uses this character in order to present the Othello’s change from a military man to a tragic hero, as he kills his wife. The hero, Othello, and Desdemona have a passionate love which is against to the rules established by Desdemona’s father. This tragedy is, also, linked to the marriage’s ideas regarding the social class and status, race and women’ compliance. Some of the main points of Shakespeare’s tragedies are a tragic hero, a dichotomy of good and evil, the hero’s tragic flaw, the feeling of the greed and the revenge.
Its European, or even international dimension (inspiration, literary current, posterity)
Othello, the Moor of Venice is a tragedy by William Shakespeare and comes from the Hecatommithi, a tales’ collection, published by Giraldi Cinthio in 1565. The story of Othello is based on the Italian short story ‘Un Capitano Moro’ (‘A Moorish Captain’) by Cinthio, who had been influenced by the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio, that composed between 1349 and 1353. Despite Shakespeare was influenced by Cinthio’s work, he made several changes and modifications.
Othello is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s greatest stage play and the closest to following and conforming to the rules of Aristotelian tragedy. Aristotle distinguished six elements of tragedy: “plot, characters, verbal expression, thought, visual adornment, and song-composition.”Among them, plot is the most important. According to Aristotle (384-322 B.C.), the famous Greek dramatic art, tragedy is a kind of imitation (mimēsis) of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation (catharsis) of these emotions. Aristotle determined that a tragedy has a serious purpose and uses direct action rather than narrative to achieve its ends.
Moreover, at the center of the Othello’s intrigue is the horrible conceptions of evil in Iago’s character, whose beliefs, motives and the prevalence of villainy and evil continue to haunt audience and critics. The combination of drama and provocative racial and gender issues has led Othello to be one of the loudest Shakespeare’s plays.
Major issues/problems of the time addressed
Shakespeare wrote about issues that are still relevant today. Even though people’s lives have changed in several aspects, people can be linked and familiar to the problems in this play. Racism and male-female relationships are some of the most important problems in Othellο. Othello is an invaluable piece of Renaissance literature, as it provides insight into perceptions of race and racial difference that were relevant to the time period. Shakespeare tries to show that race is a very important issue in this play, and he highlights the racial problems confronting Europe in the 17th century. Regardless of where the author set any of his works, he used to reflect what was happening in London at the time. Shakespeare, also, tried to present the existing systems that create inequities between the genders and races. In this play, he attempts to expose the existing racial prejudice in Venice and in Europe, in general. In addition, Shakespeare points out to change the European feelings and behaviors against other races and black people, especially. In this period, it was not feasible a wedding between a black man (Othello) and a white aristocratic woman (Desdemona), which was against to the wish of her father. Although the author knew that this marriage could not be possible and true in 17th century, he aimed to present the future changes and modifications in European social conditions and attitudes. For instance, two characters of this play, Iago and Roderigo, made decisions due to their racism.
Regarding the gender stereotypes and social hierarchies, the play presents the gender representation through the patriarchy and the female characters behaviors and attitudes. Shakespeare does not present the male and female characters like they should have been according to Elizabethan stereotypes as there are some noteworthy points which contrast to culture and politics in England this period.
The gallery of characters
The main protagonist and hero of the play. An African officer of Venice’s military which earned high status due to his profession and physical power. He is a military man, with a reputation for his courage in battles and he is widely travelled and experienced. Othello fell in love and married Desdemona, making Iago to feel more jealous and to find ways to destroy him. During the battle with Turks, he travelled to Cyprus with his wife, Iago, Cassio and Emilia. In spite of his elevated status, he is easy prey to insecurities because of his age, his life as a soldier, and his race. In Cyprus he was tricked by Iago into thinking that Desdemona cheat him with Cassio. Othello was so jealous, that he smothered her wife and when he learnt that this fact was untrue, he killed himself due to his despair and remorse.
The daughter of the Venetian senator, Brabanzio. Desdemona and Othello are secretly married, and she shows love, and loyalty to her husband, as she has the courage to stand up to her father and announce her choice and insist on it. She accompanies Othello to Cyprus on the war against the Turks, where he was accused of infidelity by her husband. Even when she is humiliated, she does not lose her temper and she merely states her innocence. She is determined to respond with dignity to Othello’s jealousy. At the same night, she begs Othello for her life in their room, and she still refuses to admit to auntrue guilt. When Desdemona realizes Othello intends to kill her, she feels despair and grief and she is dying declaring her love for him.
Iago is an ancient (a job also known as an standard-bearer) serving Othello. He a battle-hardened veteran of 28 in the Venetian defense forces. He hoped for promotion, but Othello passed over him and he feels resentment and aims to take revenge on him. He is a master manipulator, managing to play people and to convince them of what he wants and decides. Thus, he exploits Roderigo as man in love with Desdemona and he leads him to start to his pursuit of her. He is also a brilliant improviser, setting his plot against Othello and organizing to destroy him. He informed Othello, that his wife cheats him with Cassiο and he used a handkerchief as a proof in order to meet to further his purpose. Iago is an abusive husband, and a racist. His improvisation fails when his wife, Emilia, reveal the truth and he caught. Iago refuses to offer any explanation about his actions and sent to trial.
Cassio is a young and courteous Florentine officer in Venice’s army. He was academically trained, and he has little real wartime experience. He is naïve, fluent, trustworthy and he likes drinking alcohol. Othello choose him to be his lieutenant in the Venetian defense forces. Truly devoted to Othello, Cassio traveled with him in Cyprus, where he lost his place as lieutenant after a fight. When Othello died, he is placed to stand in for him and he is appointed governor of Cyprus.
Emilia is Iago’s wife and when Desdemona follows Othello to Cyprus, she becomes her attendant. She is wise and mistreated by her husband, Iago. She knows Iago very well and is suspicious of his actions and motivations. She blames husbands for most sins a woman commits. When she finds Desdemona killed by Othello, she refuses to obey Iago and she tells the truth. By this action, she ignores the risk for death and then, she is murdered by her husband.
Roderigo is a young nobleman of Venice desperately in love with Desdemona, who rejected him. He is young, rich, and foolish, as he convinced by Iago that he helps him with Desdemona. He is completely under Iago’s orders as he allows him to manage his money. However, he never accomplishes to win Desdemona’s heart. Iago involves Roderigo in an attack on Cassio, as Iago points out that Cassio is another potential rival for Desdemona. Thus, Roderigo pays with his life, as he is murdered by Iago in order to ensure his silence.
Brabantio is an old man and a Senator of Venice. He is Desdemona’s father, and he was very friendly to Othello’ feats but when he informed about his marriage with his daughter, he becomes very angry and thinks that witchcraft is the only explanation for this action. He accuses Othello that he bewitched his daughter in order to persuade her to marry him. He sues to the Duke of Venice for justice, but when Desdemona admits that she is fully in love with Othello and asks him for his approval, he admits his defeat. His sadness and mourning over his daughter bring him about an early death.
He is an upright, honest gentleman and one of Brabanzio’s kinsmen. Lodovico travelled to Cyprus after Othello’s victory to proclaim the new governor. He worries about Othello’s behavior towards his wife, as Othello humiliates her publicly. After the death of Desdemona, Lodovico questions both Othello and Cassio, in order to reveal the truth.
Othello is set in both Venice and Cyprus, in the latter half of the 16thcentury. Caught between the two totally different locales of Venice and Cyprus, the events of plot provide the sense of people places and respectively. There is a great dichotomy between these two locations regarding the religion, political, cultural and human aspects.
During 1570 and 1573, Venice was at war with the Turks, so the play’s reference to the threat of an attack on Cyprus. Venice, was the very popular and significant this period. In spite of being a major port in the Mediterranean Sea, Venice was the center of commerce and arts, including literature, painting, architecture, music. During this centuries of the Italian Renaissance, there was a great cultural change and achievement in Italy and in Europe, generally. At the same time, Venice was well-known as a multicultural city, as there was a great diversity of ethnicities and religions amongst its inhabitants. Thus, Venice symbolized the depths of political intrigue. In general, Venice was an over-civilized, licentious, and ingrown city.
Cyprus is an extremely different and dissimilar society and it is a savage and wild environment, where many militaries decided to use it. It is the last edge of Christian territory. Cyprus, is also, the place where Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was born. Thus, this island provides the perfect location for Iago to convince Othello of his wife’s infidelity.
Iconography in the ebook
Joseph Mallord William Turner RA (23 April 1775 – 19 December 1851), known in his time as William Turner, was an English Romantic painter, printmaker and watercolorist. He is known for his expressive colorizations, imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings. He left behind more than 550 oil paintings, 2,000 watercolors, and 30,000 works on paper. He was championed by the leading English art critic John Ruskin from 1840, and is today regarded as having elevated landscape painting to an eminence rivalling history painting.
Sir John Gilbert (21 July 1817 – 5 October 1897) was an English artist, illustrator and engraver. Gilbert was initially apprenticed to a firm of estate agents, but taught himself art by copying prints. He was unable to enter the Royal Academy Schools, but mastered watercolor, oils, and other media. From 1836 he exhibited at the Society of British Artists, and at the RA from 1838. The art patron Thomas Sheepshanks and the artist William Mulready suggested that he learn wood engraving. Starting with Punch, he moved on to the Illustrated London News. He designed an impressive number of wood-engravings (over 2000) for that publication and for The London Journal. He also produced very many illustrations for books, including nearly all the important English poets (including his illustrated Shakespeare with almost 750 drawings).
Henry Courtney Selous (b. Panton Street, Haymarket, London 1803; d. Beaworthy, Devon, 24 September 1890) was an English painter, illustrator and lithographer. In 1818 Selous entered the Royal Academy Schools and also exhibited his first work, a Portrait of a Favorite Cat (location untraced), at the
Academy. He submitted animal portraits for the next three years before embarking on human portraiture. He painted historical pieces for the rest of his career, for example Cassio Wounded (1874, location untraced), as well as such works as The Opening of The Great Exhibition (see works, below) recording contemporary events.
Joseph Kenny Meadows, (November 1790–August 1874) better known as Kenny Meadows, was a British caricaturist and illustrator. He is best known for the drawings that he contributed to Punch and for his illustrations of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Much of his work was drawn in a humorous bohemian style. He was well known for the quality of his illustrations, although the critical reception of his work was often mixed.
PHASE 1: ENTERING THE EBOOK: UNIVERSE, ATMOSPHERE AND HYPOTHESES
Activity: Mix and match
Entry activity in e-book
With this first introductory workshop, the trainees are given the opportunity to be introduced in a smooth and fun way in the two main areas but also in the era where Othello’s drama takes place. The differences and similarities between Venice and Cyprus in the 15th century compose an interactive game that creates awareness of the time, atmosphere and conditions where the story of William Shakespeare takes place. The activity can take place either on a digital terminal (PC, tablet or even mobile phone), or in a real environment if the images for the mix and match are printed on paper.
- Photos and Videos representing the 15th century Venice
- Photos and Videos representing the 15th century Cyprus
Match the following photos (or videos) with the correct venue that Othello’s story is developing.
Before the session:
Before the workshop there will be a short narration – a reminder of the era where the drama of Othello takes place, the two main areas, the main characters and the plot, without emphasizing the details.
In the workshop:
During the workshop, the trainees will be given randomly selected photos or videos if we are in a digital environment, from Venice and 15th century Cyprus. They should classify them and judge whether it is Venice or Cyprus.
In this way they will understand the difference of atmosphere and the season in which the drama takes place, in order to be introduced in an interactive way in the ebook.
A variation that could be used and embellished in this particular workshop would be, along with the photos of the two areas where the Othello drama unfolds, to add images of the main characters. As with the pictures from the areas, the trainees should match them with the areas where they are located.
PHASE 2: DIVING INTO THE EBOOK
Activity 1: Find / Understanding the concept of a metaphor
Preparation activity for global understanding
Metaphors are a powerful type of language. They are the tools we use to express abstract thoughts. The more abstract our thoughts, conversation, and writing, the more we use metaphors In order for our trainees to comprehend and digest sophisticated literature, they must have the capacity to interpret metaphors fairly well. A metaphor illustrates through comparison. A metaphor is composed of two components, a vehicle, the word or phrase that describes, and the tenor, the object being described. The creative and vivid metaphors in Othello will amaze the trainees and they will come to admire the art of Shakespeare and poetry and metaphor usage.
- A worksheet that will be used by trainees groups to complete analysis of Iago’s metaphors in the first and second scene.
Rotation of roles and theatrical play sequentially by the trainees so that they can better understand the use of metaphors by Iago.
Before the session:
- A brief introduction and discussion about Iago’s character and his rhetorical skills
- An introduction about metaphors. Trainees will write down the meaning on one line and a connotation on the next. Introduction by a simple exercise by explaining that a metaphor describes by comparing. This simple definition introduces the students to metaphors, and the exercise increases their adeptness at interpreting the meaning and connotations of metaphors.
In the workshop:
Introduction of the trainees to the first two scenes of the project.
The instructor explains the plot in general, reads the dialogues and then asks them to write down the key phrases where the metaphors are. He then urges them to play and improvise, provided they use the same phrases / metaphors or even their own. This is followed by a discussion and analysis of the metaphors with the instructor then asking the trainees to record three of their own metaphor examples.
Activity 2: Iago’s two – faced speech
Global understanding activity
A focused acting exercise about Iago’s two-faced speech. The persuasive and the truth teller. There are three kinds of persuasive speeches most often used in the area of beliefs and attitudes. These are speeches of fact, value, and policy. You can argue about what is, what should be, or how it should be. In making any of these kinds of speeches, you make specific claims that you seek to prove to your audience. A persuasive speech may stimulate thought, convince, call to action, increase consideration, or develop tolerance of alternate perspectives.
Truth is all about the facts or reality. In everyday language, truth is typically ascribed to things that aim to represent reality or otherwise correspond to it, such as beliefs, propositions, and declarative sentences. Truth is usually held to be the opposite of falsehood.
- A worksheet that will be used by trainees to identify and analyze with the trainer’s help the points of Iago’s two – faced speech
The trainer can successively distribute the respective roles to the trainees so that everyone gets the experience of a persuasive and a truth speech.
Before the session:
Students should be provided with a handout of the key rhetorical terms along with their explanations so as to be used throughout the reading of Othello.
In the workshop:
Three students and the rest of the class to work together. One will play “Iago 1” (the persuasive Iago), in an imagined scene wherein he tries to convince his wife, Emilia, to give him Desdemona’s handkerchief. The other student will play “Iago 2” (the truth-teller). The third student will play Emilia, and the rest of the class will play the discerning audience.
Activity 3: Rephrase Iago
Fine tuning activity
A 30′ essay that states what Iago achieves or fails to achieve with his use of persuasive language plus create a dialogue or a monologue for Iago with your point of view in order to achieve his goals. In a workshop that combines the first and second activity, trainees will be able to better understand the use of metaphors in a literary text and the use of Iagos’ two-faced speech. They will present their own point of view, which will then be discussed and analyzed by the trainer.
No prop materials needed for this activity
Discuss why honesty is so important in Shakespeare’s Othello.
In the workshop:
When the essay is complete students will create a circle and exchange essays randomly. Then regarding the rephrased dialogue in front of them, they role-play in groups of two trying to persuade each other to achieve their goals.
Activity 4: Who am I?
Fine tuning activity
With this activity the trainees will be able to complete the ebook experience in the best possible way. In an interactive role play they will try to identify their character through closed questions. Through this process of questioning, they will be able to understand all aspects of the characters of the drama in their basic structure.
- Printed images of the characters
The activity could be repeated and completed when all the trainees have played all the main characters.
Before the session:
- The printed images of the characters
In the workshop:
- Pin the name of a different Othello’s characters to each participant’s back, so that they cannot see who is.
- Ask participants to walk around the room and ask each other questions about the identity of their character. The questions can only be answered by “YES” or “NO”.
- When all the participants have found who they are, the game ends.
PHASE 3: THE CREATIVE STAGE
Activity: Be the designer
Activity to enhance the reading experience
Τhis activity touches the creativity and imagination of the trainees. Based on the information they have about each of the main characters of Othello’s drama, they are asked to create the clothes they would wear, according to their own criteria, taking into account the season and the special characteristics of each one. They will then be asked to justify their choices for each character costume they design.
- Printed images of the characters
- Different colour pencils/ pens
Give a specific color scheme in every basic character and explain why
Before the session:
The instructor by using questions reminds the trainees of the background and profile of each character, such as their status, age, origin.
In the workshop:
- Divide the participants into subgroups. Distribute to each sub-group the illustrations of the main characters. Give them 2 minutes to look at them and answer possible queries.
- Give them 20 minutes to design the costumes of the main characters.
- 10 minutes presentation.
Draw Jealousy—the green-eyed monster. Art may include text and symbols. Write a paragraph explaining your picture. With this artistic activity, the trainees will have the opportunity to paint their own version of the green-eyed monster which is jealousy. Jealousy is one of the main messages of Othello’s drama. Then each trainee will have some time to explain their point of view.
Trainees will have half an hour to draw on paper their own version of the green-eyed monster of jealousy. When they have finished, they will have a few minutes to present and explain their point of view. Upon completion the trainer will have the opportunity to discuss their point of view.