Megan Salomone, Byram Hills High School, Armonk, New York.
What's On for Today and Why
Because students often forget about the circumstances that make Othello particularly vulnerable to Iago by the end of the play, it's important to reexamine Iago's insidious influence before students begin reading Act 5. This dramatic reading activity forces students to reconstruct Iago's manipulation of Othello. Hearing Iago's cunning speech and Othello's initial rejection of these insinuations should increase the tragic effect of the final act.
This lesson should take one class period.
What You Need
Folger edition of Othello
Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
What To Do
1. Divide your class into five groups—four Iago groups and one Othello group. The Othello group should have four students, but the Iago groups can vary in size. Give each student two index cards.
2. For the Iago groups: Have students use their books to find and record Iago's most poisonous comments to Othello. Write the following questions on the board to help guide the students: Which lines most effectively manipulate Othello? Which comments play upon his insecurities? The quotations students choose may be brief, but they must be complete thoughts. You may want to direct the groups to various parts of the play, so that they select different quotations.
For the Othello group: This group will choose eight of Othello's responses to Iago. Four of the quotations should demonstrate Othello's initial rejection of Iago's suspicions. The next four should demonstrate, progressively, how Othello becomes persuaded that his wife is unfaithful. This group's final quotation choice should reveal Othello's full commitment to Iago and complete loss of faith in Desdemona.
As students select quotations, they should take turns recording their choices on index cards. At the end, each group member should have two quotations recorded on his/her index cards.
3. Ask students to push the desks aside and stand to form two circles—one large, outer circle for the Iago group members, and one smaller inner circle for the Othello group. The Othello group members should have their backs toward the inside of the circle so that they face the larger Iago circle.
4. Explain to students that they will be doing a dramatic reading to illustrate the power of Iago's most poisonous words. This activity will only be effective if they read their lines clearly and loudly. Begin with the Iago group. Do a round robin reading where each student reads one of the quotations from his/her index card in a sinister voice. Then ask the Othello group to read their first set of quotations (the ones that reveal Othello's initial resistance). Ask the Iago group to read their second set of quotations, this time even louder. Then ask the Othello group to read their second set of quotations, this time more forcefully, communicating Othello's loss of faith in Desdemona. Students should hear Iago's pervasive influence and Othello's transformation. If you have time, repeat the process. Encourage the students to experiment with volume, inflection, and emphasis. Discuss the effect of the different voices: Are the quiet, sneaky voices more disturbing than the loud ones? Does the meaning of the line change when you emphasize certain words?
5. Homework: Ask students to write a brief reflection on the day's activity. Consider the following questions: If you were Iago, how did it feel to manipulate Othello? If you were Othello, how did it feel to have the Iago characters shouting at you or whispering lies? How did the activity change your idea of how these lines should be delivered? Did the activity change your perception of Othello or Iago?
How Did It Go?
Did the groups select appropriate quotations for the task at hand? Did they read their lines clearly, experimenting with volume and tone? Did their quotations and line delivery communicate Iago's manipulation of Othello?
If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.