Wednesday, April 20, 2011


"O! now, for ever/Farewell the tranquil mind; farewell content!"

Oh how Othello is most favourite and treasured of all the Shakespearean tragedies! The sexiest of all the tragedies, and, indeed, the most tragic. What a warning against hubris you give to us! Beware of the darkness that lives in us all.

I read you first in high school, when I was an angst-ridden teen who hated any and all Shakespeare because it was "boring". I approached you with disdain, but by the end of the first act I was hooked. For the rest of those O.A.C. weeks, I was completely engrossed in this tale of human emotion, manipulation, betrayal, and vengeance. I wrote an astounding essay on the Moor, and it was empowering to see that I could actually understand and critique Shakespeare's language. Since then, I have read the play numerous times, watched the movies, and have, hopefully (ha ha), passed my love for this play down to my students when teaching.

The universal theme of jealousy is one that resonates throughout the play. As the audience, it touches us because many of us have been motivated out of jealousy, and have allowed jealousy to cause foolish decisions. How many of us have fought with our boyfriend or girlfriend based off a suspicion? How many of us have resented the success of others - feeling that somehow we also deserved this success?I know that I have felt this was on occasion, and, when speaking to my friends about this, they have admitted similarly,  my friends have too. Quite simply, humans are fickle like the chameleon, Iago, or the Moor, Othello.

Living in the North, I have struggled to make Shakespeare relevant to my students. When studying Othello, I do a couple of major things to help with this conundrum (aside from the usual activities). First, I have my students watch O , which is the modern adaptation of the play, as it puts the plot and themes in the applicable teen context. My students like the story of Odin and Desi, and are disgusted by Hugo. Watching the movie, triggers emotions in them. Second, I always use Spark Notes' No Fear Shakespeare: Othello to read. We read the play in modern English as a class, and, I supplement the content by doing notes and discussing Shakespearean language on occasion. I find that this version of the text is easy for my students to understand (especially since several of them are ESL), and, more importantly, they can giggle and laugh at the story.  Suddenly Shakespeare doesn't seem to unapproachable!  While we do work on other activities (essays, questions, crosswords, quick writes, film reviews of Othello, et cetera), I honestly believe that putting Shakespeare into the modern world for my students does wonders for them, and they get the play.

Needless to say, I look forward to teaching this play again next year. 

Readers, what's your favourite Shakespeare play and why?

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