Othello Lesson Plan - Lesson Plan

eNotes Lesson Plan

Introductory Lecture and Objectives

Othello eNotes Lesson Plan content

One of Shakespeare’s best known tragedies, Othello is perhaps his most intense. With virtually no subplot and very little in the way of comic relief, Othello moves rapidly from its opening lines to its tragic conclusion.

At its simplest, it is a story of love and betrayal. The esteemed Moorish general serving in the army of Venice, Othello has eloped with fair Desdemona, the daughter of a Venetian senator. Iago, Othello’s ensign and confidant who has been passed over for promotion, harbors a deep and insidious hatred for Othello; clever and manipulative, he brings about Othello’s downfall by deceiving him in regard to Desdemona’s virtue. While appearing trustworthy and loyal, the envious Iago carefully crafts a web of lies and false evidence to convince Othello that Desdemona is carrying on an adulterous affair with Michael Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant.

The seeds of jealousy planted by Iago take root quickly and flourish, fed by Othello’s own deep-seated insecurities. His faith in Desdemona—and in himself—cannot stand under the weight of Iago’s malevolent machinations; he soon accepts Iago’s lies as truth. Eventually overcome by grief and the rage of betrayal, Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow, despite her desperate declarations of innocence. It is a chilling scene, evoking pity and leading to even more tragedy: Othello’s devastation when he realizes that Desdemona had never wavered in her love and her loyalty to him. Discovering Iago’s monstrous villainy, Othello commits suicide, and his destruction is complete.

As in other Shakespearean plays, the setting, the language, and the cultural conventions in Othello may seem foreign or remote, but the themes remain as true and as relevant to a modern audience as they were to Shakespeare’s in the early 1600s. The drama raises questions about human nature that transcend time and place. The naïve and vulnerable often suffer at the hands of the unscrupulous, and jealousy remains as potent an emotional force today as it was in Shakespeare’s time. Moreover, in the dark-skinned Othello’s love for the fair-skinned Desdemona and in her love for him, the nature and the effects of racial prejudice and stereotyping develop a subtext in the tragedy that also speaks to a universal audience.

The relevance and enduring appeal of Othello is demonstrated by its great many artistic adaptations—in film, opera, television productions, and ballet. Audiences continue to be fascinated by Shakespeare’s Moor, watching in dismay as the courageous, noble general and loving husband is transformed into a raving murderer, consumed beyond reason by jealousy. The drama continues to evoke a variety of interpretations, as well. Those familiar with the work, especially literary critics, often disagree about the extent to which Othello is a victim and about the depth of his honor and naïveté. The character of Iago also elicits much literary analysis. The driving force behind his hatred is implied—the desire for revenge fueled by envy—but it is not treated explicitly. Most critics agree that Iago’s essential motivation
remains something of a mystery. He appears to be a pitiless embodiment of evil for its own sake, one whose wickedness cannot be assigned a rational explanation. A playwright who plumbed the depths and complexities of human nature, Shakespeare created in Othello characters that continue to defy definitive interpretation. At the conclusion of the tragedy, much remains for the audience to ponder.

By the end of the unit the student will be able to:

1. Identify Othello’s fatal flaw, and explain how Iago exploited it.

2. Identify the primary themes in Othello.

3. Determine what makes Othello such a timeless and popular work.

4. Explain Othello’s status as an outsider and an insider in Venetian society and how that status is central to the plot.

5. Identify examples of deception in the text, and explain their significance.

6. Discuss elements of ambiguity in the play and Shakespeare’s possible intentions regarding them.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Study Guide

  • The Study Guide is organized for an act-by-act study of the play. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Study Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in each act and to acquaint them generally with its content.
  • Before Study Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • Study Guide vocabulary lists include...

(The entire section is 618 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. Describe what the audience learns about Othello’s character over the course of the play. How does he change?

2. Discuss Brabantio’s, Iago’s and Desdemona’s feelings about Othello. Whose opinions are based on merit? Whose are not? Do you believe they are judging Othello fairly?

3. Identify the reasons that Iago gives for his hatred of Othello. Do his reasons have any merit? Why, or why not? What do you think might be other reasons he decides to ruin Othello?

4. What does Iago mean when he says, “Trifles light as air / Are to the jealous confirmations strong/ As proofs of holy writ”? Describe the techniques Iago uses to manipulate...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Act One, Scene One


arithmetician: archaic a mathematician 

bumbast: archaic bombastic 

coursers: archaic horses 

deluding: misleading, deceiving 

epithites: archaic lazy, worthless vagrants 

evades: avoids 

fadom: a unit of length 

forsooth: archaic in truth, certainly 

gennets: Spanish horses 

homage: allegiance 

kindred: archaic relatives 

lascivious: sexual, lewd 

nonsuits: archaic rejects, refuses 

profess: to admit 

provender: archaic feed for domestic animals 

purse: archaic...

(The entire section is 892 words.)

Act One, Scene Two


carrack: archaic a merchant ship 

circumscription: restriction, restraint 

forbear: to hold back, to restrain oneself 

galleys: ships 

iniquity: an injustice 

palpable: evident 

prated: archaic chattered, babbled 

provulgate: archaic to promulgate, to make public 

scurvy: archaic insulting 

sequent: one after another 

unbonneted: archaic bare-headed 

Study Questions

1. What is your first impression of Othello? How does it compare with how Iago described him in the first scene? 

Othello appears to be a calm,...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

Act One, Scene Three


accompt: archaic an account, a reporting 

antres: caves 

assay: archaic an effort 

composition: archaic consistency 

dilate: to expand 

engluts: engulfs 

facile: simplistic 

injointed: archaic intersected 

mountebanks: archaic charlatans, quacks 

overt: explicit, clear 

pageant: a show 

pliant: archaic suitable, favorable 

portance: archaic behavior, personal bearing 

reverend: honored 

unvarnish’d: plain, unembellished 

vouch: to declare 

Study Questions


(The entire section is 934 words.)

Act Two, Scenes One and Two


abhor: to loathe 

billow: a wave 

chidden: archaic scolded 

chides: scolds 

clyster-pipes: archaic enema syringes 

counterfeit: to fake 

descry: archaic to discern 

disrelish: archaic to dislike 

enchafed: tumultuous 

enwheel: archaic to surround 

gorge: throat 

incorporate: united in one body 

indistinct: vague, hard to see 

mortise: a joint 

mutiny: a rebellion 

paradoxes: contradictions that prove to be true 

paragons: those that surpass or transcend; those that represent the ideal 

pate: archaic...

(The entire section is 805 words.)

Act Two, Scene Three


affin’d: archaic biased 

alarum: archaic a call to arms 

collied: archaic dirtied 

devesting: archaic removing clothing 

horologe: a clock or other device that keeps time 

ingraft: innate, ingrained 

mazzard: archaic head 

mince: to soften, to make light of 

outsport: archaic to revel without limits 

parley: archaic a discussion 

rouse: archaic a drink 

Study Questions

1. What does Othello mean when he says, “Let’s teach ourselves that honorable stop, / Not to outsport...

(The entire section is 785 words.)

Act Three, Scenes One, Two, and Three


aspics: venomous snakes 

compulsive: archaic driving onward 

conjects: speculates 

dilations: thoughts 

dispraisingly: negatively, critically 

dotes: lavishes love or affection on someone 

exsufflicate: inflated, swollen 

filch: to steal 

government: self-control, moral conduct 

haply: archaic accidentally, by chance 

imputation: a statement suggesting something dishonest 

jesses: short straps fastened to a falcon 

leets: archaic local courts 

mamm’ring: archaic stammering, hesitating 

ocular: based on what has been seen, perceived by the...

(The entire section is 1044 words.)

Act Three, Scene Four


advocation: role as an advocate 

castigation: scolding, strong criticism 

catechize: archaic to question, to interrogate 

compass: archaic range, scope 

heraldry: archaic armorial bearings 

indicted: accused 

sequester: to isolate 

sufficient: archaic capable 

Study Questions

1. When Emilia says, “’Tis a monster / Begot upon itself, born on itself,” to what is she referring? For what other character could it be said to be true? 

Emilia is talking about jealousy and how jealousy only breeds more of the same. It cannot be tamed or controlled;...

(The entire section is 659 words.)

Act Four, Scene One


atone: to make amends 

bauble: a shiny but worthless trinket 

beguile: to deceive 

beseech: to implore 

caitiff: archaic a fool 

censure: criticism 

cope: archaic to have sex with 

credulous: gullible 

cuckold: the husband of an adulteress 

dotage: excessive displays of affection; senility 

entreat: to ask 

expostulate: to confront, to protest 

fitchew: archaic a skunk, a prostitute 

gibes: insulting remarks 

plenteous: plentiful 

spleen: bad temper 

unprovide: archaic to weaken, to lose resolve 

wanton: lewd,...

(The entire section is 606 words.)

Act Four, Scenes Two and Three


bawdy: obscene, lewd 

beshrew: archaic to curse, to blame 

callet: archaic a prostitute 

cestern: archaic a cistern, a water tank 

cozening: archaic deceptive 

daff’st: archaic deflected, threw off 

determinate: conclusive, definitive 

forsake: to leave; to refuse 

garner’d: gathered into storage 

incontinent: archaic immediately 

insinuating: causing doubt or distrust in a sly, subtle manner 

mettle: courage 

procreants: lovers 

requite: to return in kind, to repay 

strumpet: archaic a...

(The entire section is 498 words.)

Act Five, Scene One


foredoes: archaic does one in 

gastness: archaic terror, dread 

miscarry: archaic to come to harm 

restitution: recovery, restoration 

Study Questions

1. What happens to Cassio in this scene? 

Roderigo tries to kill Cassio, but fails. Cassio wounds Roderigo as he fends off Roderigo’s attack. Iago, coming from behind, wounds Cassio in the leg then runs off before Cassio can identify him. 

2. Who kills Roderigo? Why? 

Iago returns to the scene and kills Roderigo. He doesn’t want to have to acknowledge that he took all of the jewels that were meant for...

(The entire section is 367 words.)

Act Five, Scene Two


chrysolite: a kind of mineral 

compt: archaic reckoning 

coxcomb: a fool 

extenuate: archaic to make light of 

impediments: obstacles 

iterance: repetition 

malignant: evil 

perjury: false information attested to deliberately 

pernicious: malicious, evil 

portents: evil omens 

relume: archaic to relight 

reprobance: archaic disapproval, condemnation 

smote: killed or injured someone by striking with a heavy weapon 

traduc’d: archaic slandered, dishonored 

twain: archaic two 

upbraids: reproaches 


(The entire section is 974 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. In talking to Roderigo, what reason does Iago give for hating Othello? 

A. Othello slept with Iago’s wife. 

B. Iago was passed over for a promotion. 

C. Othello spoke critically of him to the duke, ruining his reputation. 

D. Othello is a foreigner. 

E. Othello is a poor soldier. 

2. What plan does Iago propose to Roderigo in Act One? 

A. That Roderigo try to persuade Desdemona’s father to call off his daughter’s wedding. 

B. That Roderigo kill Othello to make way for him to seduce Desdemona. 

C. That Roderigo kill Cassio so that Iago may become...

(The entire section is 1585 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Explain how the idea of deception is developed as a primary theme in Othello and how it is supported by an important motif in the play. Support your discussion with specific examples. 

In the first act, deception is introduced as a primary theme of the play. The first scene opens with Iago’s telling Roderigo that he plans to deceive Othello. Although he does not reveal the details of his plan, Iago states, “I am not what I am.” Shortly thereafter, another discussion of deception ensues; Desdemona has deceived her father by eloping with Othello, which Brabantio denounces as “treason of the blood.” Also in Act One, the duke deliberates over whether the Turks are attempting to deceive the Venetians by...

(The entire section is 2897 words.)