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So you’re going to teach William Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Whether it’s your first or hundredth time, this classic play has been a mainstay of English classrooms for generations. While the play may have its challenging spots, teaching Othello to your class will be rewarding for you and your students. It will give them unique insight into critical thinking and analytical reading skills, as well as important themes surrounding jealousy, loyalty, betrayal, and love. This guide highlights the text’s most salient aspects to keep in mind before you begin teaching. 

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Facts at a Glance 

  • Publication Date: Written c.1603; Published 1622
  • Recommended Grade Level: 9 and up
  • Approximate Word Count: 26, 450 
  • Author: William Shakespeare 
  • Country of Origin: England 
  • Genre: Play (Tragedy) 
  • Literary Period: Renaissance 
  • Conflict: Person vs. Person, Person vs. Self, Person vs. Society 
  • Setting: Venice and Cyprus, 1500 
  • Structure: Five-Act Stage Drama 
  • Mood: Dramatic, Cynical, Bitter

Texts that Go Well with Othello

The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, is a comedy from the late 1590s. It shares two important characteristics with Othello. First, the play is set in Venice and, like Othello, is concerned with the geography, culture, and trade of the region. Second, The Merchant of Venice features a character who is an outcast. Just as Othello is attacked for his North African ancestry, so too is Shylock reviled for his Judaism. Both plays treat these characters with alternating sympathy and derision, and both characters’ otherness leads them to tragedy. 

“My Last Duchess” by Robert Browning. In this 1842 poem , a man of noble birth shows a portrait of his deceased wife to a visitor. As he discusses the merits of the painting at length, he also reveals his jealous, vengeful mind—and why she is no longer alive. This poem could encourage students to discuss other forms of misplaced jealousy (and its sometimes murderous ends), issues of class and rank, and questions about the place of women in the home and in society. 

New Boy, by Tracy Chevalier, is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, a series that commissions well-known authors to write novels based on Shakespeare’s plays. The setting is the 1970s at an elementary school in suburban Washington, D.C., where Osei, who has just moved to the States from Ghana, is the new boy at school. The action takes place during the course of one school day. Using the drama of the sixth-grade playground, Chevalier makes the themes and conflicts in Shakespeare’s Othello relevant for modern readers and accessible for young readers. 

“Sonnet 61” is one of the 154 sonnets William Shakespeare penned in the 1590s. The sonnets share certain topics and themes—unrequited love, the passing of time, mortality, loneliness—though certain sonnets meditate on specific themes. “Sonnet 61” is a meditation on jealousy, cleverly structured so that the speaker begins by pretending that his lover is jealous of him until it becomes clear that he is the one jealous of his lover. 

Titus Andronicus, one of William Shakespeare’s early tragedies, offers another perspective on “otherness” in the character of Aaron, who is a Moor like Othello. Act 3, scene 1 sees him specifically equating his race and his intended villainy, but he is humanized in act 4 by the birth of his son. 

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Key Plot Points