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 money


(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, honorable, and...

(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

1. What is the...

(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 head


(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 discretion”?...

(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 eye


(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; it has a...

(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, lustful


(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 harlot

votarist: 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 lieutenant....

(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.)